"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

When Good Actors Make Bad Films

I woke up in the middle of the night for no good reason, and chose a Netflix film to while away the time until I could get myself back to sleep.  As much as I like Netflix, its choices are limited and often second-rate, and I ended up watching a truly horrible film that I chose solely based on the inclusion of Alan Arkin.

I loved Arkin since Wait Until Dark and Catch 22, and he was great as recently as Little Miss Sunshine, and there are a ton of movies in between that showcased his talents.  But he couldn't carry this stinker:  The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.  It features Robin Wright, Winona Ryder, Julianna Moore, and Keanu Reeves, and was produced by Brad Pitt!  It's saying something that Keanu was one of the only mildly redeeming bits - but he didn't really have to stretch himself because his character was supposed to be pretty sedate and monotone anyway, so that worked, even with a ridiculous tattoo filling his entire torso.  (Moore was good but was only in it briefly.)

I think it was the myriad flashbacks and inconsistent tone that did it in.  The story is about a woman (Wright) slowly losing it since her much-older husband (Arkin) moved them from the big city to a retirement community.  The flashbacks show us how her crazy upbringing led her to this place.  The most jarring part of it all is that the teenage and 20s version of her is an entirely different actress.  I spent too much time wondering when and how they were going to merge the two.  The flashbacks have Arkin with hair (which, I think, should have been more black than grey - he was playing at least 25 years younger), and it would have been pretty easy to make the classically beautiful Ms. Wright look younger rather than pick a double that could maybe pass for a young Ellen Barkin (Blake Lively)!  If they could do it in Forrest Gump, why not here?


A younger Wright?  I think not. (Lively)

The whole point of the film is that her mother was suffocating and drug addicted, so she tried to be a much better mom, but, of course, failed in the opposite direction.  Hardly enlightening stuff.  Then, with kids grown, and her husband caught in her best friend's arms (Ryder), she was finally free to do whatever she wanted to do.  Does she choose to go back to school or try her hand at painting or writing or find a job or any kind of interest that's her own?  No.  She gets a hand job from Keanu and decides to follow him anywhere.  The moral?  Old age sucks, but we can cope with it by boffing someone younger.  Luckily, at the last minute and totally out of nowhere, her estranged daughter finally comes around to really get her mom, apologize for being mean to her all this time, and cheer her on her journey in a van with a bed in the back.

Here's a trailer that seriously gives away the entire story:

But I can't stop lamenting there - it's just so annoyingly horrible!!  The book and screenplay was written by Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur Miller, so maybe I expected a little more Death of a Salesman, and a little less Desperate Housewives poorly done.

Even worse than being constantly interrupted by boring flashbacks that we don't care about - because we don't really care about anyone here - is the tone of the film.  I suppose it's trying to be quirky, and I LOVE quirky, but it fails miserably.  At a point when we should be sad at the death of the dad (sorry, spoiler alert - but, really, don't waste your time with this crap), we're supposed to laugh at a pathetic Ryder grieving noisily and awkwardly begging for her friend's forgiveness for having an affair with her husband.  Ryder's balled up strangely on a couch as Wright suggests, "How can I compete with that?"


The musical score didn't fit the mood - whatever mood they were going for - and don't get me started on how unbelievable the daughter was as a photojournalist working in war-torn countries, or the wimpy son as a successful lawyer.  

Well, Alan, I hope it was worth the money.  You used to give me nightmares for a different reason!


No comments: