Doodad Kind of Town

"Smart People"
April 17, 2008, 11:09 pm
Filed under: Romantic Comedies

About two minutes into “Smart People,” I started to wonder why college literature professors in movies are always arrogant, emotionally stunted pricks. Wouldn’t it be a kick if once – just once– they made a movie about a college professor who was a really great guy? One who had a stable emotional life and good relationships with his spouse and kids and who was really liked by his students? I’m sure those people exist in real life, but they’re pretty damn hard to find on celluloid.

Well, within those first two minutes, you find out that “Smart People” won’t be that kind of movie. Like his predecessors in films like “Wonder Boys,” “The Squid and the Whale,” and “The Savages,” Dennis Quaid’s character (Lawrencce Wetherhold, a Carnegie-Mellon professor of Victorian literature) is a self-absorbed, pompous windbag who doesn’t get on well with anyone.

What almost redeems “Smart People” (‘almost’ being the operative term here) is its honest observations that 1)college professors aren’t the only people who are self-absorbed and emotionally stunted; and 2) sometimes, self-absorbed windbags know they’re self-absorbed windbags and feel real pain about it.

After his car is towed (for parking illegally across two parking spaces, his usual habit), Wetherhold attempts to break into the lot where the car is being held by scaling the fence. He falls and hits his head, which triggers a seizure, and he ends up in the emergency room where his doctor is the comely Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker). Hartigan is a former student, but Wetherhold doesn’t recognize her. (Not surprisingly, since he barely recognizes the students he currently teaches.) Unable to drive after the seizure, Wethehold must enlist his ne’er do well brother, Chuck (Thomas Hayden Church) to be his chauffeur; his uptight, acid-tongued, Young Republican daughter, Vanessa(Ellen Page), is too busy studying for her SATs to take on the job.

So Chuck moves into the Wetherhold household, introduces Vanessa to pot and beer and tries – none too successfully – to loosen her up. Meanwhile, Lawrence begins an awkward romance with Janet. What follows is not predictable, and I will grudgingly give props to writer Mark Poirier and director Noam Munro for that. The standard choice would have been for Janet to be the emotionally open, nurturing and forgiving woman who brings Lawrence to life, but instead, Janet turns out to be a bit difficult herself. The relationship develops in fit and starts, largely due to Janet’s passive-aggressive and withholding nature.

Meanwhile, Lawrence emerges as an ever more sympathetic character as we begin to see how deeply he is still grieving for his late wife, and how much pain his own behavior causes him. Although the other three main characters continue to operate with the understanding that Lawrence is the one with the problems, it becomes ever clearer that their behavior towards him is often insensitive and casually cruel.

Props are given grudgingly to Poirer and Munro, however, because while I admire what they attempted to do here, it isn’t all that interesting to watch. My friend, Mary Anne, who saw “Smart People” with me, put it very succinctly:”These characters are stunted and the movie is stunted, too.” You keep waiting for a chemistry to develop between characters, for one blistering or heartbreaking exchange of dialogue that sharpens and illuminates your understanding of the characters. And it never comes to fruition. Instead, “Smart People” just keeps muddling along from one well-intentioned-but-half-baked scene to the next.

It’s a shame, too, because these four actors are talented people who could have used a surer directorial hand. Hayden Church falls back on his lovable stoner persona fairly successfully, but we’ve seen that before. And I won’t be the first to note that Page basically plays Juno McGuff as Young Republican, and it’d be nice to see something different from her, too. I had trouble believing Parker as an emergency room doctor, although she does capture a certain prickliness in her character which works well. And Quaid falls pretty far short of the gold standard set for this kind of role by Jeff Daniels in “The Squid and the Whale.” He sports all the right profesorial affectations (beard, paunch, and an awkward, shuffling kind of walk), and gets at the emotional depth of the character, but I never once believed he was a real academic.

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.


“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.

27 Dresses: Romantic Comedy or Interior Design Tutorial?
January 21, 2008, 5:02 pm
Filed under: Romantic Comedies

First off, let me assure you I didn’t actually see it. Right off the top of my head, I can think of at least 50 ways to better spend $9.50, than to see “27 Dresses.”

But I was very disturbed by this article which greeted me in my Sunday Chicago Tribune.

For some time now, it’s bothered me that the primary pleasure to be derived from recent romantic comedy films is in gawking at the beautiful apartments of its lovelorn heroines.

Apparently this is intentional. Here’s production designer Shepherd Frankel on his goal for Jane’s (Katherine Heigl’s) apartment: “(For) every woman watching the movie to say ‘ I want to live there.’ “


Now, there may be some subtle nuances in Heigl’s character that aren’t communicated in the film’s advertising, but my distinct impression is that Jane is a dowdy doormat who puts her energies into planning other women’s weddings rather than finding a real love of her own. In my experience, caretaker-doormat people do not have beautiful, meticulously decorated apartments where any woman would want to live. They have bare, white walls and very little furniture; they use cardboard boxes for end tables and paper plates for dishes. And that’s because caretakers are too busy looking after other people’s needs to take care of their own needs for comfort and beauty!

It’s not the first time we’ve been down this road. In Nancy Meyer’s 2006 piece-of-crap rom-com, “The Holiday,” it’s Kate Winslet who gets the drab, doormat role – and the storybook English cottage that looks as if its been set up for a photo spread in Architectural Digest.

I suppose someone could come back with the idea that these homes reflect the hidden, inner beauty of their inhabitants – a beauty that isn’t expressed once they cross their thresholds and enter the greater world. I’m just trying to speculate. But that’d be a hard sell for me; I still contend that unhappy, unfulfilled people live in unspectacular homes. (Or at least boring, barren ones. I loathed “The Wedding Planner” with every ounce of my being, but at least we understood that the Jennifer Lopez character was emotionally shut down when we saw her cold, all-white-surroundings.)

The appeal of romantic comedy is in the way it taps into our yearnings for love, romance and connection. But, increasingly, it seems that filmmakers are also trying to tap into our yearning for beautiful, expensive stuff. Or at least the American comedies are. I believe that British rom-coms are far superior in this regard. Think of Bridget Jones’ crappy little apartment, with its bare pantry and beat-up sofa. It was Bridget we fell in love with, not her furniture.

Wouldn’t it be nice if filmmakers spent a little more time coming up with characters that we’d all like to be (or already feel that we are) instead of apartments that we’d love to live in? I watch HGTV, I get Pottery Barn catalogs, I have all the home decorating ideas I can use. When I step inside a movie theatre, I want to be transported in a different way.

I didn’t see “27 Dresses” this weekend, and I won’t be seeing it anytime soon, if at all.

My Dinner With… Richard Curtis
January 12, 2008, 3:35 am
Filed under: Richard Curtis, Romantic Comedies

I’ve been invited by Marilyn of Ferdy on Films to participate in a meme called “My Dinner With… “(details here) in which I get to talk about a person in the film industry – past or present – with whom I’d like to dine. And I get to plan the dinner down to the last detail.

I tend to over-analyze my response to questions like this. The natural tendency is to pick a dinner companion from the list of geniuses you’ve always been most in awe of – for me, the list would include Billy Wilder, Frederico Fellini, Elia Kazan, Robert Altman, Martin Scorcese, Milos Forman, Mike Nichols (with or without Elaine May)- but I know I’d be too intimidated by them to even eat in their presence, let alone ask any meaningful questions. Because that’s just the kind of shy girl I am: even in a total fantasy scenario – where I control everything from the china pattern on the table to last bon mot in the conversation – I can’t picture myself anything but red-faced and tongue-tied in the presence of the greats. My celebrity interviews would be not so much “Inside the Actor’s Studio” as “The Chris Farley Show.”

So I’ve decided I would have dinner with Richard Curtis.

Curtis, of course, is the screenwriter responsible for “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” and the HBO film, “The Girl in the Cafe.” He also co-wrote the “Bridget Jones” movies, and both wrote and directed “Love, Actually.” (Less known to American audiences, but equally delightful is his first film “The Tall Guy” with Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson). His television work includes co-writing “Black Adder” and “Mr. Bean” with Rowan Atikinson, and creating “The Vicar of Dibley.”

Why Richard Curtis? The films he’s made (so far) certainly aren’t destined for the pantheon; they’re charming, but modest in their ambitions. But Curtis – an incurable optimist and a hopeless romantic – makes romantic comedies with genuine heart and wit. In an era when Hollywood cranks out formulaic, lackluster rom-coms every other weekend, Curtis’ work is a cut above. He’s successful and funny enough to be a fascinating dinner companion, but he doesn’t seem intimidating to me. Maybe that’s because so many of his films pivot on that rapturous moment when the stammering, awkward guy scores a date with the really cute girl. Somehow, I just assume that Curtis himself is that shy, yearning guy with a killer wisecrack at the ready behind that bumbling facade. Or sees himself as such, anyway.

I’m assuming I’d meet Mr. Curtis for dinner somewhere in my neck of the woods – that’d be the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I briefly considered taking him north to Wisconsin for dinner, just so he could experience the vast difference between what that state is really like and the fantasy bachelor’s paradise he depicts it to be in “Love, Actually.” But I reconsidered. Wisconsin might be a good after- dinner field trip, but for the main event, I’d take him to my favorite Chicago restaurant, the Atwood Cafe. Here the ambiance is comfortable and unpretentious, and the food is classic American comfort food with a contemporary twist. Curtis’ films have been a sort of cinematic equiavalent of comfort food to me over the years, so offering him the best of my country’s comfort food seems a good response. I’d recommend the house specialty – the chicken pot pie – or possibly the grilled chicken accompanied by wild mushroom bread pudding (the latter doesn’t appear on the menu anymore, but this is a fantasy, so I’m resurrecting my favorite Atwood dishes of the past). I’d have the waiter recommend a wine accompaniment, and if we were inclined to order dessert, I’d have us go for the brown sugar cheesecake with butterscotch sauce.

My questions to Mr. Curtis would be:

1. In American romantic comedies, the characters often find love as a result of transformation; the ugly duckling gets a makeover, the workaholic learns to relax, the doormat stands up for herself at last, and – boom! -their true love shows up and sweeps them away .

In your films, however, characters seem to find love in the midst of their imperfections and foibles. Their attempts at transformation are comically doomed to fail. (I’m thinking of William’s decision to stop looking for the “thunderbolt” and marry Henrietta in “Four Weddings in a Funeral,” or Bridget Jones’ aborted attempts at dieting and giving up smoking, for example).

Does this reflect a cultural difference between America and Britain? Or it is more reflective of your own personal take on love?

2. You’ve done a tremendous amount of charity work and fund-raising for poverty relief – you helped create Live Aid and Comic Relief, you’ve been to Africa on relief missions. What drew you to this charity work, and how has it enriched your own life and your writing?

3. You’ve said that your favorite film is Robert Altman’s “Nashville.” Was “Nashville” a conscious inspiration for you in writing and directing “Love Actually” (a similarly sprawling film with a very large, interconnected cast of characters.) And will we ever see a Director’s cut of “Love, Actually” with all the excised subplots and characters restored?

4. Ok, sorry, but I have to ask: why the dramatic changes between the original book “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” and the film version? Specifically, why is the Rebecca character changed from being hell-bent on stealing Mark Darcy into a beautiful lesbian whose sights are set on Bridget herself?

5. Your upcoming films are “The Number One Ladies Detective Agency” and “The Boat that Rocked” – neither of which looks to be a romantic comedy. Are you heading in a new direction? What kinds of films are you interested in making now?

I’m now supposed to pass this meme on to six other people for their responses. You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m fairly new in the blogosphere, and don’t think I know six bloggers well enough yes to pass this on. Please give me an extra day come up with my list and append it to this post.

End of 2007 Roundup: "Juno," "The Savages" and "Joe Strummer…"
January 1, 2008, 8:32 pm
Filed under: Romantic Comedies

There are limits to what a quick wit or a powerful intellect can get you in life. Those emotional watershed moments – the birth of a baby, for example, or the final illness of a parent – are events for which cleverness or book smarts are just about useless to prepare you.

That’s the thought I came away with after seeing two seemingly disparate films -“Juno” and “The Savages” in rapid succession over the recent holiday week.

Jason Reitman’s “Juno” is the tale of a 16-year-old girl (Ellen Page) who gets pregnant the first and only time she has sex with her friend Pauly (Michael Cera). Neither are prepared for parenthood, of course: gawky, gangly Pauly still sleeps in a bed made up with race car driver sheets, while Juno (named for the Roman Goddess “who was really beautiful and really mean, like Diana Ross”) deflects the seriousness of her situation with non-stop wisecracking. For reasons that are never entirely clear, Juno decides to have the baby and to give it up for adoption to an attractive suburban couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) who advertise for a baby in the local Penny Saver.

There are complications, of course. Juno, plucky and bright though she may be, isn’t fully prepared for what she’s facing. The film initially coasts along on Juno’s breezy panache, but her plan subtly begins to unravel. The seemingly perfect adoptive parents she’s chosen for her child are flawed and a bit mismatched. Garner is, at first glance, uptight and a bit too “Martha Stewart-y”, but she’s genuinely and deeply invested in becoming a mother. Bateman, a former rock and roller, is feeling constricted by his suburban existence and approaching fatherhood. He bonds with Juno over shared interests in music and horror films, and director Reitman delicately orchestrates their relationship so that it (thankfully) refrains from becoming unsavory, even as we sense (well before it registers with Juno) that something is amiss.

The adults here are all wonderful (including J. K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno’s amazingly calm and supportive parents), but it’s Page and Cera who are the revelations. A old theatre friend of mine used to bestow her highest praise on actors when she said “You never catch them acting,” and that’s a compliment both these young actors can be paid. Page is very funny, but there’s depth behind her crackling wit. You can always glimpse the vulnerability and adolescent misguidedness behind her razor-sharp line readings. When everything falls apart, and Juno lets her guard down, Page is heartbreaking without resorting to histrionics. Cera (who was also wonderful in this summer’s “Superbad”) beautifully captures the sincerity and innate goodness of a boy who truly loves Juno and only wants to do the right thing by her. He’s the boyfriend every clever high school girl would want. Cera and Page, in fact, deliver performances so finely and delicately calibrated that I’m tempted to call them the year’s best.

My only quibble with this film (and it’s a small one) is with the soundtrack. I’ll admit to being a crotchety old fart when it comes to “kids today and their music” (my radio dial is ALWAYS on the classic rock station), so I found the twee, tuneless little ditties that pop up throughout “Juno” to be annoying and intrusive. I didn’t even trouble myself to find out who sang them.

In “The Savages,” it’s the end of a life, rather than the beginning, which brings its protagonists to their knees. Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman are bright, brittle siblings, Wendy and Jon Savage, who are forced to care for their estranged father (Philip Bosco)when he develops senile dementia.

Wendy is a struggling playwright who makes do with temp jobs and a half-assed romantic relationship with a married director; Jon is a theater professor and an expert on Bertolt Brecht. Wendy longs for emotional depth and connection (to the point that she tells astounding lies when she needs to solicit comfort or affection; she can’t bring herself ask for those things directly). By contrast, Jon takes pains to exclude such messy complications from his life; he allows his girlfriend of two years to return to Poland when her visa expires with the flimsiest of explanations as to why he can’t marry her.

Yes, this is a film about a dysfunctional family, but the family’s history is not delved into. There are suggestions that the father was abusive, both verbally and physically. By the time we meet him, he’s far into dementia, yet it’s obvious that neither his moments of rage nor those of lucidity have much connection to his kids. There are some serious distances within this trio of family members.

The three actors are all wonderful, of course. Hoffman and Linney have a convincingly sibling-like relationship that turns from shared jokes to heated arguments on a dime. Bosco gives an unshowy, moving performance as a man who is slipping past the point of being able to retain his dignity.

The events of this film – putting a parent into a nursing home, preparing for the end of their lives – are ones I haven’t yet had to face in my life. The friend who accompanied me to “The Savages” has experienced all this and assures me that the film is devastatingly accurate in its portrayal of all those indignities of old age. I give the credit to writer/director Tamara Jenkins, whose film is unsparing and unsentimental in its details – from the brisk, professional cheerfulness of the nursing home workers to the realities of adult diapers and living wills. There’s a mordant, rueful wit underlying “The Savages” which saves it from being completely depressing; it’s not the happiest film you’ll see this season, or even the best. But Hoffman, Linney and Bosco are well worth experiencing.

As previously confessed, I’m an old fart when it comes to pop music. Actually, it’s worse than that: I am desperately, hopelessly uncool. (Just ask the former boyfriend who gave me no end of grief over my extensive collection of Amy Grant CDs.)

So I’m at a loss to explain why I even ordered a documentary on the late Joe Strummer (former frontman for The Clash) from On Demand this week -let alone watched it twice in its entirety within a 12-hour period.

Let’s just say I got drawn into “Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten” in a way I wouldn’t have predicted.

There are lots of interviews with friends, former lovers and bandmates, and cool celebrity fans (including Bono, John Cusack and Martin Scorsese, among others.) There is lots and lots of footage of Strummer, not only with The Clash and with his latter-day band, the Mescaleros, but with early groups like the Vultures and the One-on-One’rs. There’s music, but not enough. My familiarity with the Clash pretty much ended with “Rock the Casbah” and “Train in Vain” before I saw this film; now I’m itching to go out and stock up on Clash CDs.

The film is directed by Julien Temple, whose credentials for covering the punk rock scene of the late 70s are pretty well established (his previous work includes the 2000 documentary on the Sex Pistols “The Filth and the Fury”.” Then again, he also directed “Earth Girls are Easy.”) I’m not sure what to make of some of his rapid-fire film clip montages, particularly the frequent inclusion of clips from the animated version of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Are we meant to equate Strummer with Napoleon? (Or was it Snowball – which one was the Lenin pig and which one was the Stalin pig again?)

Anyway, what does emerge from “The Future is Unwritten” is a fascinating and full-bodied portrait of an artist who was brilliant but deeply flawed. He was a charming and welcoming host, but thought nothing of sleeping with a friend’s girlfriend. He preached about love and humanity and taking care of one another, but he could be a mean son of a bitch. In the end, we’ve got his music, and it was pretty freakin’ great! If “The Future is Unwritten” could get this Amy Grant fan and Sondheim-o-phile to pop “London Calling” into her CD player, then it must be doing something right.

Saturday Movie Clip: "Love Actually"
December 15, 2007, 5:44 pm
Filed under: Richard Curtis, Romantic Comedies

Because it’s another busy day at my house, I’m just posting a clip from the movie I’ll be watching while wrapping gifts and addressing cards this afternoon. Richard Curtis’ “Love Actually” is a big, overstuffed Christmas stocking of rom-com bliss,and has become one of my favorite seasonal guilty pleasures. A lot of characters in this film boldly declare their romantic intentions “because you tell the truth at Christmas” – must be a British thing, ’cause I never thought of Christmas as a “coming clean” sort of holiday. Oh, well… Enjoy this scene and enjoy your weekend!

Movies I Watch Over and Over: "Four Weddings and a Funeral"
November 15, 2007, 11:07 pm
Filed under: British Comedy, Richard Curtis, Romantic Comedies

Yikes, has it really been five days since I last posted here? Time is slipping away from me. The days are getting shorter and colder. More blustery wind, more darkness. This is the time of year when it’s good to snuggle under a soft blanket with a cup of hot chocolate and lose yourself in a favorite movie.

There are some movies which, for me, are “comfort flicks” – feel-good movies I watch again and again on days when both the skies and my spirits are bleak and gray. Over the next few days, I’ll be talking about some of those “comfort flicks.”

First off:

Maybe it’s because I’m an Anglophile.

Maybe it’s because it was here I first glimpsed – and developed a lasting, movie-star crush on – Hugh Grant.

Or maybe, it’s because any movie that opens with someone rolling over in bed, looking at the alarm clock, and then suddenly sitting bolt upright and yelling “F-U-U-U-C-K!” is my kind of movie. (This being an epithet I frequently shout at my alarm clock, whether it goes off on time or not.)

I first saw “Four Weddings and a Funeral” as part of an outing with an Indianapolis “Film Appreciation” club. We were the kind of group that normally gathered to see foreign and art films, which was how “Four Weddings” was initially marketed in this country. Many of the actors were new to me, the humor – romantic and ironic all at once – was fresh. I loved it, and it quickly became one of those rare movies I’d actually drag friends to see. I wasted no time obtaining the VHS tape when it became available, and I immediately traded up to the 10th anniversary DVD when it released in 2004.

And now, 13 years after my first viewing, I still pull out “Four Weddings and a Funeral” on gloomy afternoons when I need something to smile about. Like “Annie Hall,” which I wrote about last week, it has many classic, funny moments that are like touchstones for me, guaranteed cheerer-uppers. For starters, everything at that opening wedding is a hoot – from the hippie couple who serenade the congregation with a Barry Manilow tune to the bridal couple’s first dance (to “Crocodile Rock,” no less.) It’s a whole montage of cringe-worthy wedding moments so universal that even Americans can appreciate their awfulness. And yet, there is the toast that Hugh Grant delivers at the reception. It perfectly encapsulates the tone of the entire film: a touching reflection on the elusiveness and wonder of true love, wrapped in bawdy, schoolboy humor.

Grant, of course, is a dreamboat from start to finish – stammering delivery, floppy hair and all. I like that he’s shown wearing spectacles (reminiscent of Cary Grant in “Bringing Up Baby”) at times when his character is particularly vulnerable. Andie MacDowell, on the other hand, is considerably less than you’d want in a romantic comedy heroine; she has a penchant for truly awful line readings (the final scene’s “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.” being the classic example) and no real comedy chops. But there is enough magic in the air -what with the buoyant silliness of the writing, and the delightful performances of Kristin Scott Thomas, Thomas Fleet, Charlotte Coleman, John Hannah and Simon Callow -to keep even MacDowell’s leaden presence from putting a dent in the souffle.

This movie, like many British TV shows and later movies that I also love, was written by Richard Curtis. It was his first big hit, and led to “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually,” among others.

I’ve read that Curtis is not much liked in his native Britain, that his films are derided for the unreality of how his privileged-class characters hobnob companionably with those of humbler origins. I’m not sure when realistic depictions of the social strata became a requirement for romantic comedy, let alone realism of any kind. Personally, I like that the fact that, in “Four Weddings,” Grant’s upper middle class character shares a flat with the cheerfully disheveled, decidedly downmarket Scarlet, and that their friendship is depicted without comment. That the seventh richest man in Britain and his sister (Fleet and Scott Thomas) are close friends with a flamboyantly gay escapee from the grimy working classes (Callow), and no one bats an eye

For that matter, I love Curtis’ films because of the realities they do get right.

First of all, in a Curtis film, every character is shown living in the sort of unremarkable home he or she would actually be able to afford in real life.

(That may seem a strange thing to praise, but I think it’s worth noting. Just try to recall the last time you saw the leads of an American romantic comedy living in houses or apartments that weren’t impeccably grand and decorated to within an inch of their lives. Nothing coming to mind? Join the club! I’ve lost count of how many times the real estate has upstaged the actors in the films of writer/director Nancy Meyers (“The Holiday,” “Something’s Got to Give”). Or Woody Allen, for that matter.)

Furthermore, Curtis’ single characters who live in London tend to have roommates, even characters who seem a bit past the age when one usually has roommates. London is a very expensive city, so it makes perfect sense that its single denizens would need someone to split the living expenses. Who’s out of touch with economic reality now?

Finally, Curtis understands -as few other writers do – how single people form familial bonds within their network of friends. In “Four Weddings,” as well as “Notting Hill,” the single protagonists may be yearning for love, but they’re far from pathetic. They’re part of a reliable, close-knit circle of companions, and they never have to recover from their romantic setbacks in solitude. As a single adult who’s been blessed with a supportive network of friends, I find it cheering to see this depicted as the healthy norm, rather than the exception. (TV shows, like “Friends” and “Sex in the City” have the time to get this right; films seldom do.)

But I’m getting way too serious here – “Four Weddings and a Funeral” is a film I love most when it is silliest. If a benediction is order by way of wrapping this post up, I’ll simply quote Rowan Atkinson’s nervous priest character and say “May God bless us all. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spigot”!