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Love me, love my art: July in Me and You and Everyone We Know.

Me and You and Everyone We Know
By Laura Leon

Directed by Miranda July

Is everybody in L.A. entirely lonely or what? It seems that the locale has it all sewn up, cinematically speaking, when it comes to depicting loneliness, with an emphasis on L.A. being the entertainment center of the world—the place where hipsters bump and grind and make 15 minutes of fame. The landscape itself—all flat vistas, hodgepodge modernist housing styles and garish motifs—contributes to the sense of alienation, but come, come, folks, aren't there any, well, normal people out there?

As a New Englander, of course, I know the answer to this is a big old negatori, but as a reviewer, it gets downright boring watching, say, Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, or here, in Me and You and Everyone We Know, performance artist Miranda July staring forlornly at the telephone while the camera captures her plight against a stunningly greige backdrop. In Me and You, July plays Christine Jesperson, a would-be video-installation artist who supports herself by transporting elderly clients to their appointments. She happens upon a kindred spirit in Richard (John Hawkes), a recently separated shoe salesman who wishes he could find the kind of love where you’re just happy to sleep, like babies, together. While the movie is in no way a romantic comedy, it does center itself around the series of fits and starts that make up Christine and Richard's relationship.

Jutting out at odd ends from this story are narrative trajectories that complement the theme of loneliness and isolation. Richard’s sons Peter (Miles Thompson), a teen, and Robbie (Brandon Ratcliff), a 6-year-old, struggle to connect with others via online chat rooms and, for Peter, sexual encounters with self-stylized provocateurs Heather (Natasha Slayton) and Rebecca (Najarra Townsend). Another neighborhood child, Sylvie (Carlie Westerman), pours her dreams—literally—into a hope chest which she hopes to share someday with a husband and daughter. Richard’s co-worker pastes notes to the window to woo, without any complications or fear of disease, two nubile girls. And Nancy (Tracy Wright), a gallery owner whose attention Christine is desperate to catch, subsumes anything like a personal life in the quest to find art that represents the digital age.

As a screen presence, July is refreshing and endearing, if at times annoying. It’s remarkable how strange it feels to watch a movie featuring people who look, well, real. But July's writing, like her performance art, has its preachy, supercilious moments, noticeably the whole subplot involving Nancy and her assistant. It’s as if the novice filmmaker couldn’t help but make sure her audience know that in not immediately jumping to advocate Christine’s art, Nancy is a charlatan. The joke is carried out to the extent that Nancy (unlike Christine) is bound to make a fool of herself through her inability to reach out and touch someone.

Me and You has its ick-factor moments, notably when Rebecca and Heather are using Peter to further their own sexual IQs. Interestingly, that children could engage in such encounters was accepted far more favorably by the audience in which I sat than were poor Sylvie’s dreams of happy domesticity, which was met with snickers and even derision. Nevertheless, Sylvie provides one of the movie’s most satisfying moments, in which loneliness and connection finally meld, when she shares the blueprint of her dream home with Peter, whose own quiet discontent seems pacified by her images. July wisely intersperses the usual angst about modern love in L.A. with warmth and humor, not just shock factor, and in so doing, makes Me and You and Everyone We Know far more sensitive and insightful than the usual treatise on the same.

A Kinder, Gentler Misanthropy

Bad News Bears

Directed by Richard Linklater

The idea behind this remake is such a no-brainer, it’s surprising that a smart director like Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Waking Life, Before Sunset) didn’t avoid it as an obvious trap.

In Bad Santa, Billy Bob Thornton proved that he could more than hold the screen with children. His style of unself-conscious selfishness in the face of moptopped cuteness was terrifically entertaining; Thornton pushed the envelope on child loathing in a way not attempted since W.C. Fields kicked a toddler in the ass in one film and gave a baby a pin to play with in another.

So, logically, Thornton would be the perfect choice for the obnoxious Little League coach in a remake of the ’70s baseball comedy The Bad News Bears. Except that in toning down the R-rated persona of Bad Santa for a kid-friendly PG-13 rating, there was the better-than-likely possibility of ruining what made Thornton so entertaining.

This didn’t happen. Thornton and Bad News Bears (the article was dropped for some reason), are both very funny.

Briefly: Morris Buttermaker (Thornton) is an alcoholic, one-inning veteran of the major leagues turned rat exterminator. This isn’t exactly a lucrative career, so when an angry supermom (Marcia Gay Harden) gives him a check to coach her son’s hopeless youth baseball team, he can’t refuse.

The jokes are exactly what you would expect them to be, and don’t disappoint. There is much cursing, bad baseball, fighting, bitch-slapping and drinking. All of these, except the drinking, involve Thornton and the kids. (There is also a message about how everything should be about the fun of the game and not winning at all costs, but it isn’t beaten to death.)

The kids can’t play worth a damn, so Buttermaker brings in a couple of ringers to improve the team. His daughter Amanda (Sammi Kane Kraft) is a fine, 70-mph pitcher; Kelly (Jeffrey Davies) hates his former coach (perfect jerk Greg Kinnear) so much that he’s willing to play with these losers.

The filmmakers went out of their way—via an old-school national talent search—to find real baseball players for these two key roles. (Other producers might want to consider this route the next time they decide to cast someone like Keanu Reeves or Adam Sandler in a sports movie.) The payoff was worth it; Kraft can pitch and Davies can hit, which lends just enough verisimilitude to the actual baseball scenes. As for the kid actors, they have no trouble convincing the audience that they’re lousy ballplayers—or that they’re obnoxious smartasses.

Kraft proves to be an astonishingly natural actress, too; she has good daughter-father chemistry with Thornton, and gives the film some emotional kick without messing up the general foul-mouthed tone. Which proves again that Linklater and company knew what they were doing in undertaking this remake.

—Shawn Stone

Mack Daddies

Wedding Crashers

Directed by David Dobkin

Following on the spiritual
heels of movies like Old School, Wedding Crashers is the kind of movie that embarrasses you because you enjoy it so much. It’s rife with the kind of gags that we’re not supposed to laugh at, but which are actually dead-on. Of course, its main theme is the lengths to which guys—in this case divorce mediators John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn)—go to bed appropriately naïve young women. John and Jeremy peruse the social pages of the D.C. papers, setting up the nuptial season as Bill Parcells might the upcoming NFL season. For each event, they fashion varying personae of fabulously successful whatevers. They mix and mingle with great aplomb; they are veritable Pied Pipers of happy guests, leading the entire wedding party in joyous merrymaking. And along the way, they let slip to their chosen prey lines like, “I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts,” or make sure to be seen delighting the tykes or old folks with their antics.

The first 20 minutes of the film are a cacophonous, riotous funfest, culminating in humorous shots of John and Jeremy each taking numerous willing babes to bed; screenwriters Steve Faber and Bob Fisher hint that these ladies might just be playing a little game as well. Then tragedy sets in, in the form of John developing a conscience and, worse, falling in love with bridesmaid Claire (Rachel McAdams), the daughter of a formidable politician (Christopher Walken). The rest of the movie teeters between John’s and Claire's burgeoning romance, the ominous threat of the certain, impending revelation, and far funnier exchanges between John and Jeremy as they carry their charade out to Claire's family’s summer home, with its big jock types, requisite family-and-friends football, and illicit romance initiated by the wackier members of Claire's family.

While McAdams and Wilson share a nice rapport, the couple we end up rooting for, at least because their scenes are that much livelier, is Jeremy and Claire's nymphet sister Gloria (Isla Fisher). Toward the end there is a complete standstill when Will Ferrell does a horribly unfunny stint as the original wedding crasher, and the movie has a hard time regaining its footing. Nevertheless, its depiction of men behaving badly is curiously refreshing and decidedly, well, old-school.

—Laura Leon

Sloppy Seconds

The Island

Directed by Michael Bay

No one is going to confuse Michael Bay with Michael Crichton. In The Island, Bay’s latest action spectacular, the rudiment of a thought-provoking sci-fi thriller about cloning, is blown to smithereens by the director’s penchant for heavy-metal carnage. Set in 2015, the film opens with an Orwellian chill: Adult clones, referred to as “the product,” live within a medical complex in carefully tended ignorance—until it’s time for them to be harvested for their organs by their “owners.” From this near-future shock, the film degenerates into a slick and silly demolition derby that pits private corporate mercenaries against a large urban police force. Along the way, however, the film pauses for snippets of ethical commentary that show how good it might’ve been, along with some funny bantering (largely from Steve Buscemi’s lowlife computer tech) that dilutes the tension but also serves as a welcome relief from the bombastic set pieces.

For all its state-of-the-art violence, the film is solidly in the shadow of late-1970s sci-fi popcorn flicks such as Coma and Logan’s Run. Ewan McGregor is the restless, inquisitive Lincoln Six, and any similarity to Logan 5 is undoubtedly intentional. The slick set design is also familiar; Los Angeles of the future is a gleaming metropolis of whizzing monorails, hologram power grids, and stratospheric wealth. Lincoln’s incredibly attractive potential mate, Jordan, is played by Scarlett Johansson with pouty naïveté and more than a few shades of Barbarella. The clones are kept docile with brainwashing: They believe they are being protected from lethal levels of global contamination. Lucky winners of a lottery are relocated to a tropical paradise called the Island. As Lincoln discovers, “island” is a euphemism for euthanasia (and not of the painless variety). After he witnesses the skin-crawling fate of the clone of a famous football player (a vivid Michael Clarke Duncan), Lincoln and Jordan escape to the outside world, setting off a manhunt that will climax with the wholesale destruction of a fleet of humongous armored vehicles and several buildings.

If screenwriter Caspian Tredwell-Owen (who penned the execrable Beyond Borders) had kept it up with the for-profit horror and the machinations of the unctuous Dr. Merrick (a terrific Sean Bean), The Island might’ve been the most unnerving movie of the summer. Instead, the momentum shifts to elaborately staged chase scenes involving the mercenaries (for some stylistic reason, their every move is accompanied by billows of steam), and their African commander (played by Djimon Hounsou like the fashion model he once was). The faux-utopian ending is laugh-out-loud bad, mimicking the meaningless atmospherics of a cola commercial. Even by Bay standards, this is a new low in high- concept, brain-dead entertainment.

—Ann Morrow


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