Thursday, January 20, 2005

Warning: movie review

I have to be careful because the thing I'm grateful for today I could end up listing many, many times. I am grateful for the movies, my one true love (possibly tied with certain novels). Also, on the way to the movies yesterday, someone had left an angel in the snow. That was pretty cool.

Wednesday they let us go at 2:00 PM in anticipation of inauguration traffic (I guess). (I keep wanting to make some play on "inauguration" like "inauspiceration" but it's not that funny.) I didn't leave the office until after 3:00, but don't worry, I wasn't working, I was fiddling with the blog and talking to Heather. After I left I decided a movie was the way to go and I saw "In Good Company." I knew it wouldn't be great and it had some pretty serious flaws. It didn't matter too much because I was very into just being in the movie theater. I love that feeling. Sitting in the dark, getting ready to be completely absorbed into another world. Unless the movie is so bad that you can't suspend any disbelief, there is always something good about going to the movies. In this case, I didn't hate it. I think Topher Grace is fantastic. His face is so fluid and expressive, slipping from sincere to slick to heartbroken in one wipe. He is young and adorable and I wonder if he'll get better looking as he ages, gets weathered, puts on a bit of weight. I prefer the slightly older mid-thirties look these days, but I could live with the extreme youthfulness of Topher (though a more pretentious nickname I couldn't imagine). I also think Scarlett Johansson is pretty fantastic. She's got a perfect body and a pretty, blank face--but it's that mouth, her lips that are the unavoidable focus of her face. I also love Dennis Quaid and the almost believably middle-aged Marg Helgenberger.

Unfortunately, the core of the movie is hollow. The theme seems to be find something in life that is meaningful to you and work at it. Choose to do what you love. That's actually a great theme and Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) is the exemplar of it. A company man at the same sales job for 23 years, master of the soft sell, who true belives in his product. Great. But--he's an ad man. An AD MAN. And the movie is holding that up as the ideal job with meaning? Really? His product is ad space in a Sports Illustrated type of magazine--how, exactly, does advertising in Sports Illustrated make the world a better place? Or, is the movie simply saying that if you think advertising in Sports Illustrated makes the world a better place then you are a good person for selling the ad space. Sorry, doesn't track. Also, Dan acts towards his daughter like a jealous boyfriend. Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), who is Dan's new boss after a corporate take-over, starts a secret affair with Dan's daughter Alex. That it is secret at first makes sense, but the continuing secret doesn't. He's maybe six years older than her (her age is not clear, she's either 18 or 20, so he's either 8 or 6 years older than her), which, while not exactly cool, hardly seems shocking. And, for God's sake, it's Scarlett Johansson, so she acts like she's 40, while seeming as innocent as a 5 year old. The minor dénouement of the picture happens when Dan follows Carter to an assignation with Alex--lunch in a fancy New York restaurant. Wow, that's pretty scandalous. Dan's question to his daughter is, "Are you sleeping with him?" Luckily, she's too smart to answer directly and eventually says, "Dad, what do you want me to say?" Dan then tells Carter to stand up and when Carter does Dan slugs him. Carter falls to the floor and professes his love for Alex. Then she runs out of the restaurant after her DAD! Is this bordering on incestuous or what? If it were me, well, first of all, my dad wouldn't give a shit about who I was sleeping with--he knows that that is not the important thing. He might not like the guy and he would let me know, but punching him?? Ridiculous. But, when Carter says he loves Alex, I believed him. I didn't believe Dan punching him. I believed Alex running after Dad. And when Dan says he liked Alex better when she was five she responds, appropriately, that it is a terrible thing to say. One thing for the script--while not a good movie, they don't fool around trying to turn a clever phrase. The characters get to speak in pretty much regular human language, at least the middle class American version of it.

There is also an upside-down morality to the work-place story. Dan several times has the option of quitting in support of his (former) employees. He never does, but he is still heroisized. Maybe because he has two kids, a pregnant wife and a second mortgage he's not expected to make a sacrifice. At the end, when he is restored to his old job and rightful power, partially due to Carter's willingness to sacrifice his own job, he does NOTHING to save Carter. It takes Dan a whole month to offer Carter his job back.

What is the focus of this picture? The romance? The office? The bucolic suburb? The city versus the suburb? (Classic worn out trope of the bad city (NYU) versus the safe country (anonymous SUNY campus). Is it a coming of age story (Alex)? A redemption story (Carter)? A revenge story (Dan)? I like the idea of all of these themes floating around in the same picture, but this one doesn't figure out how to bring them together in a way that resonates.

1 comment:

  1. When you get the chance please go see House of Flying Daggers. It's beautifully photographed, with several neat plot twists and the ultimate nobody wins - everybody dies Hong Kong movie ending. The director made "Hero" last year, but whether or not you like "kung-fu" style films this one is excellent.


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