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There must be something else on: Sandler in Click.

It’s Not a Wonderful Life

By Shawn Stone

Click

Directed by Frank Coraci

Honestly, Adam Sandler is not the most annoying comic actor in Hollywood. Not by a long shot. In his odd way, Sandler has been branching out in interesting, if not always successful, films over the last half-decade—and his next picture, believe it or not, is a post-9/11 drama.

Click continues this generally promising trajectory. Sandler revisits his trademark über-obnoxious persona, putting the character into a high-pressure work-and-family context that makes for some entertaining, even startling moments. It’s still a failure, however, because he again hired Frank Coraci, director of his earlier hits The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer. What was needed instead was a strong personality to tell Sandler when not to add that extra fart joke—or that one more heavy-handed scene intended to jerk tears from the audience.

Sandler is Michael Newman, an ambitious young architect with, on the one hand, an idiot boss (a pleasingly oily David Hasselhoff), and, on the other, a great wife (the admittedly too-hot-for-Sandler’s-character Kate Beckinsale) and kids. The familiar joke is that Michael spends most of his time pleasing the boss and neglecting the family. He’s angry, miserable and completely unaware just how personally responsible he is for his own anger and misery.

It’s a lot of fun watching him suffer. And, when a mysterious inventor named Morty (Christopher Walken at his loopiest) gives Michael a new kind of remote-control device that allows him to access his life as if it were a DVD (complete with commentary track by James Earl Jones), it’s a lot of fun watching him make everyone else suffer.

This takes up the first half of the picture. We know that there’s a lesson coming, but it’s hard to be prepared for the syrupy moralizing of the film’s endless second half. There’s a decent idea behind Michael’s downfall, as the “universal remote” learns from his bad behavior and incorporates his destructive habits as automatic features; Michael’s fondness for fast-forwarding becomes a nightmarish inevitability, as he loses months, even years of his life. Unfortunately, though time goes quickly for the film’s characters, it slows to a crawl for the audience.

The filmmakers apparently didn’t realize that, when it comes to doling out Important Life Lessons, less is more. The film drones on and on, mixing Sandler’s shtick with tears and woe. Precious screen time is wasted, too, on fetishizing the high-tech gizmos of the future. Even Walken becomes annoying; Morty—who never ages or changes—is always around to provide a pithy observation. By the time “Morty” reveals who he really is, the audience has already figured it out.

The ultimate problem is not that we can see the ending of Click coming a mile away; it’s that it takes so damn long to get there.

Alive and, Well . . .

Following Sean

Directed by Ralph Arlyck

In 1966, Ralph Arlyck made a student film about the 4-year-old son of the couple who lived above him in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district. The couple, the Farrells, were deeply involved in the city’s counterculture, and their son, Sean, was precociously familiar with its trappings. The 15-minute movie depicted a long-haired kid scampering barefoot and unattended through the hippie crowds of the Haight and discussing the grass he’d smoked, the busts that he’d witnessed and the speed freaks with whom he’d shared his family’s apartment. The film was a festival success both in America and abroad (French auteur Francois Truffaut wrote a personal note to Arlyck congratulating him on the work), and it was even given a small theatrical release. To the director’s chagrin, however, the filmic Sean soon became an icon of a generation gone wrong and irresponsible, a generation whose naive utopian impulses left it incapable of caring for its own. As the title would suggest, Following Sean is something of a sequel. But it’s also more and better.

After three decades, Arlyck returned to California, which he left in 1970, to find the adult Sean Farrell; Following Sean does present that reunion. Arlyck also catches up with Sean’s parents, grandparents and other members of his extended family. But rather than a simple, gossipy “Where Are They Now”-style update, what Arlyck offers up is a kind of rumination on family and fate. It’s a soft-spoken projection of the universal question, “How did I get here?”

Arlyck interweaves and overlaps the various Farrells’ backstories with glimpses of his own life: the evolution of his marriage, the development of his career, the maturation of his own two sons, the aging of his parents. It’s a somewhat sloppy, haphazard structure but it works well with this material. Arlyck isn’t inclined, it seems, to present a linear, mathematical explanation for Sean’s—or any other character’s—life. He offers up present detail, then drops back for historical perspective, then veers off into another life for congruence or contrast, then adds a new detail, and so on. This new movie, which was filmed over four years, is a cumulative and unpredictable process. There are themes—happiness vs. responsibility, freedom vs. security, individualism vs. community—but no more point, really, than there is in any life.

For happy-ever-after addicts, Following Sean may be frustratingly inconclusive. The inevitable discovery that hippie-spawn Sean is trying to make the best of it, trying to make a buck, trying to balance personal aspirations and the practical exigencies of day-to-day living, trying to carve out a sustainable, satisfying place for himself may seem less than grandly cinematic. For others it will not only make perfect sense, it will be profoundly beautiful and moving—and true.

—John Rodat


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