Tag Archives: jennifer lopez

The Way the Cookie Crumbles

Manohla is on her game this morning. Her review of The Back-Up Plan is a sad reminder that romantic comedy continues to scrape up against the dank, dark bottom of the Hollywood barrel.

For any number of reasons, the genre that was once typified by It Happened One Night and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, has fallen farther than any other. With the possible exception of the Hollywood musical, which has a very good excuse for its dissolution (end of studios, end of resources), the decline of the romantic comedy is undoubtedly the most grievous lesion on the lumbering zombie that has become popular American film.

Blindfold yourself, spin around twice, and land a finger anywhere on Manohla’s review and you’ll find a reason why. Go ahead, try it. I did:

“The Back-Up Plan” is innocuous and unmemorable, and pretty much looks like a lot of sitcoms do. It will scale down well on your television, a medium that was made for close-ups of characters sharing and caring.

Right. A large part of the problem is that romantic comedies all look the same. Action films, epic dramas, science fiction adventures – these films are practically all look, and as such, jump whole hog into visual style, varying their aesthetic from prequel to sequel and back to prequel at the rate of a fourth grader trading baseball cards, and almost to a shameful degree, as if it were a cover for their lack of original content. Then there’s the romantic comedy. They all look the same. Bright, evenly distributed light, easy-going medium shots, and no sudden movements. But this is not cinema – this is the anesthetic aesthetic of the convalescent hospital. “Don’t worry, Grandpa! You won’t feel a thing!”

It seems silly to speak of aesthetics when discussing the genre responsible for films like The Bounty Hunter and 27 Dresses. I can already hear cries of “They’re just meant to be entertaining,” as if the doctrines of comedy and thoughtlessness were intended to go hand in hand. But I can remember a time – a time before I was born – when style was entertainment; when Annie Hall was funny not just because of its “entertainment” value, but because Woody Allen found a visual correlate for the searching, elastic mind of Alvy Singer; when a film like A Shot in the Dark, which never aimed higher than gut-level, could be as committed to boffo laffs as it was to widescreen framing; when The Apartment, which has more laughs than a whole season of romantic comedies, allowed its bitterness to come through black and white, courtesy of cinematographer Joseph LaShelle.

True, these are masterpieces, but the same could be said for all sorts of other, lesser films made before Hollywood gave up on its once favorite genre. The only reason I don’t mention them here is because they don’t make the point as forcefully. But I assure you, they make the point. Watching Soapdish again the other night, I saw it wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered it, but I didn’t mind. With its vigorous camera moves and robust palette, the film had the feeling of a low-calorie Almodovar movie, and in my book of damn good efforts, that wins it a hearty handshake and a slap on the back.

But Soapdish was released twenty years ago. What am I going to see tonight?

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The Passion of Anna

File this one under Good Ideas from Uninspired Executives. Anna Faris has been cast in the Private Benjamin remake.

I think I’m catching on. Hollywood is now a place wherein new talent is eschewed for new versions of old talent (ie Anna Faris is not Anna Faris, she is the new Goldie Hawn.) If new talent happens to slip onto the screen in Big Hollywood, it means someone was not doing their job, or they were looking the other way at the wrong moment. Originality, these days, is an aberration, someone’s mistake.

So while I’m excited at the prospect of Anna Faris becoming the next Goldie Hawn, I’m concerned that Faris, a comedienne of appreciable gifts, will be drawn into a kind of surrogate career, like Madeline, the Kim Novak character from Vertigo, who was possessed by Carlotta Valdez. But who was she really? Jimmy Stewart never knew.

Faris deserves her own persona. Though she shares with Goldie an affinity for easygoing sexiness, she has a tomboyishness, an up-for-anything quality that brings to mind Carole Lombard at her almost-best. If only Faris’s scripts were up to her potential, I’m certain she could one day turn out a performance as full and witty as Lombard’s masterpiece, Maria Tura in To Be or Not To Be, but in the meantime, relegated to the world of middling material and unappreciative executives, the actress will continue to produce, with industrial reliability, her particular brand of rock-solid comedy. But she’s capable of more.

I can already feel myself falling into the studio trap of identifying one actress through the work of another, which is I why I want to look at Faris in double counterpoint, from the perspectives of both Goldie and Lombard. First, a distinction: for all of her airy cuteness, Goldie Hawn is a naturalist at heart. She’s really messy underneath her composure (which is really what Private Benjamin is all about), and though she tries to put on airs, to keep it together, what she craves is simplicity. Among other things, it comes from having a terrific smile, a wailing whine, and sometimes even anger. She wants to be real; that’s what I mean by naturalist. It made her an ideal star for 80s anti-yuppie comedies, reverse Cinderella stories like Overboard (which, by the way, they’re remaking with Jennifer Lopez).

Lombard, on the other hand, is not a naturalist, she’s a fantasist, and as we see in her best roles, she better than anyone mastered the hair-brained antics of a genuine screwball. If she had to flip, slip, fall, she was best off doing them all at once, and then starting from the top and doing them all again. The more elaborate her actions the better. It made her an ideal star for 30s escapist comedies, which gave reality a good run for its money. Back then, more was merrier.

Our gal Anna combines them both. But we still don’t know who she is really. Why we don’t is due to her youth, and the movies they put her in. Scary MovieThe House Bunny, and Observe and Report – these pictures have given us glimpses at Faris’s potential, at the great comedienne to come, but they don’t give her the opportunity to showcase her unique talent, whatever that may be. And I know it’s in there. It’s going to take time, both for her to mature and Hollywood to grow up, but when it comes out – as it did, just a little, briefly in Lost in Translation – I think we’re all going to be very impressed.

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