Saturday, February 07, 2009

guilt by association

Cooper and Johansson in "He's Just Not That Into You" - a RomCom, yes, but also a pretty good film.
The RomCom, that Hollywood artwork formerly known as The Chick Flick, has the dubious distinction of being the bane of modern movies.

Each one seems to get worse than the one that preceded it, with the genre reaching something of a nadir with Gary Winick's obnoxious "Bride Wars." The modern RomCom - awful expresion but, hey, it's slightly more preferrable to The Chick Flick (and the movie-biz hot shot who thought up that expression should be strung up by his testicles) - would lead you to believe that it is about, for and by women. But given that it's largely a man-made creation (the operative word here being man), it isn't about women at all. It's all about consumption and what male movie executives perceive as the contemporary woman's near-idiotic need to be acquisitive in terms of "accessories," the greatest of which is a man.

Ken Kwapis's "He's Just Not That Into You" has the double distinction of being a cut above the rest - way, way better than the rest - and of being lumped in with the others by movie critics whose job description these days has devolved into making lists and compartmentalizing everything and everyone. Kwapis's film is a spikey refreshment in which the female half of his cast is interested in relationships, not necessarily with expensive shoes, designer clothes, babies as the new adornment or even big weddings. Each one just wants a guy she can depend on, a nice guy who will feed her truth and not the unrealistic lies the glossies feed her.

Kwapis, working from a screenplay credited to Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, knows how to pace a comedy line/moment and he's a first-rate handler of his exceptional ensemble cast - Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore (one of his producers), Jennifer Connelly, Kevin Connolly, Bradley Cooper, Ginnifer Goodwin (in essentially the film's lead role), Scarlett, Johansson, Kris Kristofferson and Justin Long.

But it is Jennifer Connelly who stands out with her impressively complicated, thoughtful performance which, as Manohla Dargis notes in her New York Times review, "cuts loose and goes (relatively) dark." I've no idea if what Connelly does was in the script or if it's the handiwork of an especially resourceful actress but she works wonders here.

Speaking of Dargis, she's been on a kind of mission lately to wise up moviegoers to the dangers of these lulling, brainless movies. I like what she says, and she says it well, but as these films gang up on her, this estimable critic runs the risk of becoming a broken record.

But getting back to "He's Just Not That Into You," this fine, nervy film may have come along a little too late in the game to save itself, let along the pathetic subgenre that it represents. But even if it only works as a corrective to last year's obscene "Sex and the City - The Movie" - inarguably the "Ben-Hur" of RomComs - it would have accomplished a lot.

Notes in Passing: Speaking of "S&TC," while everyone has been busy clamoring about that film's alleged box-office prowess and clout, no one - no one - has noted that it didn't even manage to eke its way into the Golden Globes' "comedy or musical" category this year. Nope, those nominees were "Mamma Mia!," "Burn After Reading," "In Bruges," "Happy-Go-Lucky" and the winner, "Vicky Christina Barcelona." Strange, right? And who says the Hollywood Foreign Press has questionable taste?

Also, reportedly, the minds behind the upcoming Oscar giveway have asked the nominees and most major players to avoid the Red Carpet this year. Too much of a distraction. It appears that the public these days is much more interested in who's wearing what (or who) rather than if "Slumdog Millionaire" wins. These awards shows have become near-tangental to the mindless Red Carpet frolics that precede them.

5 comments:

Maggie Russell said...

I went to see "He's Just Not Taht into You" mostly because of its cast. I thought it was really good and agree with you that it shouldn't be pidgeonholed along with the other chick flicks. I thought it had more depth, introspection and substance than the others which, as you say, are all about expensive shoes and clothing.

jbryant said...

I intended to see this today, but something came up. I'll probably catch it before the long weekend is over.

The attraction for me is Kwapis, who comes off as a true cinephile in interviews. I greatly enjoyed his Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and he does great work on TV (The Office, The Larry Sanders Show, Malcolm in the Middle, etc.). He dropped the ball with License to Wed, but this one sounds promising, despite the source material.

wwolfe said...

What a relief to see a positive review of this movie. Most reviews, as well as on-line refrences, seem to take it for granted that everyone agrees this is the current benchmark for what a lousy movie is. I was intrigued by the cast (and by Drew Barrymore's role as producer, since she's done good work in that job), so when the theater that I thought was showing "Rachel Getting Married" was showing this one instead, I took a chance. I was glad I did, because it was very enjoyable. Excellent performances from everyone, an intelligent script, and a surprising (and heartening) amount of darkness to balance out the laughs. If Hollywood could give us one movie per month as solidly entertaining as this, imagine how much better the moviegoing experience would be. Also, I have to say a word about Ben Affleck: after succumbing somewhat to the lures of fame at a young age, he seems to have righted himself, and has done good work in both this new movie and "Hollywoodland." It may not be romantic, but there's a lot to be said for the simple achievements of not going crazy (or dying), and getting better at your craft.

joe baltake said...

wwolfe--

Having been a professional critic for far longer than is healthy, I can vouch for the crush of films that keep coming at reviewers. It's easy to get jaded and lazy - and get each review "out of the way." As a result, there's a lot of facile pidgeon-holing. Very often a good film - such as "He's Just Not That into You" - is penalized because of a similiar bad film (say "Bride Wars") that preceded it. It's unfortunate but it happens all the time - and is as old as reviewing is itself.

joe baltake said...

Jay-

By all means, check it out. I think you'll be pleasantly surprized.