Several movies and DVDs with my astute and incisive observations so that I can keep up my hard-won reputation as a connoseur of film.
Lars and the Real Girl: This flick is so good it had me crying twice. At the beginning I laughed so hard tears were dripping down my nose. At the end I sniffled at the funeral of a life-size doll designed to be a
sex-toy. Ok, this doesn’t sound too promising. Ryan Gosling is compelling as a man with a deeply disturbed psyche damaged by accumulated guilt at his mother having died during childbirth. His own childbirth. Ok, this also doesn’t sound promising, but the Gosling character compensates for his inability to connect with others by falling in love with life-size female doll he orders from an online sex-toy company. Ok, none of this sounds promising at all, but you still really have to see it. The film isn’t so much about sex-toys as it is about the need for love, the need to connect, and the redeeming possibilities of love. In some ways, though Gosling is astonishing, the center of film is the way the rest of the town responds to his need, the way it bucks up, overcomes its squeamishness, and helps Gosling’s character find the healing he needs. In some ways the film feeds that weird human response to crisis, our welcoming of crisis when we find in it that human beings can respond in ways that love and build up rather than tear down. The way a soldier, perversely, misses war because he or she remembers the ways others stood up for him, or the way she stood up for others. (Side note: I wonder if female soldiers experience this nostalgia for war in the same way that men do; I have a suspicion not since the crisis of war forces connection upon men in the way the rest of society seems to disallow). Gosling’s crisis is the occasion not only for his healing, but also for the rest of the town to become more human because they choose to care. A winner.
The Happening–There’s a reason that M. Night Shyamalan is considered a has-been at the age of 38. This movie was atrocious. I kept hope alive as long as I could, but was tempted to look at my watch. Wait, I don’t wear a watch anymore. A metaphor that will go the way of the dodo bird, and M. Night Shyamalan. The acting is almost universally bad. Even Mark Wahlberg, who I normally really like, is bad beyond reckoning. Every line is delivered as if the actors are saying under their breath, “I really can’t believe I’m in this sucky movie saying these sucky lines. But, hey, it’s M. Night Shyamalan; maybe this will all work out.”
By the way, did you know that his real name is Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan. I think that someone who would rename himself M. Night is probably just pretentious enough to be a bad film maker. Leave the name changes to the actors.
The Orphanage–This was also an astonishingly good film. I like well-made horror films, but this wasn’t even a horror pic, though it is often advertised as such. Yes, it is a ghost story, but that’s a little like saying Henry James’s Turn of the Screw is a horror story or a ghost story. The dismissiveness implied by the generic name doesn’t get at the emotional complexity of the film. It’s a horror story like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a horror story–Horrifying, but in the way humanity is horrifying and life can be horrifying, not because we make
up monsters in our brains. The film traces what happens after a boy’s disappearance as his mother seeks to find him, convinced that he has been somehow abducted by ghosts who inhabit the orphanage where she grew up. In the process of that search what she discovers is the relentless ways that human beings can be cruel and vicious to one another, and most especially to those who are most defenseless among us. In the end the film resorts to the cliche that a mother’s love transcends death, even her own, but that conclusion seemed compelling in the end. As with Lars and the Real Girl, the film offers hope that there’s a way to transcend our pettiness and mindless cruelties to one another. That we can give ourselves to others and be given to in return.