Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Two Movies For The Older Moviegoer"

I hesitate to do this, because I invariably get in trouble writing about what I like and what I don’t like. Readers who agree with my assessments are less likely to respond in support than people who loved something I didn’t, generally sounding hurt and a little angry.

It’s apparently inevitable. There’s almost nothing that somebody hates that isn’t somebody else’s favorite thing. These disagreements can rapidly turn personal. Somehow, saying you didn’t care for something seems to imply, or at least is inferred to imply, that people who liked something you didn’t like are not just people with a different opinion – they’re wrong. Oh, yeah, and stupid.

Disagreements can send doors slamming in the faces of the disagreers. I don’t know how you prevent it, except to say, “Like or don’t like what you want. And allow me to do the same.” It may not help – it probably won’t – but at least you tried.

Okay. On we go.

I saw two movies, a couple of days apart. One was an ensemble picture called Pirate Radio, written and directed by the Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love, Actually guy. The other movie was It’s Complicated, showcasing stars Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, and written and directed by the woman who gave us What Women Want, The Holiday, and Something’s Got To Give.

Pirate Radio made me cry. It’s Complicated made the veins pop out on the sides of my forehead. And it wasn’t from joy.

I’ll start with Pirate Radio, a valentine to the sixties about a ragtag collection of itinerant disc jockeys, broadcasting the latest rock music from a boat off the coast of England, while battling for survival against the anti-rock British government, determined to get this irreverent band of troublemaking platter-spinners off the air. The movie is episodic and as shaggy as the times they nostalgically recreate, times during which I, incidentally, happened to be living in England, enjoying the bootleg broadcasts of “pirate” radio, which in actuality was called Radio Caroline.

There is little question that a portion of my enjoyment, and my sobbing uncontrollably during Pirate Radio’s finale, stems from me, crying shamelessly for my lost youth. These were my times they were talking about, and, like “pirate” radio itself, those times are now long and forever gone.

But I think there’s more to it than that. Pirate Radio, telling the story of some underdog “crazies” fighting for their lives against the change-resistant “Establishment”, credibly depicts those polarizing times without whitewashing the excesses of either side.

The resulting movie is a glorious mess – perhaps not a quote the film’s producers would want plastered on the marquees:


But both I and the people – around my age – who I saw it with, were genuinely carried away, (especially by the film’s impeccably selected soundtrack) entertained, tickled, touched and moved.

There is nothing glorious about It’s Complicated. Nor is there any mess. Though no housekeepers characters appear in the movie to clean things up, everything – including the people themselves – radiates the impression of an exquisitely manicured lawn.

The wardrobe is drool-worthy. (A normally level-headed Dr. M actually Googled the movie’s credits on the Internet, in an effort to learn who did the costumes, so she could contact them and find out where they shopped.) The furniture is “I want it all.” Exotic kitchen gadgets? – “I’ve been looking for that for years!” In every regard, the production shimmered with the indisputable message:

“Rich or poor, it’s better to have money. Way better.”

Yes, the characters have problems. After ten years of divorce, the Meryl Streep character has an “adulterous” (or maybe without the quotes) affair with the Alec Baldwin character, her currently re-married ex-husband, generating the “Big Question” of the movie:

Will they get back together, or what?

The “or what” being the Steve Martin character, a “nice-guy” architect, also smitten with the Meryl Streep character, who’s supervising the remodeling of the Meryl Streep character’s already perfect house.

I’ve been told that poor people in the Depression-era thirties flocked to movies featuring characters wearing satin gowns (the women) and top hats and tails (the men), hungry for a dream that would distract them from the cash-deprived nightmare of their everyday lives.

I never understood why they did that. Impoverished moviegoers, foregoing an apple so they could buy a movie ticket to watch the “Upper Classes”, dressed in outfits costing the price of a car, swill “highballs” in penthouses and cavort at the Stork Club. What exactly was the appeal?

“The appeal was learning that even though these people were rich, their lives were still a shambles.”

“Okay, but they had food!

I don’t think I’d have handled the Depression very well. I’d likely have been extremely depressed. And those “rich guy” movies – with the exception of the class-detonating Marx Brothers pictures – would not have helped a bit.

All right. Enough about the money angle. It’s Complicated bugged me on other levels as well.

Such as consistency and credibility.

Oh, come on, Earl. It was just good fun.

Hold on, Italics Lady. You’re short-circuiting my argument. Before you tell me it doesn’t matter, the movie’s just entertaining fluff, would you allow me to first express my opinion on what, in my view, the movie did wrong?


(I hate when people say “Fine” when they don’t mean it, including the fabricated “Italics People” I make up to move things along.)

A couple of questions concerning It’s Complicated:

The Meryl Streep character divorced the Alex Baldwin character, and then became attracted to him again.

What changed?

All the movie showed us, as motivational justification, was that before the Meryl Streep character engaged in adulterous sex with the Alec Baldwin character (who, by the way, seemed incredibly needy), they both got really, really drunk.

Two: The Meryl Streep character demonstrated little interest in the Steve Martin character (who, by the way, seemed not all that interesting), and then she fell for him.

What changed?

All the movie showed us, as motivational justification, was that, faced with the prospect of spending time with the Steve Martin character, the Meryl Streep character got really, really stoned. And then he did. And then she did some more. After which they had a memorable evening.

I’m sorry. After getting that stoked up, a person could have a memorable evening with…. (I generally avoid “name jokes” – which are jokes that, as in this case, name a person – the prototype being Hitler – you would normally never have a memorable evening with, but because you’re doped up to the max, you do. Feel free to complete the above sentence with a “name joke” of your choice. Just not “Hitler.” The guy’s been done to death.

Okay, let’s recap. One of the Meryl Streep character’s life-changing decisions is made drunk, and another is made stoned. Is this the message of the movie? Never make a life-changing decision with a clear head?

The movie proceeds entirely on the “fluff” level, clearly uninterested in reflecting life as most people know it. Judging from their empty eyes and their (except for The Office guy) shallow characterizations, the actors, aware that they’re not playing identifiable human beings, fall back on their movie star charm and experienced actor’s “bag of tricks”, hoping it’s enough.

It is enough.

Go ahead, Italics Lady.

You are completely ignoring what “It’s Complicated” is. The movie’s a bon-bon, a delightful confection. A light-hearted farce for moviegoers who, like myself, are sick to death of thunderous explosions, anorexic leading ladies and penis jokes. Yes, the characters behave foolishly, but that’s the point. Self-delusion is not the exclusive territory of the young. Everyone makes romantically driven mistakes. What we’ve got here is a middle-aged fairy tale. Forget about your “serious” standards of “identifiable reality.” Relax and enjoy. It’s only a movie.

Fine. (Okay, I do it too sometimes.)

But I greatly prefer Pirate Radio.


Nathan said...

For what it's worth, I'm 26 and I loved Pirate Radio. I'll endorse it for the younger moviegoer as well :)

Max Clarke said...

I wonder if getting a main character drunk or stoned is a script "Bandaid." Somebody would never rob a bank, but he gets drunk and robs the bank, and the audience is supposed to nod their heads, "Yeah, that's reasonable." The screenwriter tied moment A and moment C together with moment Booze.

Itinerant Disc Jockey said...

If you were asked “How’s 'It's Complicated' playing?” would your response be, “Pretty good,” or would you just cancel the popcorn and go wait in the car?

diane said...

I loved Pirate Radio,too. In addition to the things you liked about it, I was very impressed with how well the music was incorporated into the movie. It looked like the beginning of some scenes were choreographed. Someone deserves an Oscar for the music editing. I'm just an average movie goer - I work for an auto dealership. But to my untrained eye and ear the music was perfectly chosen and used. I wasn't in England at the time, but this was definitely "my" music.
Just the trailers for the other film convinced me it was not something I was going to pay to see. Thanks for the review - it solidified my resolve.

Anonymous said...

I have never cared for Nancy whats-her-names' movies. They're all about the interior decor and hairdos. You should not walk away from any movie affected only by Diane Keaton's 'bob'.
On a completely different note, have you had a chance to see "An Education" yet? Or do you get British films in America? It takes place in 1961 and I have a feeling you'd like it a lot.