Sunday, November 21, 2010

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Two weeks ago, I took in a chick flick double feature: You Again and Morning Glory. Both are notable for their veteran cast members (Sigourney, Jamie Lee, Betty White in the former; Diane and Harrison Ford in the latter), their spunky starlets (Kristen Bell, Rachel McAdams), and the fact that neither is a rom-com. No, they're chick flicks that address relationships among females and women as professionals. Both look promising. Only one of them lives up to it.

You Again is about a former high school outcast turned attractive Public Relations go getter (Kristen Bell) finding out that her brother is marrying her high school nemesis (Odette Yustman). Mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) tells her not to worry, until she learns Odette's aunt/guardian is none other than her high school frenemy (Sigourney Weaver). Hilarity allegedly ensues. Oh, okay, there are a few laughs here and there, Betty White is much better here (and more wisely used) than in The Proposal and Sigourney Weaver is giving an honest-to-God, deeply-felt, layered performance. But why is she trying? Jamie Lee has decided to play ZANY and little else: big reactions, dropped jaw, that weird frozen smile she does when something takes her characters off guard. I love her to death, but this was not her finest hour. Poor Bell excels at the deadpan, but she's grating when she's playing it at 11...and the director has layered a strange incestuous feeling between her and her brother. Jame Wolk plays the brother like Bradley Cooper's Wedding Crashers character during the seal story...only we're supposed to like it this time. And Odette, no, no, no, no.

I can't blame writer Moe Jelline, if only because there are so many inconsistencies concerning plot, characters, and tone, it's impossible that one person wrote it. This has to have been extensively rewritten by people who were only mailed certain pages out of context. One minute, there's a moment of reconciliation...the next, they're fighting again. With nothing in between. Or vice versa. Yustman's character is supposed to have forgotten high school because she regrets being a bitch back then (she's now a volunteer and suicide hotline operator and a saint)...but why, when Bell confronts her, does she put her hands on her hips and sneer, "Who do you think your brother's going to believe?" Wait, why doesn't Bell believe her brother would believe her over a girl he's just known for a year? Why isn't the connection between Sigourney and Bell's characters explored? How come the women have to learn how to listen, but the men frequently interrupt the females when they're trying to explain themselves? And why didn't anyone cut out that stupid romantic subplot?

Fickman, though...if Fickman had better control over the tone, this might go down better. Yeah, it's a comedy, but it's not so zany that everyone has to scream all their lines at each other. Everyone is playing it OTT, looking damn exhausted, hoping everyone will see WHAT A GREAT TIME WE'RE HAVING OMIGOD AREN'T COMEDIES FUN??? Not like this, they aren't. The only people who look relaxed are White, Weaver and Kristen Chenoweth: no wonder they turn in the best performances!

Morning Glory is more confident, better-written, better-acted, slicker. Young go-getter Becky (Rachel McAdams) exec produces a failing morning show and decides the best way to shake things up is to get a recently-fired though well-respected journalist (Harrison Ford) to co-host with Diane Keaton. And it's a lot of fun! The laughs are genuine, and the stars aren't the only ones given great characters. Even the unnamed Producers are fun to watch, like "Pink Shirt Glasses Guy"! There's believable back-and-forth between the characters, Ford looks like he's having the time of his life, and Aline Brosh McKenna has written a male character who actually understands the female protagonist and doesn't crucify her for her decisions!

McAdams and Ford are the film's strength. They work well together, the film wisely focusing on their relationship for much of the running time. Indeed, there was a long stretch where they didn't interact at all, and this, I realized, was when my interest started to wane. It's not that the rest of it is awful, but nothing is as interesting as their storyline. Diane Keaton is fun and all, but there's not much to her role (it doesn't help that she gets the film's clunkiest dialogue). And who wouldn't prefer a character/plot-developing interaction between Ford and McAdams over a montage?

Much as I adore Ford and McAdams, though, there are a few things about the movie that had me wincing. An oppressive soundtrack that never let up, for one. The aforementioned montage that goes on forever. Keaton's dialogue. And, perhaps worst of all, the main thrust of it. My good friend Andrew Syder said it "celebrates the death of serious journalism at the hands of ratings-oriented fluff TV" (direct quote from his Twitter), and to be honest, it does. Becky even says something along the lines of how entertainment vs. news has been debated for decades, and Ford's side (actual, serious journalism) lost; the people have spoken. What a chilling, horrifying moment that was, and for a moment I hoped Ford would turn around and slam her upside her head with that bottle of Scotch, or at least be vindicated by the end. Yeah, it's adorable to see Ford be warm and cuddly, but the message that it's sending is disturbing.

I'd recommend Morning Glory, though. It's cute, it's fun, it's well put-together. I don't agree with the agendas of every movie I like (The Birth of a Nation, for example), and if you can get past that, you'll have a good time. You Again, though? Never again.


Andrew K. said...

True Story: I read this post to see if you said anything about Kristin Chenoweth. Now I can die happy.


I think you mean that MORNING GLORY is "cute" not "cure", right. Hee.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Andrew: Fixed, thanks :)

TomS said...

Speaking of chick flicks, what is your take on "Love and Other Drugs"? The trailers seem designed to keep me away, but the leads are irresistable....maybe I'll check it out soon.
Of the two in your review, "Morning Glory" seems the most interesting, mainly because I remain loyal to Diane Keaton. Your review confirms it on my to-see list.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Tom: Too little Diane Keaton, but as I told my friends afterwards, I'll take what I can get. I'm trying to get my gf to see Love and Other Drugs this week. I love rom-coms, Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal are two of my favorites, and I'm one of the few who actually loves Ed Zwick, so this departure is intriguing.