The über parents: (l-r) Russo and Quaid
in Yours, Mine & Ours.
Mine & Ours
by Raja Gosnell
It’s perhaps embarrassing to admit that I’ve always remembered
the theme song from the 1968 movie Yours, Mine and Ours
since first seeing it at the drive-in with my own family,
which, in size, sort of resembled the gigantic blended brood
onscreen. That said, I also vividly recall the vague sense
of unease, even embarrassment, at watching widower Frank Beardsley
(Henry Fonda) and widow Helen North (Lucille Ball), obviously
into middle age, having a child—their 19th in total—together.
Blame it on that obvious hint of sexuality, something that
no matter how well-preserved Fonda and Ball were, could only
evoke icky thoughts—not just to me, the preschooler viewer,
but also, in the film, to Frank and Helen’s older children.
Interestingly, however, it was that hint of sex well past
wild youth that carried the movie’s innately subversive theme,
something which is enunciated beautifully by Fonda’s character
to his lovesick teen daughter as they try to get the laboring
Helen to the car. It went something along the lines of, “You
think love is all moonlight and roses, but look at it—it’s
right here, right in front of you, in all the mess and noise
and chaos. It’s waking up every morning and doing what you
have to do, because that’s all that matters.”
Ultimately, what made the original film work so well (and
I’ve verified this by having watched it this past weekend
with my kids) was that its comic moments sprang from real-life
situations, from two already large families having to come
to terms with one another, to trying to get 18 kids out the
door in time for the school bus. Unfortunately, the minds
at work behind the remake, which stars Rene Russo and Dennis
Quaid, felt it necessary to focus not so much on the organic
humor of the situation, but more on staged instigations, each
of which feels like a skit on a Nickelodeon show.
While Russo’s Helen and Quaid’s Frank seem instantly compatible
and, to be sure, strike real sparks, the movie shies away
from their relationship, both as newlyweds and co-parents,
to the real detriment of the story. Instead, we are forced
to endure too many scenes in which the North and Beardsley
clans team up to destroy their parents’ new marriage, which
basically means wreaking havoc on the house with paint, feathers,
or barnyard animals. We are treated to the sight of Frank
falling into a container of slimy goo not once, but twice;
it does not make the situation doubly hilarious. Consider
this comparison: In the 1968 version, a breakfast scene delightfully
highlighted the real chaos that would exist at such a rowdy
table, punctuated by the fact that the runt of the litter
is unable to grab hold of something to eat until it’s time
to go, at which point he gets reprimanded for being a slowpoke.
Move ahead 37 years, and the same scene is used to show a
North kid upsetting oatmeal onto a Beardsley boy’s homework.
Screenwriters Ron Burch and David Kidd try too hard to make
humor out of Frank’s and Helen’s diverse parenting styles—he’s
a military man fond of keeping things, including the kids,
“shipshape,” whereas she is a bohemian who doesn’t get fazed
by clutter, even when it’s watermelon smashed on the stairs.
From this, they try to knead more funnies by having the North
kids try to act spick-and-span, and the Beardsley kids messy,
and again, it just falls flat. Obviously, with 18 young characters,
it’s hard to differentiate or explore many of them as individuals,
but at least in the first movie, there was a moving subplot
involving Helen’s attempts to reach out to Frank’s oldest
son (Tim Matheson). What suffices for character development
in the 2005 version is the ethnic diversity of Helen’s adopted
kids. In the end, we’re left with a picture of a very fractured
family with the kids versus the parents, none of it particularly
amusing or heartfelt.
by Chris Columbus
Most of the print expended on this adaptation of the late
Jonathan Larson’s hit Broadway musical is heavy with cultural
baggage. Rock & roll people say it’s not “rock” enough.
New York City-based snobs decry this representation of a long-lost
Lower East Side as irrelevant. Larson haters—they’re still
out there, nearly a decade after his death—suggest that, well,
he was a phony anyway who “borrowed” too much from his collaborators.
Why does Rent make some people so cranky? So it’s artificial;
it’s a musical. No one would mistake Puccini’s opera La
Boheme, which Rent is very loosely based on, as
a trenchant portrait of European bohemia. Politically, Rent
is multicultural in the most shiny, happy, not-very- threatening
way—but, please, it’s a Broadway musical. You want
realism, you’re looking for it in the wrong place: The ending
is predictable almost to the point of self-parody.
Having never seen (nor heard a cast recording of) any stage
production, I was new to Rent. The music is mostly
good. At times, as in the meet-cute ditty “Light My Candle,”
or the hilarious ode to jealousy “Tango: Maureen,” or the
dreamy escapism of “Santa Fe,” it’s excellent. Of course,
there are clunkers, too—the performance art number (“Over
the Moon”) was truly painful, and its setting, painfully dated.
The cast, made up mostly of holdovers from the original Broadway
production, are engaging. Best are Anthony Rapp as the geeky
filmmaker, Mark; Jesse L. Martin as cool math prof Tom Collins;
and Wilson Jermaine Heredia as the drag queen/doggie hit man.
The surprise is Rosario Dawson as Mimi. While Dawson has never
been bad in a film, this is the first time she’s had enough
of a part to really show off her skills—and she can sing,
Even with all this going for it, Rent must be judged
a dud. The blame belongs completely to director Chris Columbus.
This supreme hack, best known for his work for John Hughes
(Home Alone) and on the first two Harry Potter
flicks, doesn’t show the slightest evidence that he’s ever
even seen a movie musical, let alone have the vaguest
idea of how to direct one. For no good reason, he opens the
film with the cast singing on a theater stage. His attempts
to open up the show include a ridiculous sojourn in New Mexico
that wasn’t worth the trip. His staging of the performance-art
set piece proves that he doesn’t know anything about that
form either. As filmed, Rent is just one song after
another, with a murky storyline and no momentum. Dear Hollywood:
Please don’t hire Chris Columbus anymore. He’s hurting American
by Harold Ramis
Directed by Harold Ramis from an adaptation by novelist-screenwriter
Richard Russo (Empire Falls) and Robert Benton (who
adapted Russo’s Nobody’s Fool), The Ice Harvest
would seem to be a prestige project. Starring John Cusack
and Billie Bob Thornton—actors with a guaranteed knack for
snappy repartee—as two bottom feeders trying to pull off a
big score, it’s likely that Ramis intended the film as a satirical
crime drama in the mode of Get Shorty. It’s not. Get
Shorty was about something: namely, Hollywood and the
similarities between the movie industry and organized crime.
Despite its tough-guy, Elmore Leonard-like dialogue, The
Ice Harvest isn’t about anything other than two sleazebags
and a bag of stolen money.
Cusack plays Charlie, a low-level lawyer for the mob. Thornton
is Vic, his porn-dealer cohort. When the movie opens, Charlie
has just filched $2 million in cash from his mobster employer.
Vic hides the money while Charlie goes to celebrate at his
favorite strip joint, which is owned by Renata (Connie Nielson,
vamping like Kathleen Turner), whose curvaceous hair and other
attributes loosen Charlie’s discretion to a foolhardy degree.
Charlie’s seedy orbit of low-rent strip clubs and their downtrodden
denizens is depressing rather than intriguingly grimy; the
film doesn’t plumb the depths of society for unexpected poignancy
or dangerous tests of mettle (a la Leonard), rather, it just
skates along the scurvy surface. In a pointless analogy, Charlie’s
car slides around the streets of Wichita; an icy rain has
made driving drunk especially hazardous. This is supposed
to be an issue of some import, because Charlie spends portions
of the night at the local watering hole for politicos, where
he has drinks with his pal Pete (Oliver Platt). Since Pete
is repulsively and self- destructively inebriated, Charlie’s
craving for his company is a mystery, and not a very interesting
one. The only thing the two men have in common is that Pete
is married to Charlie’s money-grubbing ex-wife.
The mobster (Randy Quaid) knows who stole his money, and in
due course, he closes in. This long night of cat-and-mouse
happens to be Christmas Eve, and the trappings of the holiday
are used to make the low-life setting even more dispiriting:
At one point, Charlie runs into his kids and responds with
apathy. The plot can be summarized as kill-the-other-guy-before-he-kills-you,
with an occasional stab at Tarantino-style gruesome absurdity.
One blackly humorous scenario concerns a trunk with a not-quite-dead
Ramis proves that he can direct hard-boiled action as well
as the next crime-noir-journeyman, and as usual, Cusack is
good company: He turns a thoroughly unlikable and spineless
character into someone you might agree to have a drink with
(if he were buying). But these are minuscule compensations
in a film that’s about as enjoyable as rancid eggnog.