Monday, December 14, 2015

"If You Are Going To Abandon The Conventional Mouse Trap, Then You Better Have A Superior Replacement"

An admittedly clunky title, and not my original first choice. 

But then things changed.

(DRAMATIC STING)  “Bum bum baaaaaaaahhhhh!!!”

Yeah, it’s not that dramatic.  But I’ll leave it in anyway.

I had in mind today to offer my reaction to the film Joy, whose preview I had seen in the theater and it looked promising but which I would never have gone to had I known that the title was ironic.

Joy, written and directed by David O. Russell tells the “based on an actual person” story of a working class woman with a challenging family life who invents the “Miracle Mop” and, through determination and an untutored intelligence… well, why give it away, though it’s an American movie, so how do you think it’s going to end?

I attended the (screened before commercial release) movie in the company of my aspiring screenwriter-director step-son-in-law Tim (Rachel’s husband), through the auspices of the Writers Guild Film Society, after which David O. Russell himself was presented for an announced “Q & A” (which turned out be an interview conducted by a fawning reporter, followed by no audience “Q’’s” and no David O. Russell “A’s”.)

I found the movie annoying, which, in retrospect, was not surprising, as I found David O. Russell annoying as well.  It’s funny the way that works.  By the way, I do not believe that legitimate film critics ever employ the word “annoying”. 

Film critics are considerably more articulate.  Which I would also try to be, were it not for this difficulty.

In order to be articulate about something, you have to first understand how you feel about it.  And with this movie, I didn’t.  I have no idea why I found Joy annoying.  It just seemed to be humorless, grating and – it’s the best I can come up with – annoying.  (Although Jennifer Lawrence has a magical presence.  Jennifer Lawrence actually was a joy.)

Here’s where recent events led me to alter my approach to today’s narrative.

The next day after seeing Joy, I received a copy of the glossy and always engrossing Writers Guild Magazine.  An article Written By, which I turned to immediately as I am an enormous fan of his work, focused on screenwriter (and playwright) Aaron Sorkin, talking about movie writing in general, but more specifically about his latest cinematic offering, Steve Jobs.

Which I did not love, but found it better than annoying.

Here’s what I immediately noticed.

In the Aaron Sorkin article and in the post-screening interview with David O. Russell, both writers – with, I am sure, no collusion whatsoever – said literally the same thing concerning participating in a film project based on an actual, historical figure.

What both Aaron Sorkin and David O. Russell said verbatim about the matter was the following:

“I did not want to make a ‘biopic.’”

A “biopic” being a generally linear dramatization of an actual person’s life.

Sorkin and Russell did not want to do that.

The transparent implication of their duplicate statements being: 

“We are better than that.”

They are better than the “biopic.”

Better than The Life of Emile Zola.

Better than Lawrence of Arabia.

Better than Erin Brockovich.

Is what they are saying.

“We are doing it our way.”

Which is fine.

As long as “their way” is superior to the “biopic.”

When it is not superior to the “biopic”, you make an annoying movie like Joy or a fictionalized contrivance like Steve Jobs.

At this point, I am unable to provide examples of an annoying movie I enjoyed, “annoying” and “enjoyed” rarely comfortably coalescing into a single experience.  But I will offer an example of a “fictionalized contrivance” that is one of my favorite movies of all time.

Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz.
Which is a little bit cheating because, although Fosse (and co-writer Robert Alan Aurthur) plucked the biographical elements for the movie from Fosse’s actual life – Bob Fosse did push himself to direct a Broadway musical (Chicago) and finish a major motion picture (Lenny) at the same time winding up having a heart attack – the characters in the movie have fictional names and the dual projects were never identified as Chicago and Lenny.
But that was Fosse’s way of doing a biographical movie, presenting actual events in a stylized manner, his imaginative techniques bringing the realities of big time show business electrifyingly to life, leaving the moviegoer – meaning this one – thoroughly engaged, empathetic, and enthralled.
So there’s that.  He did it “his way”.  But what a maginficent “his way” that was.
The message here is:
By all means, do it differently.
But if you can’t do it better, and you refuse to do it conventionally…
Then maybe… just a suggestion here…
You should not be doing it at all.

1 comment:

Liam Lambert said...

Joy is the main character's name, hence the name of the movie. From what I've read about Steve Jobs, he was not so much annoying as he was an asshole. And from what I just read, Joy M. is an extremely accomplished inventor and businesswoman. That said, the movie is of no interest to me. I can easily be annoyed for free!