Tangled

Every woman who has ever known me well enough to talk about such things has told me that Disney movies made her wish that she had blond hair, as so many Disney heroines did. I never really understood it at the time, especially since there are non-blond Disney heroines. Not only that, but I’d always thought jet-black hair was far more attractive than blond. The Fates smiled on me, and one day I met the beautiful, black-haired Asian woman who is now my wife. However, she is always talking about wanting to dye her hair other colors, especially (of all things) blond. Yuck. But I digress. More recently, I’ve begun to see why so many women feel the way they do about Disney and hair. Disney’s latest animated fairy tale makes the picture pretty clear, as it comes right out and declares the two points Disney has always been making.

First point: brown-haired girls are useless. Disney has always hinted at this. While the hair colors of their leading ladies are more diverse than some people acknowledge, there has only ever been one brown-haired Disney heroine (unless you count Megara, who is a pretty small part of the Hercules plot, not to mention terribly drawn). However, in Tangled they just come right out and say it. The villainess, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphey), discovers a magic flower that has the power to keep her young forever. Centuries later, the flower is uprooted and made into medicine to save an ailing, pregnant, brown-haired queen. The queen then gives birth to Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), who has long, flowing blond hair, that contains the flower’s power. Gothel kidnaps her and spirits her away to a secluded tower to keep herself young. We later learn that Rapunzel’s hair can never be cut, or it will turn *gasp!* brown and lose its power. Isn’t that a slap to the face of every brunette in the audience.

On the upside, Disney may have found their most likable heroine ever in Rapunzel. The princesses of Disney’s golden age (e.g. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty) were justifiably criticized for being overly passive, depending on a man for their happiness, and waiting to be rescued. On the other hand, Disney’s silver age reeks of overcompensation for this. In the early ‘90s Disney subjected us to a whole generation of Kimpossible-esque princesses spouting musical rhetoric about making their own choices and marrying only for love. It wasn’t terrible, but it was an obvious attempt to be politically correct in an age of commercials full of girls playing soccer and shouting about how girls kick butt. Then, as Disney descended back into mediocrity, they had their heroines attempting near-suicidal stunts and fighting more than Lara Croft. Esmerelda slapped and kicked her way through innumerable guards in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was all pretty forced.

Lara Croft as a Disney Princess

Rapunzel transcends all of this. On the spectrum between pining prince-craver and emasculating bitch she really doesn’t show up anywhere. She’s a pretty simple character; all she wants is to get out of her tower for a day. She’s humble, yet full of life. Adventurous, yet real and relatable. She’s warm, human and caring. Far less sexualized than Esmerelda, Jasmine, or even Ariel, she’s still thoroughly female. She’s spontaneous, pretty and, yes, blond.

Not only that, but Rapunzel actually has a legitimate grievance in her life. Just when I thought I’d go insane if I had to listen to one more spoiled brat sing about her desire for “adventure in the great wide somewhere,” it was easy to sympathize with the plight of a girl who just wanted to see what was outside her bedroom.

Our male lead (Zachary Levi) is a bit more of a stock character; not too different from Aladdin or Phoebes, but he’s still a lot of fun to watch.

This horse is a better fencer than his rider.

Of course, you can’t have a good story without a villainess to antagonize the primal couple. Disney has been through a real dry spell of villainesses in the last couple decades; the last one I can name was Ursula in The Little Mermaid. I am happy to report that sinister femininity is back with a vengeance in Tangled. Which brings up the second point Disney is trying to make: Black-haired women are evil. The queen in Snow White, Malificent in Sleeping Beauty, The Queen of Hearts, Cruella Devil – they all had black hair (or black horns). Even Ursula had black hair once she transformed into a young woman for the last act. It’s also worth noting that, while Disney does have black-haired heroines, none of them are Caucasian, except Snow White.

True to form, our antagonist in Tangled has black hair. Not only that, but director Nathan Greno uses this hair extensively to emphasize her evilness. Time after time it frames her face for a menacing close-up, or flows into a black cloak that she’s wearing. In all fairness, though, Gothel is a pretty three-dimensional character, especially for a villain. It actually took me almost half the movie to be sure that she was the villain, and that’s rare. Early on, she’s mainly a doting, if over-protective, mother for Rapunzel. It just makes it that much more fun to watch her true colors come out later.

All in all, this is a genuinely terrific movie, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. Disney succeeds here where they’ve often failed – in making a movie just as enjoyable for adults as for children – and they did it with almost no violence or sensuality. Tangled deliciously skewers every Disney cliché, from emotive animals to ridiculously spontaneous musical numbers. The story is loaded with hilarity from start to finish, and it’s also a story full of true love, overcoming one’s fears, and often heart-wrenching self-sacrifice. It reminded me of why I once loved Disney. And while I no longer do, and never will again, it was really good to go back for an evening.

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New in Town

Watching this movie is like eating a bowl of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  It’s not fancy, it’s not special, but it gets the job done and you generally don’t regret it afterwards.  But not every movie can be The Godfather, and not every meal can be gourmet steak.  Sometimes, though, the basics are all you need, and even though New In Town contains not one single original idea, character, joke, or plot point, it’s also a refreshing trip to the basics of lighthearted celluloid fare.  Take Sweet Home Alabama, substitute the classy Renee Zellweger for the saucy Reese Witherspoon, drop the production in the frozen tundra of Minnesota instead of the sweltering heat of the deep south, and you’ve got another in a long line of fish out of water tales that does everything you would expect–no more, no less.  But in a day and age when Hollywood continues to push the envelope of gratuitous spectacle at the expense of storylines, New In Town is a welcome change from the usual and a solid way to pass the time if you’re just looking for a simple, enjoyable movie.

The plot is as basic as can be:  Lucy Hill (Zellweger), playing Stuffy Female Corporate Executive Hollywood Character #16-B, is transplanted by her national dairy corporation employer from the sunny beaches of Florida to the frozen wasteland of New Ulm, Minnesota, in the dead of winter to shut down the local yogurt factory.  Lucy hates the cold, wants to get in and take care of business as quickly as possible, and will be gosh-darned if she’s going to make friends with any of the locals.  And if you can’t tell where things go from there, you might as well turn off your computer right now and cry yourself to sleep, as you have no business reading a movie review web site.  :)

New In Town: Ice Scraping

Ah, the classic credit card ice scraper maneuver. Well known by all Minnesotans.

Harry Connick, Jr., shows up to flash a smile and collect a paycheck as Ted Mitchell, the local blue-collar dude with perpetual five o’clock shadow and a rusty pickup to match.  Of course he and Lucy don’t get along, especially since he’s the local union representative for the dairy factory.  But as quickly as you can say “Lutheran church potluck” the two hit it off and realize that true love, or at least fleeting Hollywood infatuation, knows no bounds.

Despite the headache-inducing predictability, the story is enjoyable and there’s enough Minnesota jokes to satisfy even the Coen Brothers.  It’s fun watching Lucy get the hang of a small Minnesota town in winter, experience the joys of hunting and ice fishing, and learn how to appreciate pee-wee hockey matches.  Siobhan Fallon does an excellent job as Blanche, a mentor of sorts for Lucy who goes to bat for her with the locals and even unashamedly questions her about her Christian faith, or lack of it.  I was honestly shocked at this, and could hardly believe a major (or at least semi-major) Hollywood production would take Christians seriously rather than treat them as cheap jokes, tired stereotypes, or easy punchlines.  Blanche and many of her fellow New Ulm residents are serious about their faith and serious about witnessing to outsiders, and I found this to be a supremely welcome change from the norm.

Will love triumph over career obligations?  Will the dairy operation shut down and put all the residents out of a job?  Will Blanche ever reveal the secret receipt for her tapioca?  Such questions are moot, as the answers are as easy and uncomplicated as pouring powdered cheese and milk into a vat of boiled noodles.  But if these items were ever in doubt, then you’re looking for the wrong movie.  New In Town is a well-made, respectable, and enjoyable 90 minutes even if you’ve seen it all before in a dozen other movies.  Just goes to show the staying power of a classic formula.

Rating:

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The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

After the monotonous disaster of “New Moon,” David Slade (30 Days of Night) takes the reigns of The Twilight Saga and gives “Eclipse” something the last installment hadn’t: a pulse.  I’m sure that really has more to do with the source novel from Stephanie Meyer, and Slade merely delivered the series a kick in the pants.

I couldn’t believe that events and actions actually take place. Dialogue doesn’t make you gag…constantly. The special effects and action sequences were impressive.  Characters have depth, detail, and explanation.  Everything that was absent from Chris Weitz’s attempt on the first sequel ceases to be quite so problematic.  I have to go back again to the first film and remind readers that I actually gave a pass to Catherine Hardwicke’s work.  Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart had something to their performances that held the low-budget “Twilight” together, when the production values couldn’t match them.  Then “New Moon” was unleashed upon audiences a little over eight months ago.  Absolutely nothing happens for over two hours.  Sure, we got a lot of moping, whining, horrific dialogue, and poor performances–but that doesn’t exactly make for a story.

With “Eclipse,” the series is still bogged down by its teeny-bopper trappings regarding ‘Edward or Jacob,’ but it finally addresses a bigger picture and some other-world mythology.  In the previous entries, I kept wondering about other vampire clans, wolf packs, where these characters have come from, and how these movies fit in with vampire/werewolf history. Director  David Slade and Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg may have warring specialties (Slade wants to rev things up, Rosenberg wants to play it safe), but “Eclipse” satisfies as a more intense story of warring vampires and wolves.

Edward (Robert Pattinson), the dusty vampire, and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the fiery wolf, continue to battle for Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) affections.  Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard), the red-headed bloodsucker still running around to exact revenge on Bella and Edward for the death of her brother, James (from Part I), finally has conjured up a plan to eliminate the Cullen clan.  She will assemble a ‘newborn’ army of vampires to take them down.  Newborn vampires are driven purely by an uncontrolled thirst for blood, making them faster, stronger, and harder to kill.  The Cullens catch on to Victoria’s thoughts and manage to make temporary allies with the wolves, or spirit warriors, in an effort to defend themselves.  Meanwhile, the Volturi (led by Dakota Fanning) are watching the situation closely, and may potentially step in.  What they actually would do, I don’t know, but I would assume it has something to do with death.  In the middle of the warring effort, Edward tries to convince Bella to marry him.  She is conflicted as her feelings for Jacob continue fuel doubt towards her love for her vamp-candy.  Jacob wants her to stay human and grow old with him.  Bella would prefer to stay human as well.  But she wants to be with Edward more–even if that means becoming the living dead.  Hmmm… what to do… what to do?

Aside from the Bella-Edward-Jacob mumbo-jumbo, the series actually has time to look at other characters and their histories.  It also introduces a world outside of Edward, Bella, and Jacob.  Would you believe that other vampires actually exist?  There is a threat of bloodsuckers overtaking Seattle that the police are miscalculating as the work of a serial killer.  The wolves get a piece of the story pie too, as their hatred for vampires is illustrated through a back story.  I had no idea the vampires in Stephanie Meyer’s world were made of stone.  I also didn’t realize that the wolves are not werewolves.  They are more like hulks in dog form.  “Eclipse” has actual substance, and that was most refreshing, even though it still contains all that love triangle stuff–but even much of that aspect was handled better this time around.

Edward and Jacob actually have interactions.  There’s a good scene where Edward and Bella are in hiding shortly before the battle with the newborn army is to happen.  The temperature outside is freezing, and the characters take refuge inside a tent.  Bella is getting much too cold, and Edward has no body heat to help her, so Jacob has to come inside to keep her warm.  This doesn’t sit too well with Edward.  The two end up sharing a comical and interesting conversation that amounts to more than just a bunch of poorly delivered line readings.  The actors deliver more than they did in the last movie.  It helps that Pattinson and Stewart, the best actors in the movie, have more screen time together here.

Slade amps up the action too.  The battle between the wolves and vamps is a doozy, and is a large improvement in the special effects department.  The wolves look much better.  The vampires’ speed looks leagues better than it did in the first film.  Finally, “Twilight” is startling to look like the money it brings in.  I still think the final installment needs further increased intensity, and less soap opera, but there is a particular audience for the movie that can’t be competed with.  David Slade does his best to broaden that audience.  And the difference is more than noticeable, enough so that I was able to enjoy the movie and acknowledge its accomplishments despite it being a movie definitely meant for someone else entirely.

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Knight and Day

If “Knight and Day” does anything particularly well, it proves that star-power is absolutely crucial in elevating haphazard writing.  Any hack writer can jot down “Action sequence. Car chase.” and proceed with details regarding grandiose explosion after explosion without one shred of an idea on how to pen stretches of dialogue or convincing human interaction.  Sometimes actors have to fill in the gaps, and their natural talent and improvisation can jack up a lazy script.  Such is the case with the overly-amplified vehicle starring the aging Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, two veterans in a movie about ten years too late for them, and still looking pretty good for their age.  Heck, who am I kidding?  We have ‘The Expendables’ ready to wreak havoc in a few months, so maybe Cruise and Diaz are shining in their prime.  Either way, their seniority is only one of many winks at the audience throughout “Knight and Day.”

I’ve heard all the rumors surrounding the pain and sweat (and multiple writers) that went into getting this movie to the screen.  While I’m sorry to say the final product isn’t a masterpiece for anyone involved, it does what it can.  I wonder how many writers it actually takes to deliver next to nothing as far as the plot goes.  Seriously, the plot seems to be recycled out of Cruise’s own ‘Mission: Impossible III.’  The punchline of a star turns the punchline on the audience, playing an eccentric and wildfire secret agent, Roy Miller, involving an unsuspecting mechanic, June (Cameron Diaz), in the middle of a one-man war against the F.B.I. (or so they claim they are).  Why is Roy on the run and bagging a bunch of other agents with machine guns?  Well, because they are after a new scientific breakthrough that can antiquate the world’s primary energy sources, and Miller may be out to protect it–or steal it.  For better or worse, June is Miller’s captive, and no matter where she runs, she can’t escape trouble.  To her own dismay and hesitation, she bargains for Miller’s ‘protection’ as he sends her into firestorm of one-man army battles involving warehouse shootouts, freeway chase shootouts, and jumping out of airliners probably involving shootouts.  If you want action, you have action and then some.

Saving this mess of a script is primarily Cruise, whose charisma and self-parody adds a necessary charm and hilarity to the proceedings.  The man knows his current public image, and the only way to absolve it is to acknowledge it and play it up for all it’s worth.  There’s little to no depth to the character of Miller, only a lunatic surface that could be real or fake. Let’s face it, he’s a secret agent and everything he does is for a reason.  Maybe he’s not crazy, but he spends most of his time killing off enemies in the most outrageously dangerous fashion at his disposal.  In fact, I think many audiences will be surprised how violent the film is.  Cruise acts like he’s finished a load of laundry after killing off 30 assassins.  Diaz starts out shocked by all the chaos early on in the film’s opening sequence where Cruise single-handedly takes out a plane full of killers and proceeds to land the airliner.  Gradually she becomes engulfed in her secret agent boy toy and eventually finds herself taking part in the mayhem.  Comedy holds it all together, as Cruise and Diaz riff off each other quite nicely.  They don’t so much create characters as much as exchange banter and crooked looks.  Surprisingly, that’s enough to keep “Knight and Day” in check.  The romance goes out the window–there’s no wild passionate love scenes or heated chemistry between the two–they simply coexist in this whacked out adventure.

James Mangold directed the movie, and to my surprise you would have no idea.  The man has “Walk the Line” and “3:10 to Yuma (2007)” to his credit.   Why he decided to jump into a loosely-plotted action-extravaganza is beyond me.  He may have had a heck of a time divulging in sugar-filled summer filmmaking.  The stars couldn’t be of higher-caliber or more glamorous, the worldwide locations for filming probably made for quite the treat, and the action sequences allow him to go as big as he possibly can.  He pulls it off surprisingly well.  I really have no complaints as generic summer action-pictures go.  This one is for laughs, audacious stunts, and two veteran actors taking ten years off their age or more.  It’s no ‘True Lies,’ but it’s about on par with ‘Mr. and Mrs. Smith.’

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Date Night

“Date Night” is everything its trailers don’t make it appear to be–a hugely entertaining, rowdy, wacky slapstick film featuring two comic geniuses.  Steve Carell and Tina Fey, two major stars of the two biggest sitcoms on NBC, have an exciting chemistry that carries this goofy, mainstream film to glorious heights.

The duo plays a middle-aged suburban married couple out for a night in New York City.  After attempting to get a table at a fancy seafood restaurant, they are shot down cold, and decide to take the reservation of the seemingly absent Tripplehorns.  Toward the end of their meal, two thugs arrive at their table and escort them out, quickly waving guns in their faces and demanding an important flash drive from them.  Mayhem ensues as these two spend the night dodging crooked cops, mobsters, and bullets in the midst of a go-to mistaken identity plot.

Luckily for Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum II, yikes), this very mainstream script can’t bog down Fey and Carell.  The two make an unstoppable pair when Levy stops the action in favor of their witty banter and improvisation.  Add in some entertaining cameos from James Franco, Mila Kunis and supporting player Mark Wahlberg, and “Date Night” is a very funny, entertaining, action-romance-comedy serving up shameless mainstream hijinks.  With the weight on the shoulders of Carell and Fey, this potential disaster of a movie, turns into the perfect date night movie.  I really enjoyed it a lot more than I anticipated.

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Ugly Truth

You will not enjoy The Ugly Truth. At least, for your sake, I hope you don’t. When I saw it, I was repeatedly asking myself two questions: One: why am I watching this? And two: do members of our culture really have so little hope that they can’t aspire to anything more than this?

The Ugly Truth might be interpreted by some as a “chick flick,” however it attempts to bring the male perspective into the ugly picture it draws of relationships. I emphasize “attempts.”

At the beginning, we meet Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) a high-power TV producer who is successful in all things except love. By far the most entertaining scene is one of the first, in which she goes to a restaurant and meets (for the first time) a bachelor that she has been paired with by a computer dating service. Their conversation goes something like this:

She (opening black leather folder): I was so excited to meet you, because your profile had nine out of the ten characteristics on my checklist.

He: You brought my profile to our date??

She (turning pages): Oh, my assistant put it in my bag. She doesn’t like me to be caught unprepared – not that I am ever not prepared. Kudos on your comprehensive car insurance plan, by the way.

He: That wasn’t in my profile.

She: No, but it was in your background check.

He: Uh …

She (after a pause): Oh, don’t worry, I brought a list of conversation topics in case this happened.

He (rubbing his face): So, I take it this has happened before…

Director Robert Luketic figures we can probably guess how the rest of the date goes, and cuts to a scene of Abby returning home, dejected. She starts channel surfing and comes across Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), a brash, shallow, foul-mouthed guy in tight pants doing his call-in show called “The Ugly Truth.” Chadway is throwing relationship books into a barrel and setting them on fire like the refuse they are.

He declares “Men are simple! You want a relationship, ladies, here’s how. It’s called a Stairmaster …” Scrub out a lot of profanity and stomach-churning innuendo, and Mike is essentially saying women need to get an ideal body, put on a revealing outfit, and then men will want to have sex with them. Only then is a relationship (albeit a fairly one-sided one) possible. Incensed, Abby calls him and demands “Do you really expect us to believe men are incapable of feeling love, and are all as perverse as you?” He asks if she knows a man who is not. Abby takes a breath and begins describing the ideal man who lives in her mind. He replies:

“Oh, I get it, you’re a lesbian.”

“What??”

“You must be; you just described the perfect woman!”

The next day, Abby goes to work and finds out, to her horror, that her boss thinks their programming has gotten boring, and has hired Mike to spice it up. Mike’s first appearance on Abby’s station is to be with unhappily married anchors Georgia (Cheryl Hines) and Larry (John Michael Higgins), who are more-or-less Regis and Kathy Lee. Abby coaches the two of them before the show to humiliate him on the air.

Mike and Abby have a stare-down over makeup

Mike and Abby have a stare-down over makeup.

However, once on the air, Mike gets them to admit to all of their marital problems, finally getting Larry to acknowledge that he is so embarrassed by the fact that Georgia makes more money than he does, that he has been impotent for several months. After some coaching by Mike, Larry demands, “Georgia, let me be a man!” He suddenly attacks her with passionate kisses and then throws her over his shoulder and carries her off the set. Everyone in the control room is cheering, Mike’s popularity is now assured, and Abby is next seen curled up on the floor of the closet in her office.

In between all of this, Abby meets her neighbor, Collin (Eric Winter). Collin is an orthopedic surgeon who has somehow found time to maintain the body of a professional weight lifter. He loves poetry, cooking, and giving foot massages (when I saw this, I rolled my eyes hard enough to pull a muscle). Hoping to take Mike down a peg, Abby announces to him that she has actually met the perfect man she has been dreaming of. Mike asks “has he asked you out yet?” Abby immediately marches to her phone, and calls Collin to ask him out. When Collin hesitates, Mike hangs up Abby’s phone with the comment “He was blowing you off.” Abby is angry, but it gets her attention when Collin calls back, as Mike predicted. Mike instructs “Now make him suffer. Put him on hold.” Once again, Collin reacts as Mike predicts. Mike and Abby make a deal that if she does as Mike says and she lands Collin, she will cooperate with his efforts at the network. If not, he’ll quit.

The rest of the movie is scenes of Mike giving Abby tips on seductive dress, flirting and teasing. None of it is funny, however, and a lot of it is disgusting. Every exchange follows this pattern:

He: We need to change your hair/clothing/eye color/butt.

She (indignant): What is wrong with it?

He: It makes you look sensible/professional/mature.

She: What is wrong with sensible/professional/mature?

He: Nothing, except no-one-wants-to-f.ck-it.

Eventually, Abby does land Collin. But by this point – you guessed it – Mike has fallen for her. We also learn a little more about Mike’s background; how he has been burned by a lot of girls that didn’t really like him, and made him what he is today. He eventually goes on a rant about how women don’t care about you, they only care about their checklist. All of this could have been fairly interesting if Luketic had taken the time to really get us inside the characters heads, but he seems to prefer to spend the time on shock value. By the end of act one, I was looking at my watch.

Mike, after wrestling with twins in jello. Don't worry; he only slept with the one that could read.

The script for this film was written by three women, and Mike Chadway seems to be their attempt to incorporate the male perspective on relationships. Mike is a tad likable for a minute here and there just because he’s not ashamed of being a guy. But in the end, what his lines amount to is a restatement of the same things that bitter, sexually frustrated women say about men. In other words, Mike has only found a more phallocentric way of saying “men are pigs.”

For example, in one scene where he coaches Abby, he tells her “Never criticize. For men, self improvement ends with toilet training.” Doubtless a lot of women feel this way. It is nonsense, however. Men have plenty of interest in self improvement. The problem is women tend to think that they can mold a man into who they think he should be through nagging and criticizing. It doesn’t work on them, so I don’t know why they think it will work on us.

The worst thing about The Ugly Truth isn’t the gross dialogue or the choppy editing. It’s the utter sadness I felt for anyone who could actually connect with this movie. As I sat watching it with my beautiful wife curled up next to me, I wondered what it would be like to have to believe that there is no hope of anything better than the occasional cheap thrill in relationships.

Because that’s what the writers seem to believe. Neither Abby nor Mike ever really grow or learn anything; they just inexplicably fall in love with each other on a hot air balloon. Cut to the final scene of the two of them in bed. There was actually another ending filmed that involves the two of them getting married. Mike gives a speech in which he says “It’s true that every woman has a checklist, but occasionally a regular guy like me can sneak onto that checklist by using good old fashion true love.” They could have at least partially redeemed the movie if they had used this ending. Sure, the theatrical ending fits better with the spirit of the movie, but why would you want to do that?

So I hope you’re as repulsed by The Ugly Truth as I am. If nothing else, watching it made me appreciate my love-filled and passionate marriage. Which brings me back to the question: why was I even watching that tripe? The reason was, she asked me to watch it with her, and I knew it would make her happy if I did. Yeah. I’m a stud.

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(500) Days of Summer


Director Marc Webb may be getting all the buzz as Sony’s new choice to helm the next “Spider-Man” franchise set to start filming soon, but only because of his gem of a film that won over audiences and critics earlier this year.  “(500) Days of Summer” is one of those films that came out of left-field for me.  I had little expectations for it, although I knew it was supposed to be pretty good.  To my surprise, this intelligent indie became my favorite “romantic comedy” in quite some time.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, carrying the reputation of one his generation’s best young actors, plays Tom Hansen.  Tom is a young adult with little motivation as a greeting-card author with no girlfriend–until he meets Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), a complex and mysterious young lady taking a new job at the office.  He’s instantly attracted to her, and the two eventually embark on a complex and mysterious relationship that defies the typical boy-meets-girl formula.  Tom is head over heels while Summer keeps just enough distance, creating a quiet tension between the two.

Throughout the course of the movie, the plot never strays into predictable Hollywood territory.  Marc Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have crafted a very funny and emotional film that keeps things completely real, close, and honest.  Rarely do audiences get treated to such an interpersonal and understanding ‘romance’ (especially revolving young people) without a hint of the mundane or any cliche to bog it down.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is certainly one of the best young actors out there, and Zooey Deschanel compliments him every step of the way.  I didn’t quite know which direction this movie was going, but it was funny, effective, and truthful. This is the date movie of the year, and the past few years. 

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Hitch

I’m not sure why “Romantic” movies are also coupled with “Comedy,” but for some reason, the two seem inextricably linked like “Peanut Butter” and “(something else).”  But for whatever reason, Romantic Comedies seem to have found their audience, and they’re generally a pretty safe bet for Hollywood producers as well as the viewing public.  Rom-coms don’t usually have massive budgets like sci-fi epics or action movies, and aside from some anomalies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, they typically don’t dominate the box office but usually have no trouble making their money back.  Most mainstream Rom-Coms rely on the star power of one or two notable actors, a rather formulaic plot, and a feel-good ending that implies the same “happily ever after” resolution as most childhood fairy tales.

That’s not to say Romantic Comedies aren’t enjoyable, just predictable.  Hitch, while still being romantic, comedic, and predictable, does have enough variations from the norm to make it interesting and fun to watch, even though its serious flaws are tough to overlook.  Will Smith plays Alex Hitchens, a guy who “creates opportunities” for people to hook up.  He doesn’t directly pair up guys with the girls of their dreams, but instead he shows guys how to adjust their attitude and self-image so as to appear more attractive and desirable to the women they are trying to go out with.  In the obligatory (for this kind of setup) montage near the beginning of the movie, Hitch shows a socially akward fireman how to be more calm and collected around a particular girl, another guy how to lose some of the bad habits he has picked up, and so on.  Hitch guarantees that he can get any girl to go out with any guy for at least three dates.  This presents a rather interesting problem when a very akward accountant named Albert Brennaman, played by the affable Kevin James, enlists Hitch’s help in getting a date with his client Allegra Cole–essentially this movie’s version of a more intelligent Paris Hilton.  The setup is perfect for showcasing what makes Hitch unique not only within the movie, but within the canon of Romantic Comedies and Hollywood in general:  he refuses to create opportunities for simple one-night stands.  Instead, his goal is to help people find fulfilling, long-lasting relationships that have far more depth than what is usually portrayed on the silver screen.

Hitch and Albert, both searching for love. In other words, too much story for only one movie.

This premise in itself might make for an interesting enough movie on its own, but fortunately the movie is a bit smarter than that and also delves into the backstory of Hitch himself–ironically, though he is known as the “Date Doctor,” he has his own fears of commitment and has never had a long-lasting relationship.  But this divergence in the movie is also one of the film’s weak points, as it is handled a little too clumsily and gives the storyline a distinct lack of focus.  While Hitch is busy helping Albert with proper dance moves at the club, how to speak with confidence, and the “90%” rule of kissing a woman, he is also busy chasing local gossip columnist Sara Meles (Eva Mendes).  And this is where things get a little confusing:  just when we are getting to know Albert and feel empathy for him and his situation, we are taken on a side quest with Hitch as he tries to hook himself up with Sara.  The two of them go on dates with hilarious pratfalls such as Hitch accidentally kicking Sara off her jetski and into the polluted waters of the Hudson River, and Hitch himself getting a horrible outbreak of facial swelling due to a food allergy.  Har!

As if these two plots weren’t enough, there is another subplot involving Sara’s friend Casey and a guy Hitch refuses to work with, because all he wants to do is sleep with her.  This of course leads to misunderstandings, confusion, and the sorts of conflicts that are omnipresent in Romantic Comedies.  In the end, everything plays out about as you would expect, and though I won’t spoil anything here, I will say that pretty much every Romantic Comedy cliche right down the climax and denouement is present here.

Let me be clear:  predictability is not a bad thing, and I don’t mean to cast aspersions on Romantic Comedies in general.  But what keeps Hitch from being more than average is its poor handling of the multiple storylines, and a general lack of character development for everyone but Hitch himself (the relationship between Albert and Allegra is never explored very much, despite ostensibly being the main focus of the movie).  Is it a passable Romantic Comedy?  Sure.  It’s just not much more.

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