The Movie Club

Could There Be A More Perfect Segue to Brad Pitt?
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 9 2009 1:15 PM

The Movie Club

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So many thoughts, so little time, and so much medication required to process them! So forgive me, Dana, if I cruise past Revolutionary Road for the moment in favor of roads less traveled. First up: Wendy and Lucy. Like you, I take no issue with the movie's spareness and lack of back story (it's even on my top-10 list), but I have to disagree with your invocation of the Dardenne brothers. To me, their small, blue-collar masterpieces hew much closer to the harsh vérité of Ken Loach than to Kelly Reichardt's dreamy vision. In movies like Rosetta and L'enfant, everything that happens is feasible; by contrast, Wendy's mysterious journey plays out more as social fairytale than social realism. Unlike the scrappy couple at the heart of L'enfant, Wendy seems clueless about the tools of self-preservation—Dumpster diving, panhandling—and though on the road for quite some time (if we believe her little accounts book), she still hasn't learned to steal food from that most vulnerable of targets: a grocery store with minimum surveillance. Hell, she can't even find restaurant leftovers to feed her starving dog!

And then there's the tone. While the Dardennes maintain a ferociously unsentimental eye (exemplified by the heroine of Rosetta, whose unruly personality is beautifully captured by Stuart Klawans here), Reichardt is constantly manipulating our sympathies with a threat-filled screenplay and her star's elfin, expressive face. Placed alongside the self-destructive hero of Into the Wild—who practically has to fight off protectors and good Samaritans—Wendy is female as roadkill rather than road warrior. With great hair, of course.

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Could there be a more perfect segue to Brad Pitt? Like the Eraserhead infant that won't stop mewling, wrinkly old Benjamin Button has been irking me all week. I was initially very shoulder-shruggy about this curious case: It took forever to get moving, and when it did, the motion was—just OK. But it keeps bubbling to the surface of my brain, and I'm beginning to think that David Fincher (who, after all, directed my favorite movie of 2007, Zodiac) may not have slipped as far as I thought. Among the movie's many layers—the tyranny of biology, how to deal when your outsides don't match your insides (a common gripe of the young at heart)—Benjamin's relationship with Tilda Swinton's worldly, married woman is especially pleasing. The older woman/young boy pairing is hard to find in American movies (believe me, I've tried), so imagine my surprise to also see Kate Winslet knocking boots with an underage lad in The Reader. So far, MAHOW (Mothers Against Horny Older Women) has been silent, but if the genders had been reversed, well, there goes your best picture Oscar.

Speaking of age: Can we please stop pairing actresses romantically with their could-be-fathers? Latest case in point, the imminent Last Chance Harvey, in which (spoiler!) Emma Thompson, 49, skips off into the sunset with Dustin Hoffman, 71. Defibrillators are standing by.

As far as the third-rail issue of abortion is concerned, I don't know that I have anything useful to add to my colleagues' thoughtful considerations. But since that's never stopped me in the past, here goes: In movies (and on television), the harsh realities of teenage sex and its consequences—economic, psychological, physical, lifelong—are rarely part of the cultural conversation. As a result, young women, most without the resources of Jamie Lynn Spears, are surrounded by images of glowing young mothers, complication-free miscarriages, and happy adoptions rarely enriched by discussions of responsibility. (Juno chooses her partner and plans her deflowering though neglects to include contraception.) For all the visible penises onscreen, I have yet to see one successfully sporting a Trojan Corrugated Extra Comfy (or whatever thoughtful young men would be wearing these days if Seth Rogen didn't make it look like such hard work).

And here's the thing about choice, to answer Stephanie's comments: It's not about believing Juno herself made a "wrong" choice but that movies like Juno (and Knocked Up and She's Having a Baby and Nine Months and on and on and on), by fielding characters who never choose abortion (and, in most cases, never even discuss it seriously), suggest that abortion isn't a choice at all. (This squeamishness is actually addressed, very cleverly, in Knocked Up.) And you don't need a menacing Virgin Mary to convey the message: Juno's grungy clinic works just as well. For the record, I don't think it has anything to do with pro-life propaganda, just the usual corporate fear of controversy and attendant financial consequences.

Quick coda: For a healthy, unsensationalized, straightforward treatment of abortion, I heartily recommend High Fidelity. Remember that one?

No way am I going to leave this happy experience on a note of complaint, so I'd like to give a final shout-out to the glorious JamesFranco, who last year laid down two radically different and equally captivating performances. As a shaggy dope dealer in Pineapple Express and as Sean Penn's charismatic partner in Milk, Franco reminded us that great actors are never limited by their looks—stunning or otherwise. Long may he charm.

Thanks to Dana for the opportunity to vent, and to everyone for the opportunity to get to know you better. It's been real and it's been racy, but it's also been five days, and, in the spirit of pre-empting my less-gallant male critics, I really do need to get laid.

Jeannette

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