Lush Life, Richard Price
American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
Three Junes, Julia Glass
Six Feet Under, Season 5
Cadillac Records, Heartburn, Nights in Rodanthe, Postcards from the Edge, P.S. I Love You, St. Elmo's Fire, Slumdog Millionaire, Terms of Endearment, The Thin Red Line, Two Lovers, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Movies like He's Just Not That Into You help me understand why some people say women are stupid. I sound rigid and severe, I know, and I run the risk of making the same vapid generalizations I will eventually accuse this movie of making. But any attempts to be moderate or polite would take titanic effort, and I would much rather put my energy into being as unfair and bleak as I believe this movie was.
As can probably be surmised from the title, He's Just Not That Into You is about a group of women needing to realize that their men (who vary from first dates to long-term boyfriends to husbands) exhibit behavior that can only suggest one thing--right, you guessed it, he's just not that into them. There is Gigi who laps after every guy who buys her a vodka tonic and who develops an implausible relationship with Lothario Alex who is also best friends with Conor who lusts after Anna who is sleeping with married man Ben who is ambivalent about his wife Janine who is best friends with Beth who can't get her boyfriend of seven years, Neil, to agree to marry her.
I can get on board with the premise. Let's find a way to encourage women to stop having cranky, boring conversations with themselves and their friends about guys who aren't responsive. I want to believe that what this movie (and the book upon which it was based) meant to do was give women the freedom to trust themselves, to believe in themselves enough to ditch guys who aren't receptive and whose unavailability makes them more appealing. Instead of crying over the guy who isn't calling us, we should be more honest, open our eyes, and devote our attention to the guy who is returning our phone calls.
Sounds fine and good, but it doesn't work. This movie should have been titled He Is Just That Into You- after watching these women get crapped on for two hours, somehow most of the scenarios result in a happy ending or sense of romantic completion. There is the usual set-up, during which the context and conflict unfold, but after flimsy happenings, Beth gets Neil to propose, Gigi has Alex knocking on her door in the middle of the night, and Anna receives countless calls from Ben even after he fucked his wife with her in the next room. Awww, so sweet. And while Janine does leave Ben after his infidelity and starts to take baby steps towards her new found freedom, everything else is so pitiful and annoying, it doesn't even matter. This movie teaches us the opposite of its original premise. It takes everything it sets up in the first hour (don't call him if he's not calling you; be suspicious if he stops having sex with you; if he's married, chances are he's just with you to get some tail; if he doesn't marry you now, he never will) knocks it down and asks us to ignore it all. Ladies, he is just that into you- you just have to break up with him to get him to realize it.
We don't even get the Sex and the City camaraderie. We never see the women providing real support. Sex and the City- an episode of which provided the nugget of pure genius that inspired this movie- did a much better job of showing the ways in which platonic love was real, necessary, and just as crucial as any sort of romantic partnership. At the very least, it reminded us that some of the joy to be derived from difficult moments is related to the ability to discuss it with the people who love you and know you better than you know yourself.
But He's Just Not That Into You preferred to play on the surface of things. And- in a way that hearkens back to Sex and the City- to get on board with its suggestions is to buy into the idea that romantic love is only for white, straight pretty people with good teeth and bouncy hair. I won't say too much about the gay characters in the movie (sex-crazed men only around to offer advice to the straights in distress) or the people of color (the two black finger-snappin' sistahs extolling the virtues of ribs and ice cream as a way to overcome their sadness, or the unspecified African women sitting around a fire explaining that the reason he didn't call was because he was eaten by a lion). But I will say that this movie, and the idiots who made it, ought to be hanging their heads in shame.
I don't blame He's Just Not That Into You for not telling the truth. Romantic comedies aren't here to elucidate all that doesn't make sense in the world, but this could have been better. It could have held onto its main idea and still hewed to the romantic comedy statistical mean (yes, there's trouble in paradise, but love will find a way) without turning into a pile of raw, stank crap. It could have had tighter dialogue, characters that made sense, and a plot that actually went somewhere. It could have been a movie about love that actually had a heart. It could have been like many other movies that come out- vapid but fun, superficial but whimsical, and not utterly annoying and stupid.
Monday, March 2, 2009
I like little, slow movies. I like those stories that don't really revolve around a story at all-- nothing really happens, the soundtrack and establishing shots seem to do as much work as the actors, and the protagonist (usually one who is mopey or eccentric or depressed or full of self-sabotage) meanders her or his way from Point A to B. Think Thumbsucker or Lonesome Jim or Broken English or Before Sunrise or All the Real Girls. Even when stuff happens in these movies, it takes its time to happen, and almost everything plot-related seems subservient to character development. Dedication probably belongs in this category of movies. It is the story of Henry (Billy Crudup), a slightly misanthropic children's book author, who is the mourning the death of his best friend, nearest confidant and collaborator, Rudy (Tom Wilkinson). In order to complete a series of books he is contractually obligated to finish, Henry is paired up with Lucy (Mandy Moore), a sweetheart of an illustrator who falls for Henry.
I found it easy enough to be pulled into the movie. Dedication is a sensitive portrayal of intimacy and loss, and it is as much about a man missing a piece of himself as it is about a man missing his friend. As Henry and Lucy grow closer, and as we learn more about Henry and Rudy's relationship in flashbacks, we get to see the pain and pleasure of people growing close and growing apart. I think Billy Crudup is one of the best working actors around and his performance feels instinctive and relaxed. His Henry feels like a real person thinking real thoughts and I bet if the film had been shot four days ago, his performance might be totally different. Mandy Moore is a cutie (although I liked her better in Saved) and I always think Tom Wilkinson is a good addition.
But the movie kind of flops along. It feels as though the writer (David Bromberg) and director (Justin Theroux) made a decision beforehand about the tone of the film. Dedication feels schticky and intentionally quirky. Henry suffers from committment issues, trust issues and getting along with people issues. He is ornery, sadistic and gets off on insulting his fans (children under the age of ten). He is obssessive compulsive-- can't drive a car without a helmet, lays around his apartment with piles of heavy books on his chest, has a fear of certain numbers. All of those things sound peculiar and unconvential, and seem like they could be compelling character traits, but they just come across as contrived and kind of flimsy. Henry's mixed bag of neuroses feels less like the organic idiosyncracies that result from living in a complicated and complex world, and more like a concerted effort to demonstrate "kooky character."
I'm also not totally sure Crudup and Moore have any chemistry. You root for Henry and Lucy to work out because you're pretty sure their union is where the film is supposed to land. But I didn't feel any real draw between the two, and, like so many other lame-ass love stories, you can never really put your finger on what it is they see in each other. Lucy is extremely patient and understanding with Henry and she has some quirks of her own that make her cute (money problems, man problems, crazy landlord mom always threatening to evict her), but she doesn't feel like a real, textured character. Her interest in astronomy is supposed to be endearing and special, I guess, but it just feels like one of those tacked-on traits characters are given in lieu of real development.
But again, I think the movie has its moments. If you can get past the hokey love story, it might be easy to enjoy the ideas of learning to get over yourself, leaving yourself alone and giving in to someone else.