Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our Idiot Brother

My very smart husband and I saw Our Idiot Brother this evening. It was a warm, fuzzy film, nothing to write home about—mostly chuckles and smiles and one or two random belly laughs. It wasn’t exactly the kind of movie that lets you suspend your disbelief, but rather invites you to wallow in the completely ridiculous concept.

Paul Rudd plays Ned, a bumbling modern-day hippie who gets himself and just about everyone around him into absurd messes at every opportunity, though it never seems to dawn on him (and perhaps that’s the point) that he is anything but happy and living the life he’s meant to live. His sisters are so busy believing he’s putting them out and that they have to clean up after him, it doesn’t occur to them that they, really, are the ones whose lives are in shambles.

Of course, no film would be complete without a dog named Willie Nelson. As part of the fore-mentioned ridiculous concept, this cute setter is Ned’s highest source of conflict as he attempts over and over to regain custody of the dog after his ex-girlfriend dumps him following his stint in jail for selling pot to a cop. (Perhaps one of the most believable moments—Bob Stephenson as the cop was pretty convincing! I might have sold the pot to him, too, if I were in such a business, which I am not, thank you very much.) Our Idiot Brother is certainly not a breakout film for Rudd, but he pulls off the charming Ned better than most actors might have.

Zoey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer are a couple of my favorite actresses, so I’m usually up for anything they’re in. In an ironic switchback after my last entry (regarding One Day’s Anne Hathaway), Mortimer’s British accent was a little too apparent in this movie in comparison with her past films, such as the delightful Lars and the Real Girl. Though she was fairly convincing as Liz, a tired young mother whose philandering husband (Steve Koogan, as Dylan, one of the real idiots in the movie) forces her to bring their son up in a way that goes completely against the adorable little fellow’s grain, Mortimer’s accent sets her apart from her three siblings in a “one of these things is not like the other” kind of way. Deschanel, as Natalie, delivers her classic awkward/cute/emo shtick, much like she played in Failure to Launch, Elf, and 500 Days of Summer. I’d love to see her in something with a little more depth just to see what she can do. (Am I forgetting anything? Has she already?)

The somewhat-unknown-to-me (even though she has a pretty long resume) Elizabeth Banks might have been my favorite sister in this film, though. Miranda is the one sister who tries to make things happen instead of letting things happen to her, and Banks’s facial expressions as she allows her idiot brother to take over an interview she’s been coveting forever are spot-on hilarious. You feel sorry for her even as you enjoy her brother’s accidental coup. She plays Effie Trinket in the upcoming book-to-film, The Hunger Games, and I can't wait to see her portrayal of this interesting and quirky character.

All in all, Our Idiot Brother isn’t the kind of movie you MUST see before it leaves theaters—you’ll be quite safe waiting for the DVD release, and pretty safe even if you miss it—but if you’re looking for a bit of last minute summer fun, a happy ending, and everything tied up in a bow, and can manage to keep your expectations somewhat low, you might enjoy this pleasant bit of mindless entertainment. It makes a nice movie for a date night, and that’s exactly what it was for me and my hubby.

Our Idiot Brother is appropriately rated R for some nudity, adult situations, and lots of language.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

One Day

A few weeks ago, my friend Gail and I attended a press screening for One Day, a film adaptation of David Nicholls’ novel by the same name which opens in theaters Friday, August 19. Our thoughts follow what the movie site says about the film.

Twenty years. Two people…

Directed by Lone Scherfig (director of An Education, Academy Award-nominated for Best Picture), the motion picture One Day is adapted for the screen by David Nicholls from his beloved bestselling novel One Day.

After one day together – July 15th, 1988, their college graduation – Emma Morley (Academy Award nominee Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe) begin a friendship that will last a lifetime. She is a working-class girl of principle and ambition who dreams of making the world a better place. He is a wealthy charmer who dreams that the world will be his playground.

For the next two decades, key moments of their relationship are experienced over several July 15ths in their lives. Together and apart, we see Dex and Em through their friendship and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. Somewhere along their journey, these two people realize that what they are searching and hoping for has been there for them all along. As the true meaning of that one day back in 1988 is revealed, they come to terms with the nature of love and life itself.

I liked this movie a lot. I didn’t LOVE this movie. And I’m not really certain why. Maybe a little too predictable, a little too formulaic, in spite of the unique set up of jumping ahead a year at a time for quite a long number of years. There was change in each of the characters, but it was not particularly surprising change. Anne Hathaway changes from a frumpy plain girl to the beautiful woman she is, and Jim Sturgess matures into a more responsible caring man after hitting a low point (more than once).

Julie: I actually loved this movie more than I expected to. Every time I saw previews, I decided I wasn’t going to see it based on Anne Hathaway’s dreadful British accent. But the fates intervened and I did see it and I was able to mostly ignore the random accent slips. I think they put the worst ones in the previews! I agree that the character arcs were a little formulaic, but I was surprised to find myself rooting hard for their change. Sometimes when it’s predictable, I just don’t care. But here, I managed to not only care, but summon up a lot more emotion for these two than I expected.

Gail: I really like Anne Hathaway, I think she’s a wonderful actress who is charming and beautiful even in frumpy dresses and ugly glasses and no makeup but lipstick for those beautiful full lips. You just can’t make her plain, though they came close. Her accent was passable, though she occasionally pronounced a word in what I would consider an Irish-sounding accent. This was a bit distracting to me at first. I had to force myself to stop paying attention to it, being aware that she was “acting,” and fall into the story. I finally succeeded. I did find myself wondering, as much a fan as I am, why they didn’t cast a British actress. I assume since Jim Sturgess is lesser known, they needed a name in the movie.

Julie: I was blown away by Jim Sturgess in Across the Universe—wondered where they’d been hiding this guy—so I was excited to see him in this part, and yes, if it took a big name actress like Anne Hathaway to get him back in the spotlight, I’m on board. His character was frustrating at many points, but he’s a pretty mesmerizing guy!

Gail: I hope to see him in more films in the future. He’s a compelling actor with a lot of screen charisma. His character was charming, but really a bit of a shallow jerk through most of the movie. In the hands of a less talented actor, his character, Dexter, would have been pretty unlikeable, but Sturgess brought a sad, melancholy undercurrent to Dex that let you know he knew what a jerk he was, and really wished he could be a better man, but just didn’t know how. There is a line late in the film where another character says to him that Emma made him decent, and that is for me the crux of the film. We can be made a better (or worse) person by people we love, sometimes in spite of ourselves.

Julie: So true. And I just cringed for Anne Hathaway’s character, Emma, from the first—when she stops mid-kiss so she can go brush her teeth and change into something prettier than her awful 1980s mom bra. Haven’t we all had that huge crush on someone who was terrible for us? Who seemed to have no idea we existed, and yet we couldn’t see reason in spite of our best friends hemming and hawing whenever we spent another hour talking about the possibilities? Who made us almost grovel in our attempts to get attention, when that’s obviously the worst route from point A to point B?

Gail: Emma is, at the start of the film, so clearly more enamored of Dexter than he is of her, and Hathaway conveys that with very subtly pained expressions, sometimes only in the eyes. We want so much for him to see what an obviously beautiful smart woman is hiding under the granny dresses and the ever-present combat boots. But every time she thinks maybe he’s seeing her the way she sees him, something happens to muck things up.

Julie: I’m so impressed with the variety of characters Hathaway has played with finesse since her gawky teenage girl role in The Princess Diaries, that I’ll forgive the accent, once again. She isn’t afraid to get real with her looks and her characters. I still remember the raw scene in Brokeback Mountain where she was on the telephone and you could almost smell the icky scent of her lipstick as she spoke to the husband she knew was cheating on her. Don’t even get me started on her role in Rachel Getting Married. Other than the accent, this probably wasn’t her most challenging role, but she played it with ease.

Gail: I was more moved by Sturgess’ character because I felt he did more with it, showed more depth and growth and change. There is an event about three quarters through the film that I can’t mention for spoiler reasons, but I was surprised even though it was telegraphed fairly clearly, and I had a genuinely emotional response.

Julie: Wow, this from the woman who doesn’t cry in movies or while reading novels, ever! What about the secondary characters? Sometimes they’re just wallpaper, but other times they really bring an extra layer to the story. Emma’s coworker at the sad Mexican restaurant … Dex’s mother …

Gail: Emma’s involvement with her coworker—a goofy comedian wannabe—is awkward and sad. He is clearly more enthralled with her than she ever was or will be of him. I found it interesting that she was, in a sense, treating this guy in a similar caddish way that Dexter tended to treat her. And the brief scenes with Patricia Clarkson as his ailing mother were full of tenderness and heartbreak. Dexter is a young man of privilege who really has no reason for being such a screw up other than the fact that he pretty much has always gotten by on his looks and charm and it’s just not working for him anymore. The scene where she has to say some very hard things to him was full of the quiet dignity and kindness she brings to most roles I’ve seen her in.

Julie: Ha, you need to see Patricia Clarkson in Friends with Benefits—a little departure! She’s anything but quiet or dignified. But you’re right. And I love her in almost any movie.

Gail: A bit of a spoiler here. There is a coda at the end that reaches back to the beginning of the film when Dex and Emma first meet, and we see more to their first meeting than is shown at the beginning. I was a bit puzzled at the reason for this, but on further thought I decided that it showed a different side of Dex than we saw at the beginning of the movie and that their story could have taken a very different path if not for an interruption to their plans.

Julie: I liked that. Lots of times, we make assumptions about people we know in real life, not having any clue what led them to that place. I think this was a good technique for illustrating that. After a trip to England a few years ago, I really enjoyed the UK setting. It’s fun to see locations and poke your companion and whisper, “Hey, I’ve been there!” I liked the score, too. For me, the soundtrack is a huge part of my movie-going experience. (Yes, I’m that girl who watches all the credits so I can view the music notes.) One Day’s score reminded me of Stephen Trask’s quiet, but slightly techno-sounding score for In Good Company. His trademark sounds for dramas seem to be melodic percussion—marimbas or vibraphones—or sweeping, emotional symphonic pieces, as Rachel Portman used here, and I was surprised to see it wasn’t him. Portman (who also did Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, and wow, so many more!) and Trask may share a musical brain. I like them both! I wonder if they’ve met …

Gail: The settings in London and Paris were beautiful of course, and the musical score was haunting and lovely and added to the overall melancholy feel of the film.

Julie: That about sums it up. I'd say our general consensus was that though One Day probably won’t be winning any Academy Awards, it was a thoughtful and genuinely entertaining film.

Disclaimer: Gail and I attended a free press screening, but opinions expressed here are our own.

What women watch

If you're an average moviegoing woman who wants to know what other women think about the movies you might take in while living your busy life, you've come to the right place.

I'll be reviewing films in a completely randomized method; that is, the ones I want to see. I might invite a friend to have a conversation with me about the film, or I might simply tell you what I think. Occasionally, I may even turn the reins over to someone else altogether.

We'll make no claims to being educated film critics here. Educated, yes, but not in the fields the standard film critic might be.

I'm just a woman, and I know what I like. And I know what I don't like. Can you relate?

Professionally, I'm a writer represented by Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary. My website is here. I'm also a member of a group blog called What Women Write, which you may visit here.

And yes, that's me over there on the left. I look like a big nerd, but how often does anyone take a picture of you in a movie theater? Exactly. I had to use it.