01 February 2007

Putting my movie critic hat on

A pseudo-review of two movies recently seen, one with the Mister this weekend, and the other this evening with an old Salzburg friend who has recently moved to Brussels and with whom it is really really awesome to reconnect. We followed the movie with a meal at the charming little Moroccan place around the corner, and couldn't stop talking...finally we had to make ourselves leave because it is possible that the waiter was waiting to go home himself.


In the "Highly Recommended" category, "Little Miss Sunshine." I am probably the last person in the whole WORLD to see this movie, because I think it has been playing for ages already in the States and here ('cuz they equal the whole world, duh), but it was SO good that I actually found myself crying and laughing at the same time. The actors, including the guy from the Office, Greg Kinnear, and Toni Collette, are all solid, every one. The little girl who plays Olive, a children's beauty pageant contestant, is convincingly winsome, as is the guy who plays her brother. The best thing about the movie is the ending. I was quite certain that somehow Olive would be made to triumph over all the big hair/fake smile contestants and win the hearts of all the judges by her genuine talent. Or, that she would not win the contest but that she would have some heart-to-heart with her family about how winning isn't that important, after all. A message something along these lines comes through, but in an amusingly unexpected way. It's not a half-hour television sitcome wrap-up, at least.

In the "Not so Recommended" category, "The Holiday." I thought it might be redeemed by the fact that Kate Winslett is one of the leads, but in this double-couple romantic comedy, I was more touched by a side story, an old guy receiving a Hollywood lifetime achievement award, than anything said by the couples. In the Cameron Diaz/Jude Law pairing, nothing came off as genuine amore at all. In the Kate Winslett/Jack Black pairing, Kate Winslett came off as light years older due to the adolescent jokes of the latter. And she wasn't very convincing in the portion of the movie where she was meant to be wallowing in self-pity, because she's way too self-possessed for that.

The thing that really got to me was a schtick about how the Cameron Diaz character has an inability to cry (this is indicated in the opening scenes of the movie, when she tearlessly breaks up with her boyfriend, and throughout, as she attempts to make herself cry, which is supposed to be funny but is not). The Jude Law sensitive-widower-with-cute-children guy, however, is a real weeper (this by his own admission, never actually crying onscreen). I think there is an attempt to break gender codes that say the girl is weepy and the boy is stoic. But what, of course, is the whole goal of the movie? To make Cameron Diaz cry. To show that she's really a girl who has a heart. Or in other words, that she's really a girl. And, as I said, Jude Law never actually cries, and only once appears saddish.

This reminds me of some of the scholarly work done on nineteenth-century sentimental novels: as critics have pointed out, the novels are all about inducing tears in the reader. Everyone cries in these books, tears and weepage and fluids everywhere, men included. (Think Uncle Tom's Cabin, if you've read it.) If I remember correctly, it's meant to cause proper fellow-feeling and bind society together and clearly demark the right and the wrong, the belonging and the not-belonging. Writers like Poe and Whitman do some interesting things with these tropes of tears and fluids, as well. But back to the movie: it's interesting (and blatantly manipulative) how we're supposed to find an emotional release in the release of Cameron Diaz's tears. It fits in quite well with the whole tears and sentiment thing, except in this case it is very gendered indeed. And when she runs back into Jude Law's arms (see, I wasn't even wrapped up in the movie enough to remember the characters' names), it's just, well, kind of slow and boring, and is the one time in the movie that he is supposed to have been crying. But isn't.

Now I am going to take my movie critic hat off. It had a feather in it, and was a little bit itchy.

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