THE GUILT TRIP
In terms of age, this movie has certainly attracted a very diverse crowd. I had the opportunity to speak with a seventy year old couple who had come to see it. When I asked them if they were drawn in by Barbara Streisand, they shook their heads and told me they were actually fans of Seth Rogen.
My mind was instantly blown.
But it didn’t stop there. You see, I’m a fan of Seth Rogen too. Only, it’s more of a theory than anything else. I remember the first time I saw him in a movie. It was “40 Year Old Virgin,” and I knew right away he was a star. I didn’t realize that he and Judd Apatow already had a history together, cultivated with “Freaks and Geeks” and fostered through “Anchorman.” And no one could know that their careers would soon explode through mutual leadership or that they would be the new dukes of the comedy scene. Judd would set the tone, and Seth would take his talents everywhere, including as a prolific cartoon voice.
Here’s the thing. I don’t really care for Judd Apatow’s movies. They tend to be too long, too strained to be taken seriously, and too obsessed with toilet and drug humor. I mean, I’ve liked the best of them well enough. When they work, they work, and when the star is strong with vision, the results are remarkable (i.e. “Freaks and Geeks,” “40 Year Old Virgin,” “Bridesmaids,” and the Will Ferrell comedies). Overall, however, I find the formula a bit daunting, and what’s worse is when someone else snatches up Seth Rogen and shoehorns him into a comedy that tries to emulate the Judd Apatow model.
I hated “Paul.” I hated “Zack and Myrie Make a Porno.” I didn’t even bother to watch “The Green Hornet.” So I guess in many ways, I’m a fan of Seth’s more in theory than in practice. However, “50/50” was fantastic, so I have a lot of difficulty in writing him off altogether.
Mercifully, “The Guilt Trip” is transcendent. It is funny, charming, and honest. It is sentimental in the way that it will make you want to call your mother when you’re done watching it. There are well played moments of incredible depth in this seemingly straightforward story. It is imminently watchable and must-see for fans of Rogen and Streisand.
Barbara Streisand gives a perfect screen performance, channeling all of her maternal instincts into a woman that will surely remind you of the one that raised you in all the small ways your fading memories might. She handily steals the show, reminding us what age, experience, and grace are worth even while we are so readily willing to dismiss the older generation for the new.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
I didn’t really know what to expect when I walked into this movie. Nothing but good things were said about it from those I had spoken to, but I wasn’t sure it was a movie that I really wanted to see. When the Oscar nominations came out, the nods for Best Picture and in all four acting categories finally tipped the scale to convince me to sit down in the dark and give myself over totally to the film.
A very similar thing happened to me with “As Good As It Gets,” and I walked out with a grin of pleasant surprise. Years later, I would find the same joy in “Little Miss Sunshine.” We live in a time where we can all relate to the fictional character who is dealing with crippling mental health issues. In their struggles. In their progress towards sanity. And towards their small victories.
“Silver Linings Playbook” tells the story of a nuclear family dealing with various degrees of psychological damage. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is basically a violent stalker who is obsessed with winning back his wife despite the restraining order. Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) is a bookie that suffers from an OCD that has him believing his little rituals are the difference between success and failure. Long suffering Dolores (Jackie Weaver) mothers them both by playing along and offering kindness and ritualistic snacks. Then there’s the older brother (Shea Whigham), who feels guilt about his own success.
The “family” is made ever larger by great actors in interesting roles that create the culture of the household, which becomes a refuge of sorts to those who don’t necessarily fit the rest of the world. And then there’s Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who doesn’t even seem to fit in there. She is possibly the most emotionally damaged and certainly the most accepting of her own “messy” parts.
This is boy meets girl, despite the fact that both are flailing. You see, this story wouldn’t work with lesser actors. It is about crazy people, but it’s not all about the spectacle and outlandishness. In order for this story to work, it has to convince it’s audience that this world exists, that it’s real and that those who populate it are sympathetic characters. It has to move you past the premise quickly and bring you along on their journey without restraint or judgement. You have to be on their side and even see the world from their somewhat warped perspective.
In that, the performances are the star. Bradley Cooper’s dilated eyes both push you away and draw you in. Jennifer Lawrence flies on broken wings, and Robert De Niro. . . Well, let’s just say this is the first time I’ve seen De Niro move out of his comfort zone of sleep walking through a role since “Meet the Parents.” The original one.
If you’re a fan of the two films I mentioned in the second paragraph or even of “Napoleon Dynamite,” I’d suggest you find out why the Academy was so enthusiastic about this film.
SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!!
While most of my reviews do not include spoilers, I don’t feel I can properly write about “The Impossible” without going into greater detail. So if you haven’t seen this movie but plan to, please do not read this review.
SPOILER ALERT!! SPOILER ALERT!!
Okay, let me get my corny one-liner out of the way first. *Ahem.* While a wave only rolls once, my eyes can roll over and over again.
There. So now you have a pretty good idea of how I feel about this movie. Let’s move on.
Despite having watched several documentaries on the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, I still cannot say that I actually know what it would be like to live through such a tragedy, but I feel like I can tell you one thing. Watching “The Impossible” is definitely the wrong way to try to gain that understanding.
The first major problem I have with this movie is that the story doesn’t ring true, and yet the central premise is that this is the true story of one family caught up in this disaster. As to the true story, there doesn’t seem a way to compare the film’s narrative with what really happened to the Belon family. The story doesn’t seem to be recorded anywhere other than in this movie, and this movie is the stuff of Hollywood manufactured fiction.
I’m not saying that I don’t believe the central tenants. I believe the Belon family (who were Spanish and not British) came to vacation in Thailand and were survivors of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. I believe they suffered. I believe they struggled. I believe they clung to debris, climbed trees, and searched desperately for one another. But I have a hard time following the “American Tale”/”Serendipity” audience manipulation that drives the last twenty minutes of the film. It seems that the filmmakers were too troubled by making a tear-jerking disaster tale that would fit the model for a Lifetime original movie to make a truthful account of real world struggles. Unfortunately, the honest sentimentality was completely drowned by a flood of false sentiment.
That isn’t to say the movie is totally without its moments. The tsunami itself was presented well enough, though the nightmare that Naomi Watts has late in the film seems much more inspired by the actual footage. The make-up work was top drawer, and I’d suggest that it is more how she looks than the actual performance that won Naomi Watts the nomination for Best Actress.* The scenes leading up to the disaster all worked well, and I felt like I could sympathize with the family. It’s just a shame that everything after the wave strained that good will for me.
There were even a couple of truly honest moments in this otherwise formulaic film. The first was awkward and felt totally out of place. The second worked very well and should have been the bar by which the rest of the film was raised.
First, when Lucas sees his mother’s exposed breast, he turns his head. Later, when his mother is asleep in the tree, his curiosity is peaked and the camera teases that he is contemplating taking another look. When doctors cut away his mother’s shirt, and he has another opportunity, he chooses chivalry and turns away again. I wonder how truthful these moments were or if they were yet another forced idea. Certainly, it was not a very fleshed out concept.
The other moment was when Enrique asked another wealthy tourist if he can use his phone. The rich man responds by saying, “Look around. Everyone needs something, and I need my battery.” It is apparent that the only thing this man and his family has suffered is inconvenience, and yet he and his wife are angry and frustrated, demanding to know when he can get satisfaction from the natives who have lost everything.
There are lingering shots that float across the faces of the other families. Some of those we see playing on the beach or in the pools before the wave will not live. Those we see after are living out their own personal nightmares. They all have a story. They all have a voice. And that brings me to my last problem with this movie.
Why tell the true story of just this family in the first place? You would think that their tale would be enough to fill a two hour movie with texture and complexity, but they had to know in the screenplay process that this was not so. Instead they added cinematic tricks and gimmicks to add meat, and for some viewers, I’m sure that’s enough. But not for me. To me, this was simply a missed opportunity made all the worse by ridiculous punctuations that caused me to lose my patience and roll my eyes. Instead of just brushing on the experiences of others, if they could have expanded the circumference to give us a more accurate glimpse of this tragic day, it would have carried with it the ring of truth. But I’m willing to bet that was yet another gimmick.
These filmmakers didn’t want to show us death, only a family that came out unscathed.
Can you tell which of these three images is from a Hollywood film? If not, you’ll probably like “The Impossible” more than I did.
* I love Naomi Watts and don’t really care that it was the make-up that got her the attention. Though I don’t think this performance will win her Oscar gold, I’m really happy for her.