Archive for December, 2010

Love and other dumb movies

Friday, December 17th, 2010

About half way through the Jane Eyre and Red Riding Hood (the same director as Twilight!) previews, it dawned on me I must have randomly selected a chick-flick as my matinee choice in Love and Other Drugs. But somewhere on the road to making a sophisticated romantic comedy, either the studio or the director got nervous and grafted a crude and stupid Judd Apatow man-baby subplot onto the otherwise serviceable story.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays self-absorbed Pfizer drug rep Jaime in 1996 peddling Zoloft and meeting Anne Hathaway’s self-absorbed Parkinson’s disease patient Maggie. They fall in love and finally gain an inch of thinking less about themselves. But these movies always stop at the point before any of the hard work of self-development really begins.  It’s a total cop out for director Edward Zwick not to show what Jaime’s commitment to Maggie really means down the road, when her symptoms worsen and he really does have to become a dedicated caretaker for another human being. He could have conveyed that empathy perhaps with some nurturing shots of real couple caregivers during the credits, but movies like this one that supposedly want to touch your heart with the real nitty-gritty, NEVER get down to the nitty-gritty-not-so-pretty.

You’d think Ed Zwick himself might have evolved a bit since his TV series Thirtysomething back in the 80s, but the only motivation I get for him making this film is to ogle Anne Hathaway’s ta tas. Why would she make this movie? I read she never liked the original script and wanted her character fleshed out better. Well, it certainly got fleshed out. And it’s a welcome distraction. But why does her story with Jaime have to share the screen with another Apatow-patented man-baby like Jake’s brother Josh in the film;  a slob, porn-addict, masturbating dot com millionaire goofball living on Jake’s couch for no apparent reason other than to make a few guys in the audience wax nostalgic for Seth Rogan, or feel less guilty ogling Hathaway’s ta tas by comparison?

Gyllenhaal does his own flesh-peddling in this flick and his character is buff beyond believability when he’s supposedly a rep on the road 24/7, and we never see him do the type of three-hour work-out he’d need to maintain such buff. The gym would have to be a huge and dedicated part of his life – more so than the time he dedicates to his new girlfriend.  And then there’s the requisite Apatow-level scene completely randomly planted toward the finale where Jake takes one of his new company products, Viagra, and gets one of those four-hour boners that won’t go away, and has to rush to the hospital for some seriously unfunny hijinx … right in the middle of a film climax supposedly trying to intelligently lead us to accept the lead character’s move to selflessness in caretaking for a girlfriend with Parkinson’s. You can’t have it both ways, Ed. You can’t HAVE your intelligently-designed romantic comedy about selfless commitment AND a ‘pointlessly’ diverting bad boner joke.

Dumb. And for chick-flick lovers (and other random attendees) … insulting.

I don’t mind a raunch comedy. I even wrote one for director Richard Donner (who was trying to cash in on a Porky’s style raunch-fest in a fallow period between his Superman and Lethal Weapon hits). But a firm, stiff rule of screenwriting, crude or otherwise,  is to know when or when not to stick in a boner.

And if you really want to know how to show a profound inch of human empathy development on screen, look no further than the master class provided by screenwriter Waldo Salt in the 1970 best picture winner, Midnight Cowboy. Salt takes the most self-serving character possible (NYC cowpoke gigolo Joe Buck, as portrayed by Jon Voight) and pairs him with the sleaziest roommate imaginable (Ratso Rizzo, as portrayed by Dustin Hoffman) and moves Joe just enough to care for him by the end of the movie in a totally believable and minute progression of his own soul. That little turn from self-love to empathy for another has never been captured more powerfully or simply. And there’s nothing dumb about it.

— A. Wayne Carter