Saturday, December 18, 2010


Gyllenhaal and Hathaway - so young, so obnoxious
Last August, The New York Times' op-ed columnist, Maureen Dowd, wrote a misguided column called "Tragedy of Comedy," in which she and someone named Sam Wasson jawed glibly about the lowly state of the romcom. For some bizarrer reason, the decided to be bullies and lay the blame at the feet of the two Jennifers - Garner and Aniston.

Little did they know, they hadn't seen anything yet. Their tear-stained duet was about six months premature. Aniston's "The Switch," which is actually saavy, alert fun, now seems like a masterwork of restraint compared to the last three romantic disasters of the year.

First, there was Edward Zwick's rudely disjointed "Love and Other Drugs," which purported to be a romcom but wasn't and which has the distinction of turning two previously very companionable screen presences - Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway - into toxic annoyances. To describe both of them in this film as "obnoxious" would be wildly charitable.

Then came Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's "The Tourist" gleefully devoured by Glenn Kenny in a now-classic pan for MSN Movies. Watching this alleged film, it is difficult to believe that either Johnny Depp with his ugly facial hair and Angelina Jolie with her spindly arms are major movie stars. They come off more like poseurs - he thinking that he's still playing a pirate and she under the delusion that she's Elizabeth Taylor's successor.

Last and certainly least, there's James L. Brooks' "How Do You Know," a strangely pointless film with Reese Witherspoon applying her usual steamrolling charm and trying her darndest to do smart, ping-pong-style repartee with Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd. And failing.

This film is so hopeless that even the peerless Wilson is no fun. Jack Nicholson, meanwhile, looking well-fed and umcomfortable, practically phones in his performance (or maybe had an assistant do it for him). Only Rudd comes through unscathed. But he survives all alone.

Aside from their shared awfulness, these three have one other thing in common. Each of their so-called romantic couples come sans chemistry.


wwolfe said...

"Her usual steamrolling charm" is the perfect description of Reese Witherspoon. I've been puzzled by the general critical love for her over the past decade - simply put, she just hasn't made many good movies (although she has made quite a few stinkers, including her latest), and I don't find her screen persona particularly enjoyable. The ways of the critical establishment are often a mystery.

Ben said...

I thought 'Love and Other Drugs' was under-rated actually. I was pleasantly surprised by the film, in part, because it wasn't a romcom. It was a fairly adult (and R-rated) story about realistic relationships. I think some of the blame for its failure needs to be directed at the previews that sold a very different kind of movie.

Having said that, I must also say that the movie is by no means perfect. It stinks of re-writes and compromises. You could easily imagine the original script being a far more cutting and realistic drama, but that through the course of the films' development, the fangs where ground down.

For instance, Pfizer's name is plastered all over the film, and I'm sure that, as sponsors, Pfizer stripped out every dark insight into the pharma industry that likely peppered the original script. You can sense that the movie wants to say something important about our culture of drug dependency and the sales culture that drives up prices of life-giving medicines, but the movie never gets around to it. We never learn how Anne Hatheway gets her wad of cash to pay for her prescriptions even though she just works in a cafe. The senior citizens that have to bus to Canada to get their prescriptions don't look desperate, rather they're played for cute, like they're going to see Phantom of the Opera or something. In support of my hypothesis, I will note that the film is actually based on a book called 'Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman", a 'hard-hitting' critical expose' on on the pharma industry. You wouldn't know it.

Then there's the unnecessary and rather awkward 'Josh', played by Josh Gad. Josh is basically in the movie to provide comic relief, and he wreaks of 'Apatow-ization'. He's basically there to provide dick, fart and boob jokes every 15 minutes. He did have some genuinely funny moments, but overall, I think his crassness doesn't belong in this movie, which is otherwise striving to reach a deeper level of insight.

But as I said, I thought 'Love and Other Drugs' was better that the reputation it has. To be honest, I'm wondering if you even went to see it, or if you are just cultivating the popular and negative opinion.

joe baltake said...

Huh? Look, I appreciate your appreciation of "Love and Other Drugs," Ben, but please don't assume that anyone who doesn't like it, never saw it. That one sentiment alone destroyed your defense of it. Sorry.