Showing posts with label romantic comedy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label romantic comedy. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Over Her Dead Body (2008)

Repost from 2010. I think I only watched this because Misha Collins is briefly in it and this was at the height of my obsession with Supernatural...a show which I have not watched since 2011.

Dir. Jeff Lowell || 2008 || USA

Over Her Dead Body exemplifies the worst ideas and stereotypes I have of modern romantic comedies: that they are full of shrill, bland, unlikeable, and crazy people who I hope do not exist in real life. If I think about it too much, the idea that people pay $10 to see these things will make me an even bigger misanthrope than I already am.

Over Her Dead Body's plot is thus: Eva Longoria-Parker plays a bridezilla of sorts who gets crushed by her own ice sculpture on her wedding day. A year later, her still-despondent fiance, played by a slumming-it Paul Rudd, is convinced by his Manic Pixie Dream Girl-esque sister to start dating again and to see this acquaintance of  hers that is a psychic caterer, played by Lake Bell. While a psychic connection sort of fails, the sister gives the psychic caterer bridezilla's diary so that she can convince Rudd that she is psychic and can speak to his dead fiancee. The psychic caterer and Rudd fall in love, Eva Longoria-as-a-ghost wreaks havoc on the psychic caterer and they are torn apart by the reveal of the diary thing, and it ends with a reunion in an airport after Longoria realizes that she would want her fiance to be happy.

Again, Lake Bell plays a psychic caterer. It is never explained how or why she thinks she has psychic powers, and all we ever learn is that she is a lapsed Catholic, because she calls her priest to perform an exorcism at one point. It is also never explained whether she gets catering customers by using her psychic powers to tell them which competitors will give them food poisoning.

It's a pretty boring movie, and I only laughed once because of one of Longoria's pranks. Everyone in this movie, with the exception of Stephen Root, is bland or unlikeable. Paul Rudd manages to be both bland and unlikeable, which is unusual for him because he tends to have a lively presence in his films. His character is not interesting or funny and he seems to kind of hate his job as a veterinarian. He is just there for two women to fight over, and there is no reason to fight over him. You can tell that he doesn't want to be in this film, and that this is either a favor or that he needs money to put his kid into a good school. Lake Bell seems to be trying, but she is always bland, and I for one am always confusing her with the equally odd-named Piper Perabo, or Amanda Peet. Eva Longoria is just playing an extension of her character on Desperate Housewives. Jason Biggs is around as Bell's bland and unfunny catering business partner, who is a straight guy pretending that he is gay because he is in love with Bell's character and has been for five years. Even his comic pratfalls are awful. Ugh.

Over Her Dead Body has perhaps two things going for it. Rudd's character does call out the antics of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl sister, and accuses her of doing crazy things just because she wants to prove that she is right (this includes, after the diary reveal, kidnapping her neighbor's cat to bring it to her brother, the veterinarian because she thinks this will break the ice and make him not be mad at her anymore). And the actress who plays the sister is of course a ringer for Zooey Deschanel. And when Rudd flees to the airport to stop the psychic caterer before she flies to Las Vegas for a weekend with her not-gay business partner/best friend, he ends up paying over $1200 just to get a ticket to the gate because he pisses off the ticket counter lady. Although it is never explained how or why these characters know which carrier and which gate their beloveds are at when these things happen in movies.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Austenland (2013) and Romantic Fantasy vs. Historical Fact vs. the 21st Century

The facial expression of the foot servant on the left...

My name is Sarah and I studied literature in undergrad, particularly 19th-early 20th Century British and American literature, and Southern literature.

Austenland (2013, Dir. Jerusha Hess) is a fun, cute movie that only seems to peripherally deal with fandom, fluctuating Austenmania, theme parks or theme vacation packages, and dating in the 21st century simply because it is trying to shoehorn in all of those subjects in at once. Keri Russell plays a woman in her 30s who has had an obsession with Pride & Prejudice and particularly Mr. Darcy since she was a teenager. This has been to the detriment of forming a real relationship with any man. Under the old “you’re not getting any younger” bit (which is mercifully short), she decides to kill her savings and take a vacation to Austenland in England, which may or may not have been advertised to her as a role-playing game where guests form real relationships by the end.* It is one of the many confusing areas of the film, for both the audience and for Jane, Russell’s character.

Austenland harps on how simpler things were in the late 18th century, although they really were not. Austen’s novels tend to display that relationships were no less complicated during the Regency era, just by having to live by the Regency standards of manners and morals alone. The film does not comment much on why in Pride & Prejudice and to a lesser extent, Sense & Sensibility, there were mothers obsessed with having their daughters married off: due to primogeniture laws back then, women could not own land or much of anything really - sometimes in the worst cases, not even a claim to their own children. So if the father dies, the wife and the children - whether the children are young or just unmarried - are at the mercy of a male heir, whether it is the oldest son, a son from a previous marriage that the husband had, or a distant cousin. In the best-to-okay standards, as in Sense & Sensibility, they were given an allowance and a cottage to live in. Austen’s novels function as a criticism of sorts for those laws. Mrs. Bennet would not be so damn silly if her future was more secure and she were allowed to keep her house after Mr. Bennet dies.

The film lightly comments on a class system in place during the Regency era, one that remains in place at the vacation estate. Because she could not afford a more expensive package, Jane is excluded from certain activities and is given a room in the servant’s quarters. Although the film treads over this fact of life in the 18th Century, it injects more 21st Century subjectivity into the film once Jane decides to control her own fate in her vacation, despite her status at the estate. But this is undermined when Jane begins to understand the facades on top of facades for the vacation, she learns that the romantic interest she was given was from the one man who seems to be meant for the women who cannot afford the “premium” package vacation. The film maintains the Mr. Darcy/Colonel Brandon vs. caddish character dichotomy (+/- annoying and silly male character also always present in Austen's novels), although it always keeps it on a fine line. This is partially helped by casting Bret McKenzie, because you really cannot help either seeing him as the sweet and shy Bret on Flight of the Conchords or as the guy who wrote “Man or Muppet”. The film simultaneously reflects and deflects, deconstructs and reconstructs, the idea that romance is a construct and often fantasy often propelled by novels and films. The prologue takes the deflection end to an exaggerated level where Austenland is turned into a bonafide themepark with rides and live shows performed by the gorgeous Captain East/soap opera actor.

It might have been even funnier if the prologue featured expansions into Charles Dickens, Bronte sisters, and Thomas Hardy vacation packages or themeparks. A Wuthering Heights vacation package, where everyone quickly learns that the novel is actually horrific, not romantic. In Austenland, Jennifer Coolidge plays a woman who only has seen the Austen film and TV adaptations and has never read the novels. It is my understanding, while I have only seen one Wuthering Heights adaptation (the 1960s BBC version with a young Ian McShane as Heathcliff), that the Olivier version is why some people see it as a romantic story.** Think of the soul crushing possibilities!

*Alternately, the vacation package can be read as a form of male prostitution - they are there to fulfill a mostly romantic fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. The foot servants, as pictured above, tend to be hunky types, and it is mostly male "actors" at the estate. Although the guests and actors are charged to behave in Regency mode, of course it is strongly implied that some guests and actors deviate at various levels.

**Although I have not seen the adaptation with Laurence Olivier, I will venture to guess that Heathcliff's abusive tendencies were mostly squashed for that adaptation due to the Production Code in place at the time.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

Dir. Donald Petrie || 2003 || USA

Preface #1
One of my interests this past year-and-a-half has been how it is really becoming rather impossible to ascribe one type of ideology or another to a film. Most films, almost regardless of whether or not they are produced in Hollywood seem to attempt to espouse both conservative and liberal ideologies (to use the most basic dichotomy of ideologies). However, this is not to say that How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has an ideology at all, because I am not even sure the film ultimately has a point.

Preface #2
About two months ago, I was traveling for work and staying in a hotel. Oprah's cable network was having a "Never forget that Matthew McConaughey made romcoms for several years" night by playing Failure to Launch and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days in succession. I did not catch much of the former, which seems to exist in a universe where people who look like Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and Zooey Deschanel are the "loser" or even more "loser-y" friends. I watched maybe 2/3 of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days before turning it off to read and go to sleep. Curiosity got the better of me and I actually rented it this weekend, determined to find out what the "project" of this movie actually was, or if there even seriously was one. Well, a project besides product placement of (and in ascending order) Revlon, Budweiser, and the New York Knicks. I am pretty sure the Knicks alone financed at least half of the film.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, an 11-year-old film released in 2003, nonetheless seems like it was written and meant to be produced in the late 1990s. I cannot pinpoint why exactly, because it seems like people cared more about magazines or criticizing magazines then. But maybe I am projecting because I do not really see the point in the majority of magazines existing anymore, particularly in print. The covers of the magazine in the film, Composure, features non-famous women and models, in photos more along the lines of the pictures seen in "Women Laughing Alone with Salad". This is despite starring Kate Hudson, an actress who has probably been on dozens of magazine covers and having former supermodel of the 90s, Shalom Harlow, in a supporting role. The film fails to recognize the shift in actresses appearing on the majority of women's magazine covers now, above supermodels. It also maybe more late 90s-centric because it is one of those films that seems to erase 9/11 out of New York City on the basis that films are where people go to escape painful things and incidents. Also, it features a Ginblossoms song as chase theme music, which seems even more outdated in 2014 than it probably did even in 2003.

Kate Hudson plays Andie Anderson, a woman with a Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University slumming at women's magazine Composure by writing a "How To" column on various trends or "lifehacks for the privileged" as they are sometimes called now. She aspires to write about politics and international relations, which her boss has shot down numerous times because of the inherent fluffiness of the magazine's content. Inspired by a co-worker's latest brief 7-day disastrous relationship, Andie begins her latest piece with the titular title. The film never seems to decide whether it wants to be subtle or broad in its characterization of Andie and her co-workers. Andie is supposed to be "different" because she has higher aspirations, likes to eat large hamburgers and go to New York Knicks games. She is actually called the "cool girl" at some point, which is another stereotype upon itself, a construct that some women feel they have to live up to so they are not seen as the "crazy girlfriend".*  Beyond its somewhat promising beginning, the film eventually decides to pack stereotypes upon stereotypes, and it never seriously questions too much that it is magazines and advertising that pushes these sorts of gender stereotypes.

McConaughey plays the also improbably cute-named Benjamin Barry, a fellow who works in advertising and feels stuck because his division only obtains the sports and beer accounts. He has recently snagged an account with a diamond company, with the idea that diamond rings should also be advertised to men as desirable accessories, or something - it's never made clear. Benjamin seems to be criticizing the diamond industry, knowing that it is an industry based on the false idea that diamonds are rare, and therefore valuable. And to an lesser extent he seems to be criticizing the sexist one-sided marketing of diamonds. But he is in competition with the division who typically receives the more women's-oriented accounts. A bet is made that if he can arrive to a party the company is throwing in 10 days with a woman who is in love with him, he will win the account.

Shenanigans and stereotypes ensue, almost endlessly for a a film that does not need to be 2 hours long. Andie behaves in the stereotypical (and seen through 2014 lenses, downright creepy) ways that men are supposed to hate. Benjamin relents because he wants to win the account. Both are frustrated. The reveals come at the big party, where inexplicably, female attendees are given diamonds to wear from a snack table, and feelings are hurt. Benjamin's partners show him Andie's article as he is working on the diamond commercial which still seems to be advertising to women, albeit to older women. Andie gets told she can write whatever she wants as long as its the typical fluffy stuff. She quits, decides to interview for a job in DC. Benjamin chases her cab through NYC and stops on the Brooklyn Bridge where they make up. And while Benjamin wins her over with the point that she can do the reporting she likes in NYC, we never learn if Andie succeeds. Can this film be seen as dark because it appears neither character actually succeeds in their careers? The ending seems entirely based in, "Well, they are attractive and they have each other."

The only time I laughed out loud was when Andie said Benjamin killed their "love fern" and he replies, "No honey, it's just sleeping." I think I might not be the right audience for these movies.

*Since Andie is a variation on what is typically a boy's name, maybe we can infer the Carol Clover theory that when male or borderline-gender neutral names are given to female characters, it is because that character is meant for male audiences to identify with.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Conflicted Romantic Protagonists in (500) Days of Summer and +1 (Plus One)

Spoilers ahead for +1, the newer film. 

(500) Days of Summer (2009, Dir. Marc Webb) and +1 (2013, Dir. Dennis Iliadis) are both a part of a somewhat recent spate of films that involve romantic male protagonists that if you think about it enough, are completely unsympathetic characters who paint their girlfriends or ex-girlfriends as villains simply by the will of their own states of denial and imaginations. The other similarity between these two films is that they deal with time - (500) Days of Summer through memories and filmic time, and +1 by virtue of being a science fiction film that involves doubles/alternate universes and time. +1 is bizarrely the more linear film. Despite the trailer making it appear to be something along the lines of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it is more about what happens when and if doubles encounter each other at a gigantic college party where each person attending has a double. The "why" part does not factor in to +1, it is more of a tale about fear of being replaced and morality.

David, the protagonist of +1 has been recently dumped by his girlfriend of two years, Jill, after she finds him accidentally kissing her similar-featured fencing opponent after a match. She is also unhappy that David appears to be content with staying in the town they grew up in and stagnant. They both of course end up at the large party, with David intent on winning Jill back. David, his two friends, and another party guest are the first two notice the existence of doubles after the lights mysteriously flicker on and off due to a faulty transformer. Actions are being repeated. David manages to subdue his double. But with each electricity flicker, the repeated actions of the doubles start to get closer in time to the current actions of the original attendees. This eventually results in confrontation because both groups of people are confused and scared. David, in the melee, of course tries to repair his relationship with Jill. Failing to win her back with one conversation, he tries it again on Jill's double, this time saying the "right" things and the couple appears to get back together. But like a wacky romantic comedy with an extreme dark side, David has to keep second Jill away from "original" Jill. This ultimately does not go well for "original" Jill. The final shot of the film is the party's host and various attendees walking around shocked, devastated, and crying, while David and second Jill make out beside the estate's pool house. Granted, one might want to feel uneasy about the protagonist being played by Rhys Wakefield, the creepy blond preppy killer from last year's The Purge, but he does well with playing normal for most of the film.

(500) Days of Summer is the more complex film that has been subject to different interpretations. I have heard the sentence, "You can tell a lot about a person about who they think the villain is in (500) Days of Summer." I think sometimes interpretations are based on depending on who you find to be more attractive, Joseph Gordon Levitt or Zooey Deschanel, since some people have a near-rabid hatred towards Deschanel and her image. This film makes a weak attempt to have her play against this image, but the sheer Etsyness of some of the aesthetics of the film overpowers this attempt. Joseph Gordon Levitt has had to comment about people who think Tom is the ideal boyfriend, stating that Tom actually is not a good boyfriend at all. Whenever I watch this film (which has been two times now), I watch it with my brow furrowed. I do not think it is a very funny film. It is sad and a little scary more than anything. It is also a 90 minute indie music compilation that also doubles as an IKEA advertisement. Who goes on dates at IKEA? She's wearing a dress and he is wearing a shirt and tie (under a hoodie) to IKEA!

What is odd about the film is that while it wants to point out that Tom and his friends are maybe not that great, and that Tom's perception and memories of Summer were filtered through his own point of view and selfishness, (500) Days of Summer has an ambivalence about both Tom and Summer that constantly switches until the last half hour or so of the film. In the last third of the film, while it wants to show that both Tom and Summer changed from their quasi-relationship, the film propels itself to the requisite happy ending for Tom, and an inscrutable ending for Summer. There are multiple interpretations of whether or not she is actually happy being married. The film sets this up to an extent by showing the ending to The Graduate twice in the film, which also features an inscrutable ending. The first time the ending of The Graduate is displayed to show that Tom thought it was a happy ending, especially when he was younger. The second time, the ending is shown to display that Summer finds it to be a sad ending, to the point where she is crying in the theater. This is also what seems to spawn her decision to break up with Tom.

(500) Days of Summer also attempts to align itself with French New Wave films from the 1960s and briefly with Ingmar Bergman. This accounts for not only the shallow comedic parodies that Tom seems to mentally project onto a movie screen while at the theater after the breakup, but with the nonlinear time structure of the film. Alain Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad is also a film about the issues of memory and denial unfurled out in an even more nonlinear, repetitive fashion than Days of Summer. (500) Days of Summer at least flashes what day of obsession Tom is on throughout the course of the film. Typical American romcom structure, even filtered through an "Indiewood" production, still demands a happy ending and some clarity.

Despite the film being a commentary on modern relationships and how filtered they are through greeting cards/greeting card holidays, films of any sort (Star Wars and Ferris Bueller's Day Off are also referenced in the film) and even music, the commentary for the most part falls flat. The film tries to either take an ambivalent or neutral stake in the relationship and eventual break up of Tom and Summer, but it is unclear in its attempt to do so. This is the ultimate failure of the film. The film ends with the sentence of someone (the screenwriters? the director?) calling an ex-girlfriend a "bitch", thereby canceling any sort of neutral stance built up in the film. They are no different from Tom and his friends at their most unbearable in the film, with their preconceived, gossipy notions of Summer being a "stuck up bitch" or a "skank" before they even talk to her. (500) Days of Summer, despite being filtered through the maximum Etsy "cute and quirky" filter, is ultimately a film about awful people both in front of and behind the camera, but who only have an inkling about how insufferable they are. The cluelessness is not played up by anyone or for anyone except for Tom on occasion. I get it, these people have faults, but this film seems to think its more charming about it than it actually is.

In some ways The Break-Up is a more radical film than (500) Days of Summer because it at least puts forth the idea that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn's characters are okay being single, apart, and moving on with their lives by the end of the film with little regrets. That film, if I remember correctly, also seemed to give equal share to the couple's individual point of view. (500) Days of Summer denies Summer a point of view, and that is why this movie fails to some degree in any vague attempt to take a neutral stance on Tom and Summer's relationship. Summer, wholly intentionally or no, is just built up as an object - from her initial physical descriptions (we are not given the height, weight, and shoe size of Tom) to her apparent influence (all with the implication it is because of her beauty)  - and remains so for the film. Despite the "edgy" attempt to break stereotypes and to have her be the more reluctant person in love and not wanting a relationship (and stating this quite a few times), it rings cheap and false because we are not given much reason insight to why she thinks this way other than her parents divorced. Even with the expense of making the film 30-45 minutes longer, would it have hurt to feature Summer's point of view more?