dogs, hates the Constitution: Langella in Frost/Nixon.
by Ron Howard
If you were born after 1965, here’s the only thing you need
to know before seeing Frost/Nixon: You know how disgusted
you are with the wars in the Middle East, how miserable you
feel about the lives lost, and how angry and tired you are
with the current president of the United States? That’s how
disgusted and miserable and angry and tired the majority of
Americans were in the mid-1970s with Richard M. “Tricky Dick”
Nixon, the first U.S. president forced to resign in disgrace.
Ron Howard begins Frost/Nixon, the vastly entertaining
film adaptation of Peter Morgan’s London and Broadway stage
success, with more of a specific history lesson. It’s probably
necessary; and, in the catalog of Howard’s cinematic sins,
it is only a venial one.
Unlike George W. Bush, who apparently is too wrong to know
how wrong he is, Nixon was a tragic figure. Nixon was a ruthless
political operator, a bigot, a drunk and a warmonger, and,
figuratively speaking, he raped the Constitution. Nonetheless,
he had some greatness in him, and his twisted, miserable soul
is pitiable precisely because he knew it was twisted
and miserable. When it came to crushing his enemies, no law—or
sacred presidential oath—would restrain him.
And, thanks to a pardon by his successor, Gerald Ford, he
never had to explain his lawbreaking conduct to the American
That’s where Frost/Nixon begins, and where Brit TV
producer-interviewer David Frost (Michael Sheen, less stodgy
than the real Frost) comes in. It’s 1977, three years after
the resignation. Nixon (Frank Langella) is in need of money—and
he wants to rehabilitate his reputation. Nixon bypasses offers
from real journalistic outlets (sound familiar?) and agrees
to a series of four interviews with Frost, a man Nixon considers
Frost is a canny guy; as Sheen portrays him, he’s confident
in his abilities, even if no one else is. He has the single-mindedness
necessary to go on after his financial backers either fail
to materialize or drift away; to Frost, Nixon is simply the
ultimate “get,” and he has no idea of the magnitude of the
man he’s up against.
The interviews start badly. Nixon quickly takes the upper
hand. It seems never to have occurred to Frost, busy as he
is with parties and film premieres and beautiful women (all
presented with great amusement by Howard), that having his
dogged assistants simply draw up a list of questions would
not be enough.
Langella is overwhelming as Nixon: He has the stoop, the intelligence,
the arrogance, the awkward charm and brutal cunning of the
man who was on TV all the time when I was a kid.
The rest of the cast (Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt as Frost’s
men; Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s right-hand man) are solid.
Ron Howard has never been the most subtle director, but at
his best—Apollo 13 and a few other films that do
not star Russell Crowe—he lets the drama speak for itself.
When Frost finally gets his act together and confronts Nixon
about the Watergate cover-up in the final encounter, the editing
is invisible and the drama full-force. Langella becomes that
shrunken monster, and the American people get their confession.
It makes one wish for two things: that Frank Langella win
an Oscar, and George W. Bush realize that he, too, has something
deeply shameful to confess.
by Gary Winick
The initial idea had merit. Two women, best friends, are obsessed
with having the perfect wedding at New York’s Plaza Hotel,
only to find out that a clerical error has booked both shindigs
at the very same time. Given the success of shows like Whose
Wedding Is It Anyway and Bridezillas, not to mention
the massive media attention given celebrity nuptials, it would
seem that the time is right for a comedy like Bride Wars
to skewer the lavish excess, the fake traditionalism and the
desire by a large number of women to be queen for a day. And
this is a day that comes complete with an amazing gown, a
rock, an entourage of fawning attendants and the attention
of a few hundred of the bride’s closest whatever. Sadly, Bride
Wars misses every opportunity to tip the sacred cow that
the wedding industry has become, instead giving us the unpalatable,
and vaguely sexual, image of Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway
wrestling in tulle.
BFFs Emma (Hathaway) and Liv (Hudson) are the type who call
each other scores of times throughout the day. Emma is a lowly
schoolteacher; her proposal comes over Chinese takeout and
Bud in front of the TV. Liv is an aggressive corporate lawyer,
and effectively manhandles her hedge-fund boytoy when he doesn’t
propose fast enough. Not for the last time, one can’t help
but wonder what these two women have in common to sustain
this level of friendship.
The hidden cracks are revealed when the aforementioned administrative
snafu occurs, and Emma, showing rare backbone, refuses to
change her date. Suddenly, Liv—who apparently was, dare I
say it, chubby as a girl—is receiving tantalizing gift baskets
of chocolate, cookies and flavored butters. Emma’s ballroom
dance class is mysteriously switched to hip-hop. Emma tampers
with Liv’s hair dye, creating a Smurfette-meets-Edvard Munch
nightmare, and Liv changes Emma’s sunkissed self-tanner for
Doritos. Only one “punk” comes close to touching a nerve,
which is when Emma sends a “before” picture of Liv to accompany
their hometown paper’s nuptial announcements. Having grown
up in a small town, where reading the weekly wedding announcements
was something everybody did—and back then they included lavish
descriptions of gowns and floral arrangements—I could relate
to the horror of having anybody think you hadn’t done as well
as you want them to think. It’s the only time where screenwriters
Greg DePaul, Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael dare to conjure
why we still cling to the idea of nuptial perfection.
Despite the fact that it’s downright impossible not to like
Anne Hathaway, her trademark velvet eyes and easy smile do
little to make us care whether she gets her big day. Hudson
is completely unrecognizable, weighed down by rectangular
bangs and so much eyeliner that she appears to be on the lam
from transvestite night at a second-rate club. Her Liv, who
could have been a delightful package of Type-A energy and
innate self-consciousness, is just an annoying bitch. The
bridegrooms, who are nameless because they are so insignificant,
are like the grooms that used to come in bridal paper-doll
sets—the guy mannequin got two or three outfits to register
what role he was supposed to play to accompany the bride in
one of her 30 costume changes. At one point, the script calls
for Emma’s guy to evoke a kind of antique he-man quality,
as a word of warning that maybe he isn’t the best hubby material.
Such clumsy attempts at introducing drama are ham-fisted at
best. Nobody fares well, not even when the brides get pugilistic
with each other mid-ceremony—ending up lying side by side,
panting and flush, suggesting postcoital bliss. Emma walks
the orphaned Liv down the aisle, but it’s a wonder that either
of them don’t push that guy in the tux out of the way, since
at this point, it looks like theirs is the true love
story. And even that wouldn’t merit the waste of time that
is Bride Wars.