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Entries in blythe danner (2)

Friday
Sep212012

Hello I Must Be Going

Hello I Must Be Going is so similar to this week’s other 35-dating-a-19-year-old dramedy, Liberal Arts, that it’s impossible not to notice or compare. Normally, when comparing two movies, one clearly outshines the other, yet Hello I Must Be Going is no better or worse, but it’s exactly as bland. Both films think they’re saying something more than they really are and despite all around solid performances, they fail to make an impact. If one must be chosen as superior, I suppose it would be Liberals Arts, if only because it’s funnier and a bit more heartfelt, but that in no way makes this movie bad. It would have been bad even without the comparison.

Amy (Melanie Lynskey), like so many mopey movie characters these days, is down on her luck. Her husband has just left her, shattering her happy existence, and she has moved back in with her parents, Stan (John Rubinstein) and Ruth (Blythe Danner). She’s been holed up in that house for months now and has had little interaction beyond her family. However, her lawyer father is hoping to nail a big client and is having him and his family over for dinner, so she is forced to doll up and put on a smile. That night, she meets Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), a 19 year old actor and son of the big client, and they instantly make a connection, sparking a secret, off-limits romance that, if discovered, could have serious repercussions for her future and her father’s business endeavors.

That’s the way the movie wants you to think about it at least. The reason the father wants to nail this client so badly is so he can retire, so the worst thing that could happen is that he’d have to wait a couple more years, though a late movie twist makes this reasoning moot anyway. As for Amy and Jeremy, they aren’t doing anything illegal or manipulative. They both clearly have feelings for each other—and as they say, love knows no age—so the consequences seem negligible at most. The stakes are never truly high, though they carry the guise of importance. This realization makes the movie feel aimless, unaware of where it wants to go and what it wants to say. It has the ingredients to make for interesting commentary, but, despite coming close to profundity a couple times, it mixes those ingredients into something most unsavory. It’s the cinematic equivalent of having something on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t find the words to create the meaning.

Similarly, the idea of having to be someone others want you to is forced into enough nooks and crannies of the film that the idea ends up becoming a self-parody. Jeremy, for instance, is pretending to be gay because his mother thinks he is. The why behind this decision is hardly explored, instead passed over by a quick throwaway line of dialogue, something about how it’s sometimes easier to be someone that others want you to be. Although not a bad theme, the character motivation doesn’t follow it through. Amy’s eventual maturation doesn’t come from support and understanding from those around her, or even from a realization that she deserves more than what life has given her, but from pressure from others to move on, to forget about the love of her life that dumped her and the second love of her life that is forbidden. She seems to move on by conforming to the ideas of others, not from her own desire to do so.

Hello I Must Be Going is a mess in search of a meaning. The performances are terrific and Lynskey, who is too often relegated to supporting roles, is finally given a chance to shine. She makes the most of it, even if her awards chances are slim, and she crafts a likable, sympathetic character whose charms manage to outweigh the whininess. But the movie as a whole is just there, trying really hard and not doing or saying much of anything. Even its contradicting title, one would assume, is meant to carry meaning, but it does little more than provide an easy zing for movie reviewers like myself. Frankly, it wasn’t long after saying hello that I was ready to get going.

Hello I Must Be Going receives 1.5/5

Friday
Apr202012

The Lucky One

I’ve never read a Nicholas Sparks novel, so I can’t speak for their quality. For all I know, they’re wonderfully written sweeping romances that even the most jaded lover would embrace. His prose could be beautiful, describing in perfect detail the characters in his stories, their settings and the events they go through. I honestly don’t know, but as a simple storyteller, Sparks lacks creativity. Having seen every one of his book-to-film adaptations, from 1999’s Message in a Bottle to this week’s The Lucky One, I can say without a doubt the man doesn’t know how to craft a story. All he does is take the same basic formula, repackage it with a new traumatic event or life ending illness and crap it out onto the page, or in this case, the screen, for public consumption. He had some luck with the solid (yet still overrated) romance, The Notebook, but when you’re seven movies in and only one can legitimately be called good, it’s time to stop.

The Lucky One follows Logan (Zac Efron), a US Marine who has served three tours in Iraq. While on his last tour of duty, he spots a picture of a beautiful woman named Beth (Taylor Schilling) on the ground a few feet away from where he’s standing. His intrigue gets the best of him, so he walks over to pick it up. Just as he reaches the picture, a missile detonates behind him. The picture saved his life. When he gets back to the states, he decides to seek the girl in the photo out. He finds her in North Carolina, but doesn’t know how to explain to her what happened and why he has traveled so far from his home state of Colorado to see her. So instead, he takes a job she and her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner) are offering training dogs. Eventually, a romance sparks, but his secret can’t be kept hidden forever and it will threaten their happiness, especially if Beth’s ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), can do anything about it.

Nicholas Sparks is not a romance writer. He’s a schmaltz writer, a hack hiding behind the guise of a hopeless romantic. His stories rarely earn their tears through good writing and interesting characters, but rather through manipulation. Sparks has an affinity for putting his characters through the wringer so his easily seduced literary and movie going demographic will feel something other than ambivalence. It’s not enough for the characters to have terrible things happen to them within the current setting of the story; he has to give them tragic pasts as well. When Beth says at one point that both her parents died in a car crash when she was young, the thought that comes to mind isn’t of sympathy or sadness, but rather of cynicism: “Of course they did.”

If you’ve seen the other movies based on Sparks’ books, this should come as no surprise, nor should the predictably overblown ending. Anyone can take someone else’s material, change a few things around and call it an original concept, but Sparks does it to himself. He’s a lazy storyteller without an original thought in his head, but that’s only offensive in the figurative sense. His recent trend of trivializing important world events and issues to fit his romantic upchucks is far worse. Similar to how Dear John used the tragedy of 9/11, The Lucky One uses the Iraq war and the post traumatic stress disorder many of our soldiers are diagnosed with after returning home to segue into fluffy romantic nonsense. At certain points in the movie, you see Logan jump in fear as he hears a loud bang or gunfire coming from the television as some kids play some video games. Later, his nephew wakes him from his slumber and he immediately slams the kid down on the bed and begins to choke him. What happens to many of those who return from war is a serious matter and is worthy of serious dramatic consideration, but using it as a means to sucker in easily emotionalized viewers is not only clumsy storytelling, but also disrespectful to the reality of such a thing.

The rest of The Lucky One fares about as one might expect: forced dramatic scenarios brought on by heightened caricatures, numerous montages set to the backdrop of a sappy sweet melody and lots of distant staring, one person emotionally longing for the other. In just about every way possible, The Lucky One is redundant, both of Sparks’ other stories and of the romance genre in general. It brings nothing new to the table, instead relying on the same contrived narrative procedures that fans of this tripe inexplicably eat up. If you’re one of those people, The Lucky One will do its job, but all others should steer clear.

The Lucky One receives 1/5