Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Why can't there be someone I can like in contemporary, "hip" films?

Last week, I finally saw Closer. From everything I'd read, I figured I wouldn't like it, and I didn't, though I was captivated by Natalie Portman's wonderful performance. But just as in We Don't Live Here Anymore, the makers of Closer wanted me to be drawn into a film about four hopelessly defective people who ranged from disurbed to repulsive. At least in We Don't Live Here Anymore, the Laura Dern character was somewhat sympathetic for her honesty. Besides, any film with Laura Dern in it is worth seeing.

But it isn't just these two films. The producers of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wanted me to care about the underdeveloped Jim Carrey character, and furthermore, wanted me to accept the fact that he was deeply drawn to a woman wrapped so loosely, she could unravel at any moment.

The worst of them was probably Sideways, a film about a neurotic, self-absorbed, pretentious, alcoholic loser and his road trip adventures. Bogged down with pre-adolescent humor, with no one in it to like who wasn't played by Sandra Oh, Sideways assumes we would suspend disbelief long enough to accept that a smart, attractive woman would be attracted to a man whose very presence on the screen made me want to run out of the theater. I was especially disappointed because Alexander Payne made one of my favorite films of the past several years, the viciously hilarious Citizen Ruth, starring Dern in the role of her career.

I'm not looking for a romantic comedy (though I appreciate the rare good one). I don't need a happy ending. I just want at least one character whom I can tolerate.


Nice post and good question.

You mentioned Sandra Oh as the only likeable character - and she was - but did you not take to Virginia Madsen? I thought she was great. That scene where she talks about the wine - that was her scene...

Hated "Spotless Mind" but thought Winslet did what she could with the character, as she always does.

By Blogger Sour Duck, at 1:07 AM  

I've been avoiding Closer and We Don't Live Here anymore for just those reasons. The Upside of Anger is supposed to be good - might be one of those where the characters may or may not be likable.

I think the last indie romance where I liked the characters was Before Sunset.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:45 AM  

I couldn't warm up to the Madsen character for the reason stated--her romantic interest in the protagonist. And maybe it was just I, but I found her character kind of flat. The wine speech, which should have been touching, was instead jarring to me because the metaphor was being wasted on an alcoholic narcissist.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:58 AM  

I have The Upside of Anger here, but just can't seem to get around to watching it.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:22 AM  

I agree with you on this post - I refuse to watch "Closer," didn't like "Spotless Mind," thougth sideways was ok, and only really like Sandra Oh's character. I used to like so of the contemporary hip films a couple of years ago, but I have not enjoyed those recent ones. I do want to see "The Constant Gardener" though.

By Blogger MEP, at 8:49 AM  

Yes, I have to agree w/ you, Diane, that the characters in films, even indy films, are increasingly hard to like. The human condition is wounding. Life effectively polishes our rough edges or, if we resist the polishing, the edges get rougher and sharper. Wisdom seekers throughout Time have allowed their wounds to enlighten them and redeem their suffering. This makes for deepening of character, which is always interesting on screen, but few stories can reflect these paths of redemption because few humans can experience Life this way: allowing their sufferings to transform them into better persons. On rare occasion, this theme will break through in film, usually in subtle ways that show the characters as persevering in good spirit and being lifted despite the undertow of habitual behavioral responses. One movie like this was "You Can Count On Me." This movie brought to the screen two very sensitive character actors, Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, who seem to swim against the current of popular stereotypes among the Hollywood set these days. Despite the flaws of the characters they played in this film, I thought they were inherently likeable.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:14 AM  

I have to say Closer was one of the worst films I've seen in ages. I did like the first few minutes, though, but what the heck happened after that?

I'll take your word for Sideways. I think I fell asleep in Spotless Mind.

I just got Elephant; anyone know if that's good?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:04 PM  

I haven't seen Before Sunset. I liked You Can Count On Me. My favorite indie film of the last few years is probably Pieces of April, which I thought was wonderful.

There were some great ones in the 90's: Citizen Ruth, of course (I saw it again a few weeks ago and laughed until I ached all over), Afterglow (which I also had the pleasure of seeing again recently), and the magnificent The Opposite Of Sex.

By Blogger Diane, at 10:27 PM  

I also really, really liked (if you can actually "like" it--perhaps I should say I was blown away by it) Dogville, though I know many do not share my enthusiasm for it.

By Blogger Diane, at 10:32 PM  

I watched Elephant, by Gus van Sant. It seems the filmmakers were so enamored of their filmmaking they forgot to tell a story. The good thing, though, is there were so many long pauses while an actor moved from one place to another that my daughter and I had several long, meaningful conversations during the movie.

Great film for bonding, then.

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