The Movie Club
Entry 16: We need more star vehicles like Flight.
Denzel Washington in Flight.
© 2012 - Paramount Pictures
Wow, you guys. Dana’s line about Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany being a “proudly dysfunctional village bicycle”; Keith’s encomium for the movies (“I’m hopeful that those of us who love it will keep it alive, and continue to be kept alive by it”); and Stephanie’s description of Bradley Cooper’s Pat Jr. being on “his own internal hamster wheel”—those are tough lines to follow. But I would like to conclude briefly, having delivered most of my odds and ends up front, with a few words about amour. Not Michael Haneke’s (since no one really seemed to want to take up the subject that movie, even as a sudden but practical object of Oscar wonder), but just plain-old movie amour.
For instance, I love Taraji P. Henson. Like a lot. I love her in a way that has tricked me into thinking she and I are buddies. When she’s in a movie, she can often be the only thing in it, as she was in Think Like a Man, a not-terrible ensemble situation that operated on the poor assumption that it’s a good idea to turn a Steve Harvey self-help manual into a romantic comedy. She’s got a lot of glamour and charisma, and I’m the sort of person who responds to stuff like that. She’s not actress-y in movies. She’s a star, but one who hasn’t had a movie that gives her the room she needs to shine. She would seem to have a home in the work of Tyler Perry, who professional moviegoers dismiss. Which he often makes it very easy to do. (Good Deeds and Madea’s Witness Protection were “bitch, please” moviegoing experiences that not even people who worship Tyler Perry could bring themselves to like all that much.) But he’s director who’s good to women, and it would be interesting to see whether his writing could, at last, find and sustain a single tone and build something around a woman with a life-of-the-party sexiness like Henson, something that doesn’t make her suffer but lets her live.
I loved Denzel Washington in Flight. His performance had what I had worried was vanishing from the movies, the thing I wish would happen for Henson and for Emma Stone: The old star vehicle, a movie that can be of negligible quality, as Flight is, but whose mediocrity manages to exalt the person at its center. The relief people are feeling about how human and interesting Robert De Niro is in Silver Linings Playbook is similar to the passion I feel for Washington in this movie, and I don’t even believe the character! I don’t buy that Whip Whitaker’s addiction could persist at that level for that many years without someone stepping in and stopping him from entering that cockpit, even at an airline as budget as the one in this movie. I can’t believe a woman as churchy that flight attendant played by Tamara Tunie would keep getting on a plane all those years with a man as drunk as Whip has been. That Whip and Tunie’s character are both black makes the central drama even less credible. There is a kind of professional pride that a black, middle-aged pilot and a black middle-aged flight attendant would take in their achievement, even in 2012. It’s the sort of pride that would make Whip’s indiscretions difficult to achieve because Tunie’s flight attendant—or someone—would have pulled him aside and said, “You are fucking this up for all of us.”
Flight works only because Washington does. He gets to let his persona strut around. He slacks his face in that window-onto-the-guilty-soul way of his. He gets to be righteous but only when he’s hammered. He pulls us close to him and complicates his famous swagger. It’s a marvelous feat of movie-star acting that negates every single problem of screenwriting, character development, and social realism the film embraces. At the end of the day, it’s simply Denzel and it’s astounding.
But I’m worried we’re running out these sorts of showcases, that the people in them are crowded into too many stifling but possibly cost-effective ensemble situations. They feel rare enough to qualify as events. Tom Cruise is still with us and at his surreal Cruise-iest in the admittedly dumb Jack Reacher. And Keith, it was nice to watch Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones take their personas for a walk through the emotional blahness that is Hope Springs. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are starrish and wonderful together in David O. Russell’s movie. I hope that Lawrence’s enlistment in the Hunger Games doesn’t swallow her up or dull the ferocity I so admire in her. But I don’t know that she’ll get dialogue as right as what Russell’s written for her. It’s a star-making part, but I’m greedy and want to see more of that star and hear her say more stuff like:
“I was a slut. There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself, fucker? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”
Dana, thank you for sharing me and Keith and Stephanie with your wonderful readers. Readers, thank you for putting up with me. And movies of 2013, please hire Taraji P. Henson and Emma Stone and, while you’re at it, give a whole movie to Michael Peña so he can prove that he really is worth it. Please stop with the 48 frames per second and visit the megaplexes and art-plexes where you screen your movies and make sure the people managing them know what they’re doing (please) and that the sound is good and that the 3D lens has been removed for 2D movies. Please surprise and dazzle and challenge us—in February and August and December. Are you capable of that?
Love to you all, Wesley
Wesley Morris is a staff writer at Grantland.