Friday, November 28, 2008

façade: Vince Vaughn

As unlikely as it seems, Vince Vaughn has made two family-friendly holiday films in about as many years.

This year, it's first-timer Seth Gordon's "Four Christmases" which, I am happy to report, is not nearly as sappy or as pandering as David Dobkins' missed opportunity, "Fred Claus" (2007).

In fact, for a good part of its running time, "Four Christmases" is delightfully, willfully unhealthy - anti-family to the hilt and bracingly anarchic. Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon play a happily isolated couple - isolated in San Francisco, no less, safely away from their awful relatives and unctous spawn - who are forced to visit their divorced, respective parents (and the parents' new mates) on Christmas day.

The film reaches some kind of delirious high when Robert Duvall as Vaughn's low-life father, refusing to have a professional install his new satallite dish (an unwanted gift from Vince), commenting, "I don't want some pedaphile coming in here and touching my underwear" - a line that Duvall manges to say with a straight face. His wry delivery of it is matched by the sequence in which Witherspoon gleefully hurls aside, one by one, a collection of brats who have been terrorizing her.

Unfortunately, as soon as Witherspoon and Vaughn announce that they don't like or want kids, you know exactly how this movie will end. In order to wise them up, "Four Christmases" turns, yes, sappy and pandering during its cowardly, unwatchable fade-out moments.

A sad waste.

But we're really here to discuss Vaughn today.

There seems to be this general assumption that ever since this antic, hyper actor enjoyed his breakthrough role in 1996's "Swingers" that he's pretty much played the same, glib, hugely affable character in just about all of his films ever since then. I'm thinking of such titles as "Old School," "Dodgeball" and, of course, "The Wedding Crashers."

It's been easy to forget that after "Swingers," Vaughn changed direction, appearing in a string of serious, now-forgotten movies, among them:

-"A Cool, Dry Place," a "Kramer Versus Kramer"-esque father-son drama co-starring Joey Lauren Adams and Monica Potter.

-"The Locusts," a piece of hothouse erotica, talky a la Tennessee Williams, with Kate Capshaw, Jeremy Davies, Ashley Judd and Paul Rudd.

-"Clay Pigeons," a dark comedic thriller with Joaquin Phoenix.

-"Return to Paradise," another thriller, romantic but upsetting, co-starring Anne Heche, Vera Farmiga and, again, Joaquin Phoenix.

-"The Cell," the Jennifer Lopez horror-fantasy and...

-"Psycho," the Gus Van Sant remake, with Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Viggo Mortensen and, again, Anne Heche.

These films were all made within a three-year period, 1997-2000, before Vaughn returned - triumphantly - to comedy.

He has become the screen's preeminent hipster doofus.

Speaking of remakes, given Vaughn's penchant for talking a blue streak with razor-edge timing, he'd be perefect for the Cary Grant role in "His Girl Friday" and the Robert Preston part in "The Music Man."

I mean, the boy was made to sing "Trouble."

(Artwork: Vaughn, with Witherspoon, in "Four Christmases," and an atypically moody portrait shot of the funnyman during his dramatic phase)


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I totally forgot about that string of films that Vaughn made. Maybe it wasn't him. Maybe the films were jsut unmemorable for him to make any kind of impression in them.

Donna said...

Vince totally rocks -- in ANYTHING. I like your idea of Vince playing Harold Hill. I never thought of that but now I can't get it out of my mind! Great blog, btw.

jbryant said...

I get the sense that Vaughn, who has been known to do uncredited rewrites on the scripts of his films, is a test case for the "actor-as-auteur." In both Wedding Crashers and The Break-Up, he seems to be the guiding force. Both of those worked smashingly for me, so I'm sure some day I'll give the holiday flicks a chance despite the horrible reviews (The Break-Up wasn't particularly well-reviewed either, so I'm keeping an open mind).

joe baltake said...


For what it's worth, "The Break-Up" is a really good film, one of the few adult movies of the the past few years, both hilarious and wrenching because it's so true.

John said...

“Delightfully, willfully unhealthy to the hilt.” That is perfect! “Four Christmases” certainly one of the better Christmas films to come out in a while except, as you mention, for the cop-out ending. I enjoyed it more than “Bad Santa” which I felt was too deliberate and obvious in trying to prove how anarchistic it was. Both Vaughn and Witherspoon were terrific as was Duvall. A pleasant surprise.

jbryant said...

Joe, I probably wasn't clear, but I've seen The Break-Up and share your opinion of it. It really is an incisive critique of the rom-com formula.