Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sorry, Virginia

There is a time in our lives when we are told about a wonderful man, a man who gives you things you don't even have to pay for. 

The people who are in charge of things tell you amazing tales about him,  tales of his compassion and astonishing abilities, qualities that seem like magic.  

Despite his powers, details of his youth and young adulthood are mysterious, assuming the quality of myth.

He lives in a very special home and is attended by large numbers of smaller people who carry out his wishes and who construct the bright toys he gives.   

He keeps lists of people he thinks are good and bad.  Brother, you do not want to be on that bad list. 

He's on television all the time, and you can even go see him in person when he comes to your town.

You love this man.  He's a dream come true.  No one has ever seen anything like him. 

As the years go by, though, you begin to observe that many things in real life are not consistent with the stories of him and  his mission.  But you are told to keep believing, and you do. 

For awhile; then, one day, the evidence of your own eyes and your common sense overwhelm your craving to believe in this man. Without anyone telling you, you can see for yourself that the stories about him are not true. The man is not who he pretended to be.  Even though you saw him with your own eyes, it turns out he never really existed as he portrayed himself and as others sang of him. (Yes, people wrote songs about him, and small children were made to sing them.)   He and his helpers knowingly misled you -- you and millions of others -- going to incredible lengths to sustain the illusion of the man's greatness. 

In fact, that man you saw, he's just a guy in a fancy suit who isn't special and has no particular fondness for you. 
Even those presents you got -- someone had to pay for them after all.  It dawns on you that sooner or later, you yourself will be expected to pay for gifts others receive. 

When the truth becomes apparent, you protest the deception.  But the people in charge say they did it for your own good. 

You're sad for a little while, but not long. You understand, finally, that some things really are too good to be true.   Some of your friends continue to believe in the man, but they don't advertise it, and many of them know in their hearts they've been had.  Others cling fiercely to the myths, fearful that if they do not the free presents will stop.  

You remember with fondness the excitement of those early years when you believed.  But with your eyes finally open to what is really going on, you put that man in the fancy suit behind you as you make your way in the real world.

Monday, November 18, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: "Enough Said," or, You Can Say That Again

SPOILER NOTICE:  Most people will come to this movie knowing the basic plot outline, which is revealed in almost all reviews of it.  I will mention it here.  There is a plot twist in the middle of the movie that I will not reveal.

*     *     *

The Memsahib and I should see more movies.  If we did, maybe I'd get to see more monster shows and violent revenge movies and jaw-dropping special effects stuff and naughty frat-boy comedies and possibly even naked women on the big screen.  (With the get-all-the-movies option on DirectTV, those kind of movies are eventually beamed into our home -- gathered in from outer space by our dish, which I actually have never seen, somewhere on our roof they tell me -- where I don't watch them, either.)   Instead, our movie choices tend to be dominated by the kind of things that the Mem will enjoy, since I'm very likely to enjoy them, too, and she is not going to enjoy the monster/frat/naked movies.  I am a loving and prudent husband, and I play the percentages.

The Mem is interested in seeing what we refer to as "relationship movies."  These are dramas or comedies that explore the relationships between family members or men and women.  Sometimes they are not slow and long.

"Enough Said" was an enjoyable relationship movie.  It was, however, slow and long.  I checked my watch twice.  (The current recordholder is "Amour," where I was checking my watch almost constantly, partly to attempt to determine when that particular torture might conclude, and partly because what was happening on my watch face was more interesting than what was happening on the screen.)   I recommend it.  I didn't love it, it won't make any of my personal top-twenty lists, but it was a pleasant night at the flicks with some very agreeable people.

Those agreeable people are mostly Eva, a divorced freelance masseuse(Julia Louis-Dreyfus); Albert , a TV archivist with whom she has an affair (James Gandolfini in his final feature role); and Marianne, a famous and weirdly well-off poet  who becomes Eva's client and eventually a friend and confidant (Catherine Keener).  

Left to right:  James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The good things about this movie are:  The general agreeability of the two people who get the most screen time.  Their familiarity to us from popular TV shows.  The fact that they get together.  The fact that, since we know this is a romantic comedy, they will probably end up together.  There are some amusing scenes.  There are some amusing lines.  There is a plot twist that adds some interest.

But -- you knew there had to be a "but" -- I did end up looking at my watch:

This was a talk movie.  Very little happens.  I'm not looking for car chases or monsters or even those naked women (although there is a lot of suggested James-on-Julia coupling, an image that somewhat compromises the romantic halo of this particular pairing), but it's pretty much a bunch of set pieces where people talk.  The big plot point doesn't occur near on to the beginning, where it might have propelled some interesting situations for the balance of the movie, but some ways into the show, where it doesn't.

There were some very odd subplots.   They did not seem to serve any larger message or illuminate the main plot; they felt like they belonged in another movie.  The strangest -- almost creepy -- was the relationship between Eva and her high-school daughter's friend.  Eva more-or-less adopted this girl into her household, much to her daughter's discomfiture and the well-deserved scorn of the girl's mother.   No apparent point.

Then there was the obligatory married-couple-who-observe-and-comment-on-their-friend's-romance-while-modeling-"love-is-difficult"-behavior-of-their-own subplot featuring Sarah (Toni Collette) and Will (Ben Falcone).  And they had their own sub-subplot relating to a maid who was either either indispensable or intolerable, who seemed to put objects away in inappropriate places, or maybe she didn't.  Point indiscernible.

Catherine Keener's famous rich poet Marianne was the finest performance in the film, her words sounding like she was making them up as she went along, a beautiful natural reading.   But her character couldn't exist:   poets do not publish serial best-sellers unless it's some kind of pop-culture stuff (not even then -- can you think of even one?), and we're asked to believe that she is a famous serious poet, an artist, yet recognized on the street by stout giggling women.   Nah:  Even the most famous poets today don't make a living from selling their poetry; even the best of them supplement their meager residuals by teaching somewhere, or perhaps lecturing.  But not Marianne -- she lives a life of exquisitely tasteful leisure while being recognized on the street for her books of poetry by stout women.  And able to afford a masseuse on a regular basis.  I can't think of a single poet in America who lives a life like that.

Catherine Keener in Artistic Poet Hat
But the main problem with this movie is that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in every single scene.  This may not be a problem for some people, maybe most people who go to this movie to see her.  She's as appealing as you remember from "Seinfeld" and "New Adventures of Old Christine," but her bag of tricks is limited and she uses those tricks many times in the course of this movie.  Interestingly, director Nicole Holofcener  does nothing to glam her up.  (I guessed a woman director and writer before I learned her identity -- this is not a movie interested in the male point of view, which is a legitimate artistic choice and not particularly offensive, but just so you know going in.)  Her makeup is minimal, she's dark, a middle-aged woman presented as attractive, no longer "cute" in the young-chick sense, not trying too hard to be beautiful.  But one might think a woman of her years and presumed experience would be smarter than she seems to be, and more interesting.  And as funny as the story presents her as being, which she isn't.

That reminds me.  This pair is supposed to be attracted to one another because each finds the other amusing.  Here's the capstone example for this script, repeated several times:

      --  Albert says something about his life.
      --  Eva says: "Really?"
      --  Albert smiles and says:  "No."
      --  Eva convulses in laughter (see photo above).

Neither one of these people is very funny, certainly not as clever or as amusing as Ms. Holofcener seems to think.  It's not a very funny script.  "Light," I think the word is; "light comedy."  It's that.

We see much less of James Gandolfini than of Ms. Louis-Dreyfus, but still a lot.  When he's onscreen, the movie warms up considerably, although he is presented as unattractive in many ways.  He underplays his big scenes to excellent effect.

I can't discuss the unsatisfactory ending of the movie without giving away the plot point.  I'll only say that the movie doesn't give us any reason for the characters to do what they finally do.  They just do it, plot resolved, screen goes black.  

But having grumbled, I have to say that I enjoyed the movie because we actually do like these characters, ordinary though they may be.  We want them to be happy, and they pretty much are, most of the time and ultimately, so our expectations are fed.   The Mem liked it too (although her first words as the credits began to roll were:  "Well, it was slow.")  So there you go.

Two thumbs at about ten o'clock -- nah, make it 10:30.

   *     *     *