At last, an intelligent, well-crafted, and aptly cast romantic comedy—they seem about as rare these days as successful marriages. God knows I’ve watched some clunkers from that genre of late, most recently that aimless, gender-stereotyped piece of PC garbage The Rebound. I’m thankful to have that vile taste out of my mouth. But let’s be positive. I’m really thankful that Crazy, Stupid, Love is not your average, by-the-numbers love story. And it doesn’t just glibly weave a cento of meaningless stock messages that moralize or insult your intelligence. Or cynically mock platonic love, as the title might lead one to believe.
Robert Redford’s The Conspirator is an engaging and suspenseful—if at times heavy-handed—historical courtroom docudrama about the trial of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), a woman accused of aiding and abetting John Wilkes Booth and other Confederate sympathizers in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Representing her is lawyer Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), an ex-soldier from the Union side. Though Booth will probably be well known to those with even a smattering of U.S. history under their belt, I suspect Surratt’s name will be less familiar (at least so it was for this viewer).
When a film-making team needs to resort to poopy-mouth and low-brow sexual humor to get your attention, it means the idea well runneth dry. I guess in the case of The Rebound, it actually makes sense: they needed lots of penis talk and a reference to a texted image of a kid’s two-foot bowel movement to try to distract the viewer from feeling cheated for sitting through banal truisms, stock characterization, and a disjointed, implausible plot.
When’s the last time you saw a talking cow? How about one that said “you’re dead fucked”? If you’re not schizophrenic, an answer other than “never” to these questions would probably mean that, like the steroidal jock Bluto (Robert Hoffman) in Shrooms, you were hallucinating on one of several mind-bending drugs. Well, it’s certainly no secret which one’s at issue here—the title eponymously informs us that “magic mushrooms” are the film’s psychedelic of choice.
Sam Mendes’s American Beauty (1999) is a movie I’d highly recommend to anyone who is as jaded and cynical about modernity as I am. Frankly, I can’t recall another film with more delightfully fatuous caricatures. But it’s so much more than that. Indeed, the film’s mordant satire can belie its depth if the viewer doesn’t heed the tag line’s admonition to “look closer.”
Given better forethought and more skilled direction, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan could have been great—or at least lived up to its reputation as a “psychological thriller.” Although its premise is compelling, its development is tedious and predictable. The film really is little more than a smutty teen flick disguised as a pretentious tale of character metamorphosis.