Doodad Kind of Town


Movies Viewed from the Lazy Boy
March 30, 2008, 5:52 pm
Filed under: Romantic Comedies

Over the last several days, I’ve been nursing a nasty, lingering head cold -spending hours sprawled in the recliner, a blanket over me, a steaming mug of Thera-Flu in my hand, and a movie playing on the television. Here’s what I’ve been watching:

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”

I have three regrets about this film:

1) I wish I had seen it in a theatre. The cinematography is obviously amazing, but not experienced to its best advantage when letterboxed on a 27-inch screen.

2) I wish this film had been given its proper due when it was released in late 2007. Maybe it would have been in theatres longer. It disappeared from my local multiplex in one week, and I didn’t rush out to see it because I paid too much attention to Stephanie Zacharek’s wisecracking, dismissive review on Salon. Yes, it’s slow and long – but director/writer Andrew Dominik (and co-writer Ron Hansen, on whose novel the film is based) are more invested in creating mood and tone than telling a rip-cracking story. If you’re open to where the film takes you, there is an emotional payoff.

3) I wish Brad Pitt had been given more attention for his performance as Jesse James. Don’t get me wrong, Casey Affleck is great and completely deserved his Oscar nod. (Affleck really came into his own last year with this film and “Gone Baby Gone.”) But Pitt is equally impressive as the burned-out gunslinger, and a great foil for Affleck. There’s an unpredictability in Pitt’s acting; you hang on his every silence and wary stare with anxious anticipation (Will he laugh? Will he kill? Will he walk away?) – yet every choice he makes ultimately heightens and illuminates James’ weariness and increasing paranoia.

“2 Days in Paris”

A neurotic romantic comedy, that evokes Woody Allen’s late ’70s work, almost without trying. Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg have reached that point in their relationship where the romance has faded. Faced daily with each other’s foilbles and flaws, their nonstop banter is a series of tetchy exchanges, with occasional bursts of shared humor, if not warmth. Following a trip to Venice, they spend a couple of days with Delpy’s parents in Paris before returning to New York – days filled with comic mishaps and bickering, as Delpy runs into former lovers and argues with cab drivers everywhere they go, and Goldberg sees new sides of her that he can’t quite accept. Delpy (who not only wrote and directed, but cast her real-life mom and dad in the roles of her character’s parents) tweaks the stereotypical notions that both the French and Americans have of one another. (The French are obsessed with sex and art; Americans are culture-starved and eat too many fast-food burgers.) She also directly invokes the spirit of Woody Allen into her own role, by wearing a large pair of heavy, black-rimmed, Allenesque eyeglasses for long stretches of the film when she supposedly cannot find her contact lenses.

The film feels sprightly and light for most of the way, and it’s to both Delpy and Goldberg’s credit that their characters remain sympathetic and engaging, even as they argue, whine and put their less-than-likable sides on full display. The film turns melancholy in its closing scenes, offering insight into the challenges of true intimacy and the sacrifices we make to keep long-term commitments. But this change in tone doesn’t feel forced. Instead, it brings “2 Days in Paris” to a hopeful and satisfying conclusion.

“Moonstruck”

“Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!”

This is some of favorite movie dialogue of all time. Nicholas Cage has never been my idea of a romantic film hero, and yet he completely wins me over with this passionate entreaty to Cher in “Moonstruck.”

I forgot just how much how I love this movie until I happened upon it on TV Land over the weekend. For me “Moonstruck” is one of the most charming and romantic films ever made, and it’s some of the best work that both Cage and Cher have ever done. Of course, the downside of watching movies on commercial television is that “non essential” scenes are too often trimmed so that the film can run in a two-hour slot with commercials. Missing from this showing of “Moonstruck” was the scene where Loretta comes home from her pre-date salon-and-shopping trip, pours a glass of wine, puts on music, and spreads out her new purchases – a sexy dress, killer red velvet heels- contemplating them and the reckless, romantic choice she’s about to make (going to the opera with her fiancee’s lovestruck brother.) It’s not a scene that advances the plot, but it heightens our anticipation of Loretta’s transformation, and the film suffers a little for its exclusion.

I also have a real fondness for John Mahoney, in a small but memorable role. As the hapless college professor who much-younger dates invariably storm away in the middle of dinner(usually after tossing a glass of water in his face), Mahoney is touchingly clueless and yearning. His brief scenes with Olympia Dukakis provide a subtle undercurrent of melancholy in an otherwise joyous film.

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1 Comment so far
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I love, love, love what you said about Brad Pitt’s performance.

Comment by Nayana Anthony




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