Sunday, July 24, 2005

Happy Endings

Yesterday I build my whole day around seeing this film. I had tried to go on Friday, but wanted to get my haircut and then the timing wasn't ever right. With the heat, I feel like everything has to be carefully choreographed so there are no wasted outside moments, and no wandering to connect two destinations by foot.

I'd forgotten that the Landmark Sunshine theater has seating areas where you can hang out before the film, so I could have just sat there for a long time before the movie started, reading Harry Potter. Instead, I took a bagel and sat in the park nearby. This is a park that a volunteer group I was involved with once planned a cleaning day around, only to cancel it when an item appeared in the news about someone finding a stray needle. I always think of it that way, as the needle park, although it's actually relatively small and open and clean. Oh, it has its share of weirdos, don't get me wrong, but I don't feel unsafe there.

I did almost get hit by a basketball, though. Like many city parks, it had some pretty aggressive basketball going on, which I love watching. Unlike a pro sports game, where players are identified by team colors and jerseys with numbers and names, it often takes a few minutes to figure out who is on which team, and I like the confusion, the puzzle of figuring out, watching the players' dynamics, the nuances of their interactions... is this a pickup game or do these guys play together all of the time? Are they friends or just basketball buddies? Do they know the opposing team or did they just stumble upon them today? If I come back next Saturday, will I recognize any of them?

So the movie... I'd heard of it but didn't have a clear idea of what it was about, and still wanted to see it. Usually I do more homework than that, but this time it was like I'd filed away some kind of mental note to see it back in January after reading about it in the Sundance press, and never bothered to re-investigate, just knew I wanted to see it. I didn't even realize (or remember) that it was by the director of "The Opposite of Sex," only that it had appeared in the "What I'm doing next" bits in interviews with several actors that I like. Maggie Gyllenhaal. Bobby Cannavale. Maybe even Lisa Kudrow - not that she's one of the "actors I like" as she annoys the hell out of me. I think it's the fallout from "The Comeback," where all of her annoying habits - the nasal sharp voice, the rabbity tics, the freakish stares - culminate into one of the least-likeable characters I've seen on television. (Intentionally. That's the sad part - her character on that show is clearly written to be despised and pitied.)

Right off the bat I can say that this movie succeeds despite Lisa Kudrow. In fact, she looked so dramatically different (short dark hair and different colored eyes - or maybe eyes that appeared different colored because of her hair color), that at times she reminded me of someone else (still not sure who.) Especially when she didn't speak, although her voice was much better than usual. Most of the other actors were good, too, although Maggie Gyllenhaal? really is a goddess. She is incredibly magnetic, even in this movie, where her character is anything but admirable. And she sings! I am jonesing for the soundtrack. (Not out until next week. Why do they do that? Or is the film not opening wide until next week?)

I really liked the storyline, too. Er, the storylines - another one of these interwoven overlapping ensemble stories that seem everywhere right now. It worked this time, though, probably because the characters had very clear relationship lines (brother/sister, employer/worker.) What I didn't like was the device that the director used to frame his story. In "The Opposite of Sex" he had Christina Ricci supply a voiceover narration; here, he uses screen title cards to explain gaps in the storyline, or simply to move story forward. It isn't my favorite method - I prefer the story to tell the story, leaving the viewer with enough info to fill in the gaps on his/her own. Here, I'll grant, it became more of a comic device (much like Ricci's narration was), but still felt intrusive.


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