romantic comedy gone sadly off track

[asa book]B000YAA68C[/asa] I haven’t posted about any movies lately, and I think that’s mostly because I haven’t seen many I either loved or hated. There are a few I can recommend: Amazing Grace (though the timing is off at places); the third Bourne movie (what can I say? I like it rough at times.)

Just recently I saw PS I Love You with the Girlchild. I really wanted to love this movie, but as is so often the case with romantic comedy, it falls apart very quickly. Some romantic comedies keep falling when you think there’s no lower they could go. Maid in Manhattan was one of those stinkers. I could name quite a few. But that’s not the case with PS I Love You.

There are some great, great scenes in this movie. I will rent the damn thing just to watch those scenes a couple times. If I had the know-how, I’d re-edit the whole thing because someplace inside the tossed salad that is supposed to be a narrative thread, the best bits got stampeded into the dust or just plain lost.

Who makes these decisions? I know it’s based on a novel, but somebody wrote the screenplay, and then somebody directed it, and still somebody else edited all the scenes together. Who made the series of bad decisions that ruined what could have been a really good movie?

The actors worked so damn hard to keep the thing afloat, but they only succeed in short spurts. Gerard Butler and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are perfectly cast as the good-guy love interests. Scruffy, manly, with killer smiles and gentle ways that can turn oh so devastating when they get up close and personal.

Somebody made the decision to start this movie with an overly long scene between the two primary characters, Holly (Hillary Swank) and her husband of some nine years, Gerry Kennedy (Butler). It’s not an easy scene to pull off because the idea seems to be to front-load all the conflicts, as if getting this out of the way will make the rest of the movie cheery and fun.

But then the husband is suddenly dead of a brain tumor, and from there things drag along while he tries to help her from beyond the grave (by means of letters) to move past her grief. It’s during this long process that we get some great but all too short scenes, but the worst sin is this: we’re three quarters of the way through the damn movie before we see Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s very, very nice, very naked back side.

Okay, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that it’s not until this late in the movie that we see how Gerry and Holly met. If we had had that up front, we would have all loved Gerry as much as Holly did and we would have understood the depth of her grief. But no. They had to feed us the important stuff in stingy little bites and string them out until the only possible response is to howl with disappointment.

One of the big problems, I think, is that the cast is too big. Holly’s mom and sister and her mom’s bartender (a love-struck, morose Harry Connick Jr.), her best friends plus their husbands and/or significant others…. when really what was needed was more focus on Holly and Gerry and then Holly and WIlliam. I, personally, needed a whole hell of a lot more of William.

I don’t know enough about the film industry to figure out who messed up so badly, but I can say it wasn’t any of the major players. And I can say that if I were one of them, I’d be unhappy about what happened once the film went to editing.

Ratatouille: Phooey

I haven’t mentioned movies lately, but I am compelled to put something on the record. I don’t care how cute the story, how brilliant the animation: an attic full of rats? No. A kitchen full of rats?

No. No. No.

Who can suspend disbelief watching a river of rats flowing out of a house? My skin crawled, my stomach turned, my physical being rebelled. I was rooting for the old lady with the shotgun. I managed to listen to the whole thing, but I rarely looked up from the sewing in my lap.

For the record: I have nothing against individual rats. The Girlchild has a friend who has a pet rat, a very intelligent little creature I have held in my hand. A very clean, calm, rodent. A single rat without five hundred if its nearest and dearest nearby.

But a rat jumping into a vat of soup in the process of seasoning it? Animated or not:

No no no no no no.

Of course the rest of the chefs walked out when they found out what was going on. I imagine my father sharing a work station with a couple rats. Or rather, I try to imagine this, but it just won’t solidify in my mind’s eye.

So that’s that. My review of Ratatouille. Call me a philistine, call me boring, call me anything you like, but I prefer my food without rodents.

[asa book]0380730359[/asa] While I’m at it, a quick review of Gone, Baby, Gone, the film version of Dennis Lehane’s novel. I have mentioned his series of novels about two private detectives in working class Boston, because I really like them. Gone, Baby, Gone is my favorite of the series, though it is very, very dark. In fact, anyone who is prone to bad dreams probably shouldn’t read the book or see the movie. The subject is kidnapping and pedophilia, and now you’re wondering why in the hell I could like such a story.

[asa book]B0010ZR160[/asa] Coupla reasons. Lehane writes about a working class neighborhood a lot like the Chicago neighborhoods I grew up in, and he captures the atmosphere and the mindset perfectly. He can tell a story and his characters are interesting and complex and often surprising. But mostly I’d have to say I admire this novel because it’s terrifically hard to address the topics raised. Lehane pulls it off with finesse. Which for me means, the horror of the subject is not trivialized nor is it used to titilate. It’s a thoughtful look at a terrible situation, well done.

Bottom line: I liked the movie, but I think that I wouldn’t have liked it if I didn’t know the novel so well. The careful layering that carries the novel along is missing from the movie. It’s just not possible to get those kind of nuances into film. So I recommend the novel, if you are interested in a well told story, and then, if you are curious, the movie.

Vanity Fair — screenplay by M Faulk & J Fellowes

[asa book]B0006FO8E8[/asa] See this movie for the wonderful costumes, fantastic historical detail, and photography.

See if it you like Reese Witherspoon; see it for the other beautiful people.

Don’t see it for the acting, which is barely adequate in the best cases and overblown in the worst (Gabriel Byrne, what happened?).

Absolutely do not see it for the plot, which sags in the middle like a mattress in a by-the-hour-motel. I don’t know where the blame lies (Mira Nair, the director, has done some great work in the past), but that doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is, there’s no energy, no wit, and no reason to see what should have been an insightful social commentary but ended up a soggy romance.