Over the past few weeks I have neglected my weekly reports on current releases. There are about six new releases I saw so in order to get caught up I am going to split the review up into two parts. Here is the first part. Next time will be The Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Beginners.
This movie has been getting solid reviews and has done well at the box office and those things don’t always mean much. Terrible movies get rave reviews and do well at the box office all the time (think Platoon, Titanic, Avatar, the list could go on…), but this is one occasion where it does mean something. Bridesmaids is a solidly funny movie and if we lived in a world where awards committees valued comedy Kristen Wiig would be an early best actress contender. We follow the trials and tribulations of neurotic Annie (Wiig) who has been tapped to be the maid of honor for her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). As the maid of honor she is overwhelmed with the events she has to plan and struggles with jealousy as she watches her best friend’s life firming up into a state of apparent perfection while her own spirals out of control. Her bakery failed, she still doesn’t have a job, and lives with a creepy British brother and sister who are disturbingly close. Annie is further taxed by the passive aggressive competition for Lillian’s affections by fellow bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne), one of those beautiful rich women who can always outdo anything anyone else sets up. The movie has been unfairly compared to The Hangover by lazy commentators who can’t discuss anything without popular shorthand. Other than a fact that they are both about wedding parties, there isn’t much else about the two that warrants the comparison. But Bridesmaids is a better movie about the evolution of Kristen Wiig’s character rather than a simple succession of wacky antics. (Rating ****)
Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s latest flirtation with Paris and dalliance with the supernatural is a solid, if not great venture. Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter in Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). Gil is unhappy with the intellectual level of his work and pines for the days of the 1920s, when intellect was appreciated in art. Through an unexplained phenomenon Gil finds a way to transport back to the 1920s by standing on a specific street corner in Paris just as the clock strikes midnight. There he hobnobs with such luminaries as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Salvador Dali. He also falls head over heels in love with Picasso’s mistress, the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
While it’s all cute and charming it doesn’t really amount to much. We’re never entirely sure why F. Scott Fitzgerald or Luis Buñuel would be at all interested in this non-descript American who claims to be a writer, something a lot of non-talented people claim. Nor are we sure why Adriana would even look at him twice when she can get Picasso and Hemingway. We aren’t meant to quibble about these questions too much and luckily Allen gives us enough that is charming and funny. Owen Wilson is fine doing a version of the Woody Allen character, but I liked David Schleicher’s suggestion that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would have been an interesting choice to play Gil. But then I didn’t find Wilson as distracting as he did. Yes, the message is a bit too easy (you can see it coming a mile away), but this is fantasy-fulfillment, both for Allen and for anyone who has dreamed of traveling back in time and socializing with our idols. (Rating ***1/2)
Everything Must Go
The story of a man who just lost his job and comes home to find his wife left him, moving all his belongings out to the front lawn, is drawn from a Raymond Carver story. With no money and nowhere to go Nick Halsey camps out on his front lawn, drinks beer all day, and eventually decides to sell everything, a clean break of sorts. Based on what I saw in this movie nothing suggests there was enough material to stretch this into a feature length film. Will Farrell plays Nick Halsey, our depressed, alcoholic protagonist on a single note, suggesting his foray into drama is either premature or completely unwarranted. He never connects with the characters that try to support him, including Kenny, a neighbor kid who helps him sell his things, and Samantha, a new neighbor whose husband is always out of town (nicely played by the always charming Rebecca Hall). Watching this movie reminded me of Robert Altman’s great 1993 compilation of Carver stories Short Cuts. It struck me that this story would have fit into Altman’s movie as one of the many connecting storylines much better than as a stand-alone feature film. Or as a short film. Or, better yet, let’s just read Carver’s short story “Why Don’t You Dance.” (Rating **)