Sunday, November 18, 2007

Two movies, mixed response.

I thought "Wristcutters: A Love Story" would be fun and quirky but it's more dreary and quirky, not that one should expect more from a romance set in the suicides' afterworld. I don't mean dreary in a way that's not entertaining, for part of the appeal of the film is observing the world itself: its dead-end jobs, sad landscapes, lethargic population. Where else would suicides go, or more accurately, what else would that world become when they're the only ones in it? Just when the movie begins to drag itself down on its own whimsy (Will Arnett as a Messiah!), it ends, and the ending is so enjoyable that it makes up for most of the missteps that went before. (A levitating man! A black hole that eats sunglasses and lighters!)

"Margot at the Wedding" caused two very different reactions at the theater when I saw it: a round of applause from some members of the packed auditorium, followed by a rant outside between two people about everything they hated in it. Put me squarely with the haters.

I think it's partly the result of too high expectations. You have Noah Baumbach, whose last film "The Squid and the Whale" was one of my favorites of last year; Jennifer Jason Leigh, who has always been sadly underused as an actress (her imdb profile is trying to contradict me, but most of the films they list even I haven't heard of); Nicole Kidman, who when she's good, is so very very good; and Jack Black, that every-guy that never fails to make me smile.

What we get is a mishmash of scenes where unlikeable people do mean things to each other, revealing years of complicated past history but no hint of promise or change. Which is okay, mostly. I don't need my movies wrapped up neatly in a bow before the closing credits (if they do, I'll sneer and roll my eyes in my usual "oh-I'm-too-cool-for-this" posturing), but I do like to feel that the characters have taken me on some kind of journey before dropping me unceremoniously by the side of the road. (Or in this case, on a dreary rural bus, coasting along that same road.) For the first time in a long time, I was startled when the credits rolled, not just because the movie felt short (at 90 minutes, it's not that short) but because it felt unfinished, incomplete.

Nicole Kidman's character is so despicable that she's hard to watch, and it's not just her weirdly stretched eyes and frozen features. (I came home to find "Malice" on cable; one of my favorite trashy thrillers, it also reminds you sadly of how beautiful she was when she was natural, not just when she was young. She doesn't look good now, pretending she's as young as she was 20 years ago; you can't help but wonder how gorgeous she would be with a natural softness to her face.)

Jennifer Jason Leigh is five years older than Kidman, but always looks so young, not just because of her small stature but due to her gawky, coltish nature. Here her face is softly lined and she's still pretty, a lesson too late for Kidman. Leigh's misfortune is to have to play off Kidman, and she does a good job of matching that cold negativity with strong emotion, but in the end neither character seems to have much of a center. They're almost too realistically complex to be realistic. That's fine in life, but in a film, it can be an incomprehensible drag.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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2:42 PM  
Blogger medusa said...

I don't know why suddenly my blog was accepting anonymous comments. But, no more.

1:50 PM  

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