My massive catch-up from the cinematic offerings of 2011 continues (click here for part 1 of my mini-reviews), mainly veering away from Hollywood and into the independents.
Thank the Elder Gods for that.
I love a good Hollywood action/adventure type flick as much as the next person – and being a comic book geek, it’s possible I like them even more than most. But as a writer I’m always, always, looking for the story in everything, and much of the mainstream offerings lack witty dialogue, charming character building, or even something as essential as a workable plot. When you take away the car crashes and super powers and music montages, and just show us some people talking their way through a story, we can see the writer at work. Those are the movies I prefer.
I did squeeze in two more Hollywood movies – the romcoms Crazy Stupid Love and Friends With Benefits – before slipping back into familiar territory with One Day, The Art Of Getting By, Beginners, and Another Earth.
First up, Crazy Stupid Love. Do you like Ryan Gosling? If not, don’t bother. He’s the strongest and most interesting character in the film, and the only one that actually changes (the other characters, esp the parents played by Steve Carell and Julianne Moore, make overt gestures which appear to be attempts to change but they simply settle back into who they were). Now I’m not a Carell fan but I do really like Moore’s work in films like Blindness (which I loved!) and Children of Men (which was decent but not great). This film suffers from the usual plot holes and clichés and somehow ends up thinking that it’s a good idea for a 17 year old to give naked pictures of herself to a 13 year old boy that she babysits – after taking them for the kid’s dad (unknown to him, of course, because we can’t have Carell playing a pervert, now can we?)
Surprisingly, Friends With Benefits was much better. It gains something from the fact that two very pretty people spend more than 50% of their screen time mostly naked and simulating sex. But it’s also very heavy on the quick step give-and-take dialogue that makes up some of my favorite films. I wouldn’t recommend it over, say, People Will Talk, or even over the Star Trek reboot, but it’s fun and has a happy ending, which sometimes is all you’re looking for in a film.
One Day: Billed as a romantic comedy kind of film, it’s so much deeper and darker than that. I’m not an Anne Hathaway fan (though I don’t hate her) but she pulls off geeky writer chick, and even a passable English accent. Jim Sturgess is better – he gets to be complex, brilliantly acted, with a strong character arc and even ages believably for a movie which takes place over 20 years. But it’s Dexter’s story, ultimately, so it makes sense that we see more of him as a person. It’s a romance if you’ve never been truly in love, if you’ve never lived and breathed and ached for someone, made yourself better to be closer to what you think they deserve. Because then you can see it as, “At least they were happy for a little while,” and that’s true. That’s good. But the movie is really about trying to live again after you’ve lost your best friend, the love of your life, and that isn’t happy. That isn’t romantic; it’s tragic and painful and dark. The film is still well done, worth watching.
It’s also a reminder that you can’t wait forever. Love lasts, but life doesn’t.
The Art Of Getting By: High school outcast kid with art talent manages to turn his slacker life around and get the girl. Thankfully the film is more than that. Being about a white boy in a prep school paid for by his rich father, there’s a bit of a “first world problem” kind of feel, and the love object is kind of a strange prize – a teenage girl who doesn’t seem to have any skills other than sleeping with older men – but it’s a crisp look at one very particular kind of life. As a character study, I liked it.
Beginners: Great actors will always improve a mediocre film but in this case the writing and editing create something special, on top of the great performances. Two different stories, that of a man falling in love and of his father dying, are told at the same time, cutting back and forth, even though chronologically the father has already passed before the movie begins. It ultimately has an if-not-happy-at-least-hopeful ending that works for the story and for the characters. It makes sense that these broken but hopeful people would have these lives, these problems. I adore movies that make sense, so that even when I think, “Oh, why are you doing that?!” at least I have the comfort of knowing why.
Another Earth: Not cheerful, and without a clear-cut ending, it’s another character study film, arguably science fiction because of one detail – the appearance in our sky of another Earth, with other versions of ourselves. But the story takes place on our Earth, and centers around one teenage girl’s phenomenally tragic mistake, and the wrongs she tries to right in her own misguided way. It’s painful, in the sense that you can feel the pain of nearly everyone with any dialogue in the movie, but I definitely recommend it.
Oh, and I’d completely forgotten I’d also watched Green Lantern! It was so terribly bad, on so many levels, that blocking it out of my mind is probably for the best. As much as I love comic book movies, just don’t. Pretend it doesn’t exist.That’s better for everyone.