Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Week's Movies in Review

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Serving up Southern fried homophobia to NASCAR fans and Will Ferrell acolytes to the tune of a $47 million opening weekend! America, I hang my head and shake my fist at you. That being said, however, I absolutely cannot get enough of Sacha Baron Cohen right now. Comedy seeps out of that man's pores. Despite the way his character was used as a grotesque prop to make the audience groan and shudder at the idea of two men kissing, the over-the-top, red-state-baiting ridiculousness of a Camus-reading, gay French Formula 1 champ driving a car sponsored by Perrier is enough to make me erupt in peals of laughter. Cohen somehow manages to nail, with every performance of his I've seen to date, no matter the character or situation, the perfect balance of broad slapstick and subtle, behavioral comedy. I've got the lurve.

Lady in the Water
I fancy myself one of Shyamalan's few remaining defenders, but he's gone too far for even me to follow with this one. Lady in the Water is a mess of self-serious self-awareness and is way more about the "subtext" than about the story it purports to be telling. That way lies death. And perhaps the plot, such as it is, was doomed from the start, as it shows a laughable sense of disconnect from the way that people actually live and behave. There's no truth in any of it, even emotional truth, which should be Shyamalan's stock-in-trade. People always rush to compare him to Spielberg, but this trafficking in stereotypes that are not just flat but also as ripe-smelling as unrefrigerated pork products is uncomfortably Woody Allenesque. Night is beginning to adopt Allen's head-in-the-ground egotism that squelches the life and creativity out of a movie under the guise of hewing to a singularity of vision. (I find this observation from Jonathan Rosenbaum's now-ancient review of Allen's Everyone Says I Love You continually instructive on matters of this nature: "[I]f you take a look at the remarkable elevator sequence in Jerry Lewis's The Errand Boy it's immediately apparent that Lewis can't enter an elevator without becoming stimulated, and the same thing obviously applies to Albert Brooks when he walks through a grocery store or mall and to Jacques Tati when he simply walks down the street. But Woody Allen walking down the street desperately needs a topic to blot out whatever he might see or hear, and his practice as a filmmaker repeatedly proves it.") The caricature of a book and film critic played by an ill-served Bob Balaban is easy to spot and sneer at from a mile away, but there's also me-love-you-long-time Korean student Young Soon (Ms. Cheung should have gone for the big paycheck, at least, and signed on to play ambiguously Japanese in The Last Samurai's Vagina instead of this dreck), the "guild" of young male smokers who seem roughly contemporaneous with Maynard G. Krebs, and--oh, it pains me to say this--the reclusive, compulsive news-watching character played by the normally peerless Bill Irwin, who is forced to deliver the line, "I wanted to believe! I wanted to feel like a child again!" Even Paul Giamatti, who is to me what Steve Buscemi was to many women in the late '90s (that is, dead fucking sexy in a non-obvious, non-ClooneyPitt way), didn't get touched by any of the magic that Shyamalan has always taken pains to lavish on his leading men. There's always the chance that I'll find new life or significance in the film after I have a chance to see it again, as happened with my revisiting of The Village last year, but unlike Giamatti's character, I'm not going to be able to hold my breath (while swimming! and prying open rusted-shut doors! under water!) for much more than, say, fifteen minutes.

Little Miss Sunshine
Quite possibly the movie of the summer. Do not miss this one. Pure delight from beginning to end. I can't rememeber the last time I laughed as hard and as genuinely in a movie theater.


Chris C said...

See, the best thing about Talladega Nights is actually seeing it in the South. Mary and I took it in a couple of nights ago in PCB, FL while on vacation with some friends. It was beautiful--the utter disgust thrown at the screen by the audience, that is--when a certain two race car drivers kiss. It could not be any more apropos...or am I unfairly stereotyping southern folk as homophobic? I really wanted to stand up ans yell at teh top of my lungs - Git 'R Done, alas, it was not meant to be. It is amazing, however, just how many folk down here REALLY do sound like Boomhower from King of the Hill. Perhaps I am a Northern Boy City Slicker Snob. So be it.

Matthew Perpetua said...

I wouldn't call a movie that goofs mercilessly on homophobia homophobic!

allison said...

I'm willing to grant that I may have missed some of the subtleties in the way they treated the Girard character's gayness thanks to my general lack of interest in the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay juggernaut, but there's still just a bad taste in my mouth from the way they seemed to be courting that "ew, gross!" reaction from the audience with, not just the big kiss at the end, but all the stuff with Andy Richter as Girard's partner and the few times Girard makes passes at Ricky. And, I'll also grant that I might be somewhat disproportionately blaming Talladega Nights for my more widespread frustrations about the way that mainstream comedy, especially mainstream comedy aimed at a teenage/twentysomething male demographic, still feels like it can get away with making "none'a yer funny business, ya pansy!" jokes when they would never try to wring similarly one-dimensional laughs out of race or gender. I know I can't hold a movie responsible for its audience's reactions, but, even in a big city like Chicago, in the Midwest, most gay jokes are still going to play homophobically, no matter the purity of intention, and that's what really frustrates and saddens me.

Thanks for stopping by, though, Matthew! Your site is def. one of my daily can't-miss destinations. Cheers.