Every Rose Has Its Thorn

01-Aug-08 12:00 PM by
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Remember Father's Day? I didn't think so. It was a 1997 comedy with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams in which the perfect strangers hit the road to find the son one of them never knew they had — and to find out which one is the father.

Cross this film's plot with Mamma Mia!, subtract the comedy and soundtrack, and you get Broken Flowers, a 2005 film starring Bill Murray. I never heard of this movie when it hit theaters, but as with The Squid and the Whale, it was on my list of "20 Essential Break Up Movies", and I've been a fan of Bill Murray's serious side ever since Lost in Translation and The Razor's Edge. A friend recently criticized this actor's inability to be serious, a sentiment I found appalling — until I saw this film.

It's boring. 2001 boring. There are prolongated sequences of absolutely nothing happening. Murray spends the film's first half-hour mopingly contemplating an anonymous letter he's received that suggests a lover of two decades past has born him a vagabond son he's never known. Begrudgingly curious, he sets out to find the mother of his child. After that slow setup, we're then presented with a series of vignettes as Murray awkwardly encounters his past loves, with all parties exhibiting the symptoms of deipnophobia. Throughout it all, he expresses almost no emotion, which makes his character's reputation as a Don Juan unbelievable. The ending brings the audience no closure — a sort of romantic Rashômon, where we can choose which of four stories to believe, if any, but with none of them offering any satisfaction.

This is the second movie I've rented that fit this description: "Going through a breakup? Whether you're looking for escapism or self-assessment, laughs or bitter revenge, these are some of the best movies ever to deal directly with the end of a relationship and the world that awaits." Neither film was what I expected. When I'm fresh out of a break-up, I don't want to see other people in bad relationships, or even in any kind of relationship. A good breakup movie should celebrate the joys of bachelorhood and focus on the opportunities brought by this newfound freedom. In my case, and now that I know better, I'd exercise the freedom to not watch this movie.

Seaworld Struggles

23-Jul-08 10:38 AM by
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Over the past year, I've heard of the film The Squid and the Whale from two sources. The first was my chiropractor, himself something of a philosopher, who'd also successfully suggested to me the film The Razor's Edge. The second is from a list entitled "20 Essential Break Up Movies". Those are two very different contexts in which to receive the same film recommendation — so, my curiosity piqued, I checked it out of the library.

The film, set in 1983 Brooklyn, bears many similarities to Blue Car: we have two children of the same gender struggling with the fallout of a broken home — the younger is the more outwardly distressed, while the older one flirts with romance. There's also a teacher open to having an affair with a student. The differences between The Squid and the Whale and Blue Car is that, here, we see the divorce happening, making its impact more immediate with both parents present.

Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play the troubled couple, each with a Ph.D in English. Mr. Daniels plays his character with such ego and arrogance that it's easy to cast him as the villain, but just because his flaws are given more screen time does not mean that his spouse has none of her own. Their two boys each favor a different parent, coping with the stress of separation in a manner roughly analogous to how their preferred parent brought about the divorce. It's intriguing to hear the son speak to his girlfriend with the same words we earlier heard exchanged between his father and mother. But separation does not cure what ails this family, as each parent confuses the situation by quickly moving on to a new love interest (in Mr. Daniels' case, that being a flirty Anna Paquin). All four family members are desperate for attention, but none are confident in what kind of attention they want or need.

The film is roughly autobiographical of its writer and director, Noah Baumbach. At 81 minutes, it's also makes for a short viewing session, but I found its length just right for a view into the times and trials of a broken home, without the drama or creepiness of Blue Car.

Another Op'nin', Another Show

24-Mar-07 3:40 PM by
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My first musical performance was in Cole Porter's Anything Goes. It wasn't for another 13 years — Kiss Me, Kate, opening tonight at the country's second oldest community theater company — that I again performed the works of this prolific composer. So today seemed timely for me to finally watch Kevin Kline portray Porter's life in the 2005 film De-Lovely.

The film is creatively framed as a dying Cole Porter viewing his life as a musical, thus explaining his company's proclivity for breaking into song and dance. Though these numbers are subdued — despite Porter's work is laced throughout the film, I would not call it a musical — they are certainly fiction. What of the story is fact, I am unsure. Surely the highlights of the story are true: his time in Europe writing musicals, his success in Hollywood, his painful, later years. The movie, like my theatrical career thus far, begins with Anything Goes and ends with Kiss Me, Kate.