Movie Reviews - 2018 postsWednesday November 07, 2018
Movie Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
As the movie opens, Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is sitting at her desk at 3 a.m., editing copy (magazine copy, I guess?), with an adult beverage nearby, when several co-workers complain: “You’re not supposed to eat or drink here.” Her response? “Fuck off.” Unfortunately she says this to her boss, and out she goes. She’s walking home in the early morning light, when, in the background, high atop one of Manhattan’s skyscrapers, we see these words lit up in red: NEW YORKER.
Yeah, that’s about the size of it, I thought. You’re struggling, you’ve just got knocked down a rung or two on the ladder, and there it is, in the distance, visible but impossibly out of reach. Winking at you.
Or maybe I was reading myself into this too much?
Bottle in front of me
What surprised me is that Israel wasn’t some struggling writer; she was actually successful. She interviewed Katherine Hepburn in 1967 for Esquire (“Last of the Honest-to-God Ladies”). She wrote three biographies. The movie mentions she’d once been on the New York Times bestseller list but not with what. It was her bio of Broadway columnist and ’50s game show regular Dorothy Kilgallen. That seems fun. She seemed drawn to witty women: Kilgallen, Tallulah Bankhead, Fanny Brice. Her downfall, which the movie obscures, was the next book. Her publisher, Macmillan, tapped her for a warts-and-all bio of cosmetics queen Estee Lauder. Lauder supposedly tried to bribe her to drop the project, or at least the warts, but Israel didn’t. So Lauder came out with her own autobiography first. There went the sales. And Israel’s bio was reamed in the press.
The movie, as I said, obscures this. It implies that she’s just generally awful and no one wants to be around her. In this way, it's trying to be like “Tootsie," but without the joy. She’s Michael Dorsey, her agent, Marjorie (Jane Curtain), is George Fields, who has to tell her, “No one will hire you.” Michael’s reaction was to become another person: a woman. Lee’s is to become several of them: dead, hard drinking, literary heavyweights such as Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward. What she’d done with her biographies—hiding herself behind her subjects—she does even more expertly here.
It’s 1991 and she lives in a walkup on the upper west side of Manhattan. Her main companion is her cat—and drink. She owes back rent and money to the vet. She doesn’t even realize how much she’s let herself go.
Despite a resounding lack of interest, she’s still researching her bio on Fanny Brice when, in the library, tucked into the pages of a book, she finds a letter written by Brice. She steals it, tries to sell it, but is only offered $75. It’s just not witty enough. So Israel adds a P.S. that is. The price skyrockets to $400 and she’s off and running—creating such letters out of whole cloth.
Her confidante is all this, and eventually her partner in crime after the feds begin to close in, is Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). The scenes between the two of them, laughing at the squares at a mid-day dive bar, are fun. My wife has always wanted to have drinks with Richard Grant, so this movie is almost her wish-fulfillment fantasy.
For me, it just wasn't witty enough. Something was missing. Something specific.
You know who was originally tapped for the role? Julianne Moore. You know what both Moore and McCarthy have in common? They’re not Jewish. You look at a photo of the real Lee Israel, who published her memoir about all this in 2008, and died in 2014, and it’s like looking at Golda Meir. Taking away the Jewish thing is just taking away too much. Not that I can figure out who to cast in McCarthy’s place. Natalie Portman? Gal Gadot? Is Jenny Slate too young? Michaela Watkins too obscure? You need a character actress for the role and no one in Hollywood, apparently not even indie Hollywood, is going to bankroll a movie about literary fraud starring a character actress who’s Jewish.
Yet that’s exactly the movie I want to see. That's my wish-fulfillment fantasy.
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” written by both Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, and directed by Marielle Heller, isn’t bad. It’s just ... too much the dead end. It’s too drab. It should’ve been livelier. More pretensions should’ve been popped. The dead end, by the way, isn’t just Israel’s world but what the literary world had become by then: overwhelmed by other media; relegated to the margins, and to airless bookshops. Israel’s a woman out of time but doesn’t seem to realize it. Or the movie doesn’t.
I did like her swipes at Nora Ephron, with whom she shared an agent. The movie seems to join in on the tweaking by presenting us with Ephronesque images of Manhattan, and Ephronesque standards on the soundtrack, to accompany this very unromantic story.
Israel’s crimes are mostly victimless. Or the victims are snooty, tight-assed book dealers, so we don’t care. But the victims are also literary heavyweights and history. So we should.
There’s a good scene near the end when Israel sees one of her faux Dorothy Parker letters being sold in the window of a bookshop. It’s now up to $1900. She asks the bookseller how they know the letter is authentic, and he says it comes with a letter of authenticity. She asks if this letter of authenticity has a letter of authenticity, then drops a few hints indicating that the letter is indeed a fraud—hers. The bookseller is scandalized. He goes to the window, looks at the letter, is about to walk away with it. But nah. It’s $1900. Back it goes. Back into history.
Movie Review: A Star is Born (2018)
Wouldn’t it have been better without that final confrontation between Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and Rez (Rafi Gavron), his wife’s idiot Brit manager?
Imagine it. On stage at the Grammys, Maine, falling down drunk, literally pissing in his pants, embarrasses himself and his wife, Ally (Lady Gaga), recipient of Best New Artist. He goes into rehab, seems to come out OK, seems to be doing OK, when, with Ally on tour, we watch in horror as he quietly hangs himself. All of us would wonder why. Which is the exactly question most suicides leave us with. Why?
Instead, we know exactly why. Rez tells Jackson that he ruined Ally’s big moment and he’s ruining her career and she’s better off without him. And Jackson takes all this in and has nowhere to go with it. Away? What away? Into the bottle? That’s what started the problems in the first place. There’s no place to go except that place. So he goes there.
Afterwards, Jackson’s way older brother, Bobby (Sam Elliott), tells Ally that she can’t blame herself for the suicide; it’s not her fault. “You know whose fault it is?” he asks, and before he can give his answer (Jackson’s), every person in the audience is thinking this: “Yeah! Her fucking manager!”
So by extension her. She’s the idiot who brought him onto the scene in the first place.
Maybe it’s time
I guess I liked “A Star is Born” or I wouldn’t care so much about this aspect of it. And I did like it. I felt improbably sad afterward. I felt a void in me. I wanted to cry but couldn’t.
That said, the movie lost itself for me when Rez showed up. I immediately didn’t trust him, but Ally did, she dropped everything for him, and said, basically, “Sure, I’ll have background dancers. Sure, I’ll be Beyoncé #32 amid a Destiny’s Child #89.” The first song she sings for Jackson is “Shallow,” and includes the line, “We’re far from the shallow now.” But given the opportunity, she ran right back to the shallow.
Is that the point? Is that the tragedy? The honesty and truth that he fell in love with goes away, and it’s replaced by something manufactured? And is that ultimately why he kills himself?
Most of you know the story. It’s been made four times now but this was the first time I’d ever seen it. Guess I got some catching up to do.
I knew it, of course. He’s famous, plucks her from obscurity; and as she rises, he falls.
Was it always drink? It is here. Mostly. Jackson Maine is a country-rock star who plays stadium tours before 20,000 screaming fans. He’s recognized everywhere he goes. He’s even recognized in drag bars despite the fact that his music isn’t exactly theirs. That’s where he shows up one night just looking for a drink. He’s immediately befriended by Ramon (Anthony Ramos, John Laurens in the original “Hamilton”), whose friend, Ally, is about to perform. She sings. All the other performers are men in drag who lip synch, but they like having her around. She’s their Bette. That night she sings Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” and for a moment, as she lays on the bar, Jackson stares at her the way we all want to be stared at one day: with pure love.
They have an evening of it: this bar, this fight, this late-night grocery store, this parking lot. She sings him an early version of “Shallow.” Just getting to know each other and enjoy each other. It’s nice. He invites her to his next gig in the next town, but she’s all no, she has to go to her shitty waitressing job. But the manager is a dick, he says the wrong thing, and so she’s gone, she and Ramon, driven then flown to his next show, where they stand in the wings. Apparently, while she was sleeping, Jackson took her song, arranged it, taught it to his band, and he wants her out there singing it in front of 20,000 people. She resists. And resists. And resists. Then jumps. She’s a hit. It’s a beautiful song and a high point in the movie.
At the same time...
The movie spends a lot of time talking about what makes a star. Ally’s working-class father, Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay, thriving in his second act), is the first to bring it up. I thought he brought it up in the negative for her—why she wasn’t, despite the talent—but he’s really talking about himself. He had the pipes (or said he had the pipes) like Sinatra, but he was never in the same neighborhood as Sinatra. Why? What’s that other thing? The thing he didn’t have?
Whatever it is, it feels like she has it in the drag bar but not on stage before 20,000 screaming fans. She acts like she shouldn’t be there. It’s a real reaction—a woman who thought she would be waiting tables is instead doing this—but it’s not exactly indicative of stardom. And sure, the pipes. Blew me away. But what’s the difference between Ally doing this and Lisa Fischer singing “Gimme Shelter” with the Stones? Fischer can sing rings around Jagger but it’s still the Stones everyone came to see.
But it’s a movie, so suddenly everyone’s talking about her? I guess. Bradley Cooper, as director, never really pulls back. The media is never present here, it’s omnipresent. It’s assumed. We never see a headline, spinning or otherwise. Instead , we get the fans, and the cashiers taking photos, and YouTube clicks. Maybe that’s the way now. Maybe that’s how it feels inside the phenomenon.
So now she’s Jackson’s gal, a regular on the tour, like Patti Scialfa to Springsteen; and that’s when Rez shows up offering her a deal. And she reacts like she’s still back at the restaurant.
To let the old ways die
Break it down a little. What’s the tension and conflict in the first part of the movie? It’s them getting together and her getting on stage.
And in the second part? What’s the conflict? So many things. It’s not clean.
It’s his drinking, sure. It’s also tinnitus. He can’t hear the rhythm anymore. Is it also less Ally’s rise than the way she rises? As Beyoncé #32? As someone who bypasses the true for the shallow? At one point, early on, he has a conversation with her about getting that moment and telling your truth, and instead it feels like she’s telling Beyoncé’s. She’s telling Rez’s truth, which are lies. She does dance numbers with back-up singers, and sings about ... what? I don’t think I caught one line. It’s like they turned Patti Scialfa into Whitney. They actually tried that with Lisa Fischer and it didn’t take. But in this world it takes. Soon, too soon, she’s playing 20,000-seat stadium concerts on her own.
I always thought the main (or Maine) problem in “A Star is Born” is that the man became jealous of the woman’s success. Here, it feels more like, “You’re becoming the opposite of who I thought you were.” I think that’s why he calls her ugly, too. Not physically; it’s what she’s becoming. He’s created a monster. He thought he was giving the world something true but it was another false idol for them to worship. But if this is there—intended or otherwise—the movie never owns up to it.
Again: Does he kill himself not just because of the tinnitus and the drinking and the embarrassment, but because Rez wins? Because more and more, it’s Rez’s world?
Gaga’s good. Cooper’s great. He should get an Oscar nom just for his gin-soaked voice. I was almost disappointed when Sam Elliott showed up. “Oh, he’s doing Sam.” I thought he was doing Blaze Foley. But then Blaze never played 20,000-seat arenas.
Looking forward to the conversations on this one.
Movie Review: Hello, Mrs. Money (2018)
The actual title of “Hello, Mrs. Money” is “Li Cha’s Aunt” (《李茶的姑妈》). Transpose the name and you get the idea. It’s based on “Charley’s Aunt,” the 19th-century British farce that became a 20th-century Jack Benny comedy, which is now this 21st-century Chinese rom-com/finger-wagging reminder to China not to lose itself in its quest for riches.
Is there something about empires that demand comedies about falling fortunes and men in drag?
Whatever, it’s not good. Given the filmmakers’ track record, it’s not very popular, either.
Mahua FunAge was formed in 2003 to stage plays, then branched out into TV in 2013. Two years later, it released its first movie, “Goodbye, Mr. Loser,” a kind of remake of “Peggy Sue Got Married,” in which a loser goes back 20 years in time, and, with his knowledge of future pop songs, turns himself into a pop superstar. It grossed $226 million. Last year, Mahua released “Never Say Die,” a body-switching rom-com: $334 million. Earlier this year, “Hello, Mr. Billionaire,” the sequel to “Loser,” was released: $370 million. Boom boom boom.
Then fizz. This one is sputtering. No idea why. Would be interesting to get Chinese thoughts on the matter. I wasn’t a huge fan of the others, but they are comedies and a lot gets lost in translation. That said, for me, it’s definitely been a downward trend: most laughs (“Mr. Loser”) to least (“Mrs. Money”).
At a Sunday matinee show at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle (att.: 3), most of my time was spent waiting out overlong set-pieces and not-exactly #MeToo-friendly scenarios. Nothing funnier than a man in drag being sexually assaulted by a grinning lothario who won’t take no for an answer. Nothing funnier than date-rape drugs sprinkled into drinks. It felt like vague consolation that the powder was less sedative than Chinese aphrodisiac, and the people who drank it were already in relationships. At the same time, those relationships were hardly worth saving. The deer that lost its antlers/penis for the aphrodisiac must‘ve gone: “You’re shitting me. For this?”
Let’s see if I can break down the plot.
Andy Wong, CEO of a company that’s quietly going bankrupt, has two daughters: LiLi is married to Jerry (Allen Ai of “Never Say Die”), a corporate VP with a roving eye; LuLu is pursued by Richard, the titular Li Cha, whom she can’t stand because he loves her so. She agrees to marry him anyway to save her father’s business. Richard’s aunt, you see, is Miss Monica (Celina Jade of “Wolf Warrior II”), an expat worth tons, whom no one has ever seen. Everyone is awaiting her arrival at a lavish engagement party on some tropical island. Except Miss Monica doesn’t show. Or she shows up in disguise—as a maid. She wants to see if the love is real.
You got all that?
Meanwhile, our main character, Jerry’s assistant, Huang (Huang Cailun), a flunky who dreams of riches, and who has set up everything perfectly for Miss Monica, spends a night indulging himself in her suite. When he’s discovered by the others in a bathrobe and with a towel wrapped around his hungover head, he’s assumed to be Miss Monica, and Jerry and Richard get him to play along. Antics ensue.
The most tiresome set piece has Huang running from one end of the island to the other, dressed as either Huang or Miss Monica, depending on the situation and demand. One time, of course, he shows up for Huang’s duties dressed as Miss Monica.
The most problematic subplot involves Jerry’s father, who wants to kill himself because he, too, is now bankrupt. Instead, his son suggests he make a play for Miss Monica. The father’s idea of “making a play” is to be the grinning lothario mentioned above.
Increasingly absurd, the movie reaches a face-palm crescendo when both Jerry’s dad and Jerry’s boss threaten suicide unless Miss Monica (Huang in drag) marries them. So a wedding is staged where she agrees to marry both. Except she doesn’t. Instead, she (Huang in drag) counsels the crowd against the pursuit of wealth. I.e., the movie has everyone pursuing wealth and its message is: Don’t pursue wealth. This message brought to you by a company making hundreds of millions off so-so comedies.
That said, Huang’s (or the Chinese government’s) finger-wagging speech leads to my favorite part of the movie. Huang’s ex and her fiancé happen to be on the island, and both wind up at the wedding. After Monica’s/Huang’s speech about being true to yourself, the fiancé stands and applauds this important message—then quickly declares his love for Miss Monica and asks for her hand in marriage. This is followed by a flurry of similar offers from other guests, including one foreigner pushing his child forward and saying, “Say hi to your new mommy!”
At this point, with Monica/Huang in wedding dress pursued by a greedy crowd, there’s almost a “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” vibe. Would that it were that funny.
Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is stupid from the get-go. The characters are stupid, the filmmakers make stupid choices, and everyone is stupid about the one thing the movie should be smart about—money—since that’s the only reason it exists: to take our money.
Here’s a minor, stupid example.
Apparently the place where the dinosaurs live, which is apparently called Isla Nublar, has an active volcano that’s about to blow. Bye-bye, dinos.
Some people, though, including former high-heeled PR flak Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), are working overtime to save them. We see her walking into her warehouse office wearing sensible shoes and carrying Starbucks-y coffee, and talking to the kids working the phones: a T-Rex-phobic tech geek named Franklin (Justice Smith of “The Get Down”); and a tough-as-nails, I-guess-she’s-got-a-medical-degree young woman named Zia (Daniella Pineda). They’re the new kids on the block.
Meanwhile, an old kid from the lab, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), unseen in the Jurassic movies since 1997, is testifying before a Senate subcommittee and says this: “We altered the course of natural history. This is a correction.” I.e., We shouldn’t have brought them back; it’s probably best to let the dinos die.
That’s not a bad dichotomy. Two likeable characters on opposite sides of an issue. I’m with Malcolm but I see Claire’s side, too.
Except when Malcolm says the above line about “a correction,” the head of the subcommittee, Sen. Sherwood (Peter Jason*), says this: “Are you suggesting the Almighty is taking matters into his own hands?”
Wait, what? Wow, that’s some leap. The worst part: I don’t know whose leap it is: Sherwood’s, for bringing God into the equation, or the filmmakers’—screenwriters Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) and director J.A. Bayona (“El Orfanato”)—who I guess want to condemn Bible-thumping pols. Either way, it’s unnecessary. Let’s say Sherwood is a Libertarian who doesn’t think it’s the government’s place to save owls, whales or dinosaurs. Malcolm has just given him an out. “Hey, this leading scientist says nope.” Instead, before the news cameras, and thus Claire watching TV—and displaying the first of her 50 shades of dumbfounded reaction shots—Sherwood says, “This is an act of God.” I’m sick of powerful Bible thumpers more than you can imagine, but even I thought this was gratuitous.
(* The reason Jason looked familiar to me was because he played the redneck bartender dealing with Eddie Murphy’s Reggie Hammond in “48 Hrs.” Great scene. I saw it many times while ushering at the Boulevard Theater in South Minneapolis. And now Hoss is a senator? Way of the world.)
Again that’s just a minor stupid thing from the first five minutes. It gets worse.
10 million dollars
Private industry gets involved—in the form of wheelchair-bound rich bastard Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the former partner of beloved dino creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Lockwood’s assistant, Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), contacts Claire, and gets her to contact her ex, handsome raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who is the only one who can get close to “Blue,” the supersmart raptor he helped raise. (Was all of this in the first movie? I forget.) Lockwood and Mills say they want to save the dinos but that’s obviously a lie. It’s a “Jurassic” movie. Someone has to have a stupid scheme that blows up in their face. Munching will ensue.
Oh, and there’s a little girl, Maise (Isabella Sermon), playing her own game of hide-and-seek in Lockwood’s mansion. It’s Lockwood’s granddaughter. He’s raising her because her mother died in a car accident. But looks are exchanged, a telltale photo is hidden. What could it possibly be—other than the obvious: that she, too, is a clone, probably of the mother. And ... it’s that. The reveal comes two-thirds of the way through and presented as if it were news.
Everything’s telegraphed. When Claire, Grady, et al., land on Isla Nublar, they’re greeted by a sunglasses-wearing, paramilitary dude, Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine), whom we know we can’t trust—and not just because Levine played Buffalo Bob in “The Silence of the Lambs.” The camera just holds on him in a certain way. He says things like, “We’ve got your back, brother,” patting Grady on the shoulder, and Grady looks at his shoulder as if it's infected. But even Wheatley’s betrayal is stupid. They need Grady to bring back Blue and they need Blue alive, right? So when does Wheatley reveal his duplicity? Back at the ship? Nah. Immediately. He shoots Blue with a tranq, and Grady with a tranq*, but allows Blue to attack one of his men. In the struggle, Blue gets shot. Now the target is bleeding to death**.
(* I did like Wheatley blowing a puff of air at a tranqued Grady, who, no longer able to stand, collapses. A serious dick move.)
(** BTW: Why do they need Blue alive? Don’t they just need the DNA—as with the dead Indominus Rex retrieved in the cold open? Or do they need Blue to help train the next gen? But—again—aren’t the new Indoraptors super well-trained already?)
So what’s the nefarious scheme? The least imaginative one possible. Rather than send the dinos to their own island, as Lockwood intended, Mills transports them to Lockwood’s estate, puts them in cages in the basement, and plans to sell them on the black market. When Lockwood finds out, he demands that Mills turn himself in. Instead, Mills kills Lockwood. The lickspittle turns.
Here’s another detail that’s so unnecessarily stupid I can’t stand it. Mills needs a black market connection or auctioneer or something, so he meets with Gunnar Eversol (Toby Jones, doing a bad American accent), who’s supposedly “the best.” Gunnar actually flies to the Lockwood estate in Northern Cal for the meet. But as soon as he gets there, he acts as if he can’t do it. Not for moral reasons. Because he doesn’t think it’s worth his time. He acts as if selling dinosaurs is small potatoes.
By the idiot logic of the movie, he’s almost right. Once the auction begins, before a creepy collection of international war profiteers and Big Pharma, the first dinosaur, an ankylosaurus, is sold for ... wait for it ... $10 million! Gunnar and Mills are actually happy to get such a huge amount, but I immediately flashed on Dr. Evil’s outdated ransom demand: one million dollars. Seriously, don’t Connolly, Trevorrow and Bayona—not to mention Universal—even know the value of their product?
And the idiot hits just keep coming. Mills makes the argument that animals have long been used in war—horses, elephants—and I’m like, “Sure. 100 years ago.” Gunnar introduces the indoraptor as “The perfect weapon for the modern age,” and I’m like, “Wouldn’t one missile take care of it?”
As for our ostensible hero, Grady? After he wakes from his tranq-sleep by a dino’s tongue just as the lava is about to turn him into a burnt hot dog, and he hooks up with Claire and Franklin, and all three make their escape in that plastic ball from the previous movie—riding it over a cliff and into the ocean and swimming onto a nearby beach (cue “From Here to Eternity” homage), then stealing a truck and driving it onto the departing ship just as the island is blowing, but, bummer, back in America, getting captured and tossed into one of Lockwood’s dungeons, after all that, his great idea of escaping from their cell is to taunt the head-butting stygimoloch in the cell next door so it keeps ramming the wall between them and eventually breaks into their cell. I'm like, “That's the plan?” But of course it all works out. Because as the animal charges him, he’s able to leap out of the way at the last second. As we all do with charging animals.
We know how it’s all going to play out, too. The dinos—or at least the indoraptor—will get loose, eat/kill the bad guys, and threaten our heroes. And who will come to their rescue? Blue, of course.
But even within this obvious framework, they keep adding stupid shit. Maise, for example, knows all the nooks and crannies of the mansion—we’ve seen her hiding out in a dumbwaiter, for example. But when the indoraptor is chasing her, guess where she flees? Into her bedroom. No, not the closet. Into her bed. No, not even all the way under the covers. She just pulls a sheet up to her chin and looks around frightened as the indoraptor approaches. I think it’s supposed to be a Spielbergian moment like in “Poltergeist”—what happens when imagined monsters become real—but Spielberg began from that premise—with the kid in bed, trying to sleep. He didn’t have the kid flee into it*.
(*That said, in terms of direction, the bedroom scene, with its monstrous shadows, is the best in the movie. A shame it was constructed out of such stupid sand.)
So after Blue saves the day and kills the indoraptor—but not before the indoraptor kills Gunnar and Wheatley—our heroes are overlooking the dungeonous basement where a gas, I guess, has leaked, and the poor dinos are suffocating. They’re being poisoned. So now we get a callback to that original dilemma: Save the dinos or let them die? Claire is on the precipice of pushing the button to release them into the world; but then she pauses, stops, can’t do it. She can’t introduce dinos into northern California. It will wreak havoc. And ruin property values.
If this were a movie made 20, 30, 50 years ago, that would be the end of it. But it’s 2018, “Jurassic” is worth billions, and Marvel/Disney has already paved the way with its continuing universe movies. Shouldn’t Universal join that club? (It tried, certainly, with its abysmal Dark Universe.) Sure, the dinos could be resurrected for the next movie, but that’s same-old, same-old. They need to continue.
So guess who presses the button that releases them into our world? Maise, of course. Because, as she says, “They’re like me.
Yes, honey, they’re just like you. Except they’re up to 100 feet long, up to 100 metric tons, and have razor-sharp teeth. And they’re not very smart.
Of course, considering how well this movie did ($1.3 billion worldwide), neither are we.
POST-CREDITS SLIDESHOW OF BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD REACTION SHOTS
When the movie began, Patricia said, “Oh, I like Bryce Dallas Howard.”
But as the movie progressed...
And we kept getting dumbfounded reaction shots like these ...
Well, feelings changed. *FIN*
Movie Review: Juliet, Naked (2018)
“You look ... well.”
It’s a line spoken halfway through “Juliet, Naked” by Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) to his ex-girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne), and O’Dowd nails it. His character is an insufferable professor of cultural studies who’s jogging on the boardwalk with his new girlfriend, Gina (Denise Gough), in their small, sleepy, British seaside town, when he spots Annie with some dude and a kid on the beach. So he condescends to say hello. He literally descends to their level. And after they greet, and while Annie’s trying to explain something to him, he leads the conversation to where he wants to lead it, which includes the above line. It should be well-meaning but isn’t. The way O’Dowd says it, eyes showing a faux concern, it implies: You look well for someone who’s been through what you’ve been through. You look well for someone who no longer has me.
It’s both awful and delicious.
It’s delicious because we anticipate the fate that awaits him. Because the thing she’s been trying to tell him? The dude with her? That’s Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), the reclusive musician Duncan has been obsessed with since forever. Duncan has a rec room and a website devoted to Tucker and considers himself the world’s foremost Tucker Crowe expert. He’s his everything.
It’s the ex’s ultimate revenge. You leave, but I wind up with your greatest love.
The truth is banal
“Juliet, Naked” is that increasingly rare animal: a small, fun, funny and original movie made for adults.
That said, it felt a little less original when I found out it was based on a Nick Hornby novel. Hornby is like his own genre, isn’t he? He writes of fallible loves and overwhelming obsessions.
His obsessives have gotten less sympathetic over the years—at least in the movies I’ve seen. In “High Fidelity,” who doesn’t like John Cusack and his obsessive top 5 lists, which are really about obsessing over the girl he’s lost. BoSox fan Jimmy Fallon in “Fever Pitch” is a little less sympathetic simply because he’s played by Jimmy Fallon. And now here, with Duncan, we get the least sympathetic of all. Also the funniest. Most of the laughs in the movie come from O’Dowd’s line readings and reaction shots. He’s both absurd and relatable. So much so, that when Patricia and I were walking home, laughing about this or that bit, I had to ask.
“Do I remind you of him?”
“Who? Duncan? No! Why?”
“You know. Obsessive behavior. Like me with Lin-Manuel Miranda or Joe Henry.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head, but maybe thinking deeper on it this time; maybe wondering if there wasn’t something there.
Ethan Hawke is perfectly cast as the reclusive rock star who released an album of quiet love songs, “Juliet,” in 1993, then promptly disappeared. He was playing a gig in Minneapolis, took a break, never came back to the stage. He was a handsome young man on the indie rock scene who went poof, and back then Hawke was a handsome young man in the indie movie scene who didn’t. He kept working and growing and taking risks: “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead,” “The Woman in the Fifth,” “Boyhood.” He let his looks sag. Everyone in Hollywood has superhero abs and he’s got a paunch. Hawke has a lived-in quality to him now, like the worn, musty sweaters he wears in this movie, and the air of a dude who finds life more perplexing as he ages.
Tucker and Annie are opposites. He took chances, she didn’t. He left messes. Duncan and the other fans parse the rumors about why Tucker left and what’s become of him, but the truth is banal. He fathered five children by four women, but was never much of a father. Some children didn’t even know about the others, which leads to this bit of dialogue with one of his eldest:
Tucker: Parenting. Sometimes I think I could use a manual.
Lizzie: Or tips such as, “Always tell your kids they have siblings.”
Lizzie (Ayoola Smart) is visiting him in ... is it New England? Pennsylvania? He lives with his son in a remodeled barn behind the house of his latest ex. We actually see him at his best. He’s raising a child rather than running from one. The child, Jackson (Azhy Robertson), is endearing. The actors work well together. Tucker seems both father and younger brother. He’s teaching the boy about life but also seems more broken. Maybe that’s the nature of Ethan Hawke now: to seem broken.
Tucker and Annie get together for the same reason Duncan and Annie break up. Someone mails Duncan a demo of “Juliet” called “Juliet, Naked” (Cf., Paul’s “Let It Be ... Naked”), and she has the gall to: 1) listen to it first, and 2) not like it. When Duncan posts his glowing review, she, in the comments field, tears it down. Then she gets an email from someone agreeing with her. Tucker, of course.
Is it odd that Annie is the central character but we know the least about her? She curates at the local museum, and sees herself in a1964 photo of two couples on the beach. Specifically, she’s drawn to the face of one woman, who, she finds out later, regrets all the chances she didn’t take—the timidity with which she approached life. Not enough carpe diem, or seizing the day—if we want to back to “Dead Poets Society,” the movie that helped Hawke break out. But that’s about all we get of her. It’s a weakness in the film—and particularly odd since two of its three screenwriters are women: Tamara Jenkins and Evgenia Peretz. The director is Jesse Peretz, who also directed “Our Idiot Brother” and episodes of “Girls.”
I also didn’t buy why Tucker left the music scene in 1993. It’s the movie’s big reveal but it lands with no weight. It just glances off. It’s just, “Oh ... I guess?”
Is it a weakness that there’s a tonal difference between the two men? Duncan/O’Dowd is coming from a place of comedy while Tucker/Hawke is closer to drama, romance. Hawke is muted, O’Dowd broad. But I think that’s a plus. And it feels real. In any group you’ll find your broad-comedic types and your muted-romantic types. It’s particularly true with our perceptions of significant others. The one out the door is the clown, the new one is serious and vulnerable.
It’s a shame “Juliet, Naked” didn’t find a bigger audience. Roadside Attractions released it in mid-August, but in four theaters. It waited two weeks before expanding to 300/400+. I don’t get the delay. It’s adult romance. August is perfect and September too late. But it will find its audience after its theatrical run. It’s too funny and sweet not to.