Monthly Archives: April 2002
Toula Portokalos (Nia Vardalos) opens by telling us that as a Greek woman she has three responsibilities, “1) Marry a Greek boy. 2) Have lots of Greek children. 3) Make lots of food.” Toula works in her family’s restaurant letting life pass her by, while her father pleads with her to get married even though she is already “old” at 30. It doesn’t seem like that day will ever come for Toula, nor is she looking forward to it, until a handsome stranger (John Corbett, Aidan from Sex and the City) catches her eye in the restaurant. Through more encounters the two seem to have sparks flying off from the heat they generate. He pops the question and Toula happily says yes. There’s only one slight problem – he’s not Greek.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding isn’t anything provocative or innovative but it does have its charming moments and engaging humor. These “ethnic family comedies” are really a double edged sword to work with. You see, they will exaggerate the cultural eccentric-ness of the characters to the point of gross parody but then rely on them to become endearing lovable characters who the audience appreciates for the very same reasons it’s laughing at them. And while Greek Wedding can be found guilty of this notion as well it really does take someone from the inside to come up with this stuff, so there must be some love there to start with.
Vardalos, who also wrote the script, is a perfect casting choice exactly because of her everyday looks. This isn’t someone like Jennifer Aniston trying to pull off being poor and un-pretty; this is a normal looking gal pulling off normal. It works exceptionally and Vardalos certainly knows how to hit a joke. The supporting cast of goofy yet lovable Greeks is played with admirable gusto by the many assembled players. A favorite of mine is the elderly grandmother who continues to try and escape from their home. And yes, an N’SYNC member is in this movie. Why I will never know. Is he even Greek? Is “Fatone” a Greek name?
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a big helping of family comedy and easy to see why it’s become as crowd pleasing as it is. It’s nothing new or extravagant, but hey, I’d easily go see this again than ever venture close to a theater showing XXX or Blue Crush or Pluto Nash or The Master of Disguise or…
Nate’s Grade: B
Don’t be misled by fancy marketing, Changing Lanes is no more a thriller than In the Bedroom (now that was some fancy misleading marketin’). At its core Lanes is a morality tale hiding under the clothing of thriller ilk. But while the film is surprisingly engaging the majority of it centers on Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson doing a good or bad deed and countering one. And in this dilemma the deck is stacked for audience favorability. Jackson is a down-on-his-luck father fighting an impending divorce and trying to get a loan to purchase some real estate so his wife and kids won’t move away. Affleck is a cocky lawyer in a big firm who had an affair with his secretary (the chipped-tooth looking Toni Collette). Who do you think is the “good” guy? The film seems to bend over backwards to try and make Affleck not so bad, like showing him remorseful and pushed to the edge, under threats from his father-in-law and firm partner (Sydney Pollack), and being urged into a dark unethical territory by his own wife (Amanda Peet).
Jackson underplays his role, despite the snippets of vocal outbursts, and earns the compassion of the audience. Affleck plays Cocky Lawyer Man Who Becomes Humble and does a fine job. The supporting cast really shines in Changing Lanes especially Peet. Her one true scene involving her chilly sit-down with her husband is great in its sharp veer from what is expected.
Changing Lanes was directed by Roger Mitchell (Notting Hill) with a bit of nerves. Some scenes are shot from obtuse angles and the score has an inappropriate electronica taste. In the end though, Changing Lanes is an involving morality tale with some good lead performances.
Nate’s Grade: B
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman jumped on to Hollywood’s A-list when his feature debut Being John Malkovich was unleashed in 1999. Malkovich was a brilliant original satire on identity, be it celebrity or sexual, and was filled with riotous humor but also blended beautifully with a rich story that bordered on genius that longer it went. Now Kaufman tries his hand expounding at the meaning of civilization versus animal instinct in Human Nature. As one character tells another, “Just remember, don’t do whatever your body is telling you to do and you’ll be fine.”
Lila (Patricia Arquette) is a woman burdened with excessive body hair ever since she was old enough for a training bra (with the younger version played by Disney’s Lizzie McGuire). Lila feels ashamed by her body and morbidly humiliated. She runs away to the forest to enjoy a life free from the critical eyes of other men. Here she can commune with nature and feel that she belongs.
Nathan (Tim Robbins) is an anal retentive scientist obsessed with etiquette. As a young boy Nathan was sent to his room for picking the wrong fork to eat his meal with. He is now trying his best to teach mice table manners so he can prove that if etiquette can be taught to animals it can be ingrained toward humanity.Lila and Nathan become lovers when she ventures back into the city, eliminating her body hair for now, because of something infinitely in human nature – hormones. The two of them find a form of content, as neither had known the intimate touch of another human being.“Puff” (Rhys Ifans) is a grown man living his life in the woods convinced by his father that he is an ape. One day while walking through the woods Nathan and Lila discover the ape-man and have differing opinions on what should be done with him. Nathan is convinced that he should be brought into civilization and be taught the rules, etiquette and things that make us “human.” It would also be his greatest experiment. Lila feels that he should maintain his freedom and live as he does in nature, how he feels he should.
What follows is a bizarre love triangle over the reeducation of “Puff,” as Nathan’s slinky French assistant Gabrielle (Miranda Otto) names him. Lila is torn over the treatment of Puff and also her own society induced shame of her abundant amount of body hair. Nathan feels like he is saving Puff from his wayward primal urges, as he himself becomes a victim of them when he starts having an affair with Gabrielle. Puff, as he tells a congressional committee, was playing their game so he could find some action and “get a piece of that.”
Kaufman has written a movie in the same vein as Being John Malkovich but missing the pathos and sadly, the humor. ‘Human Nature’ tries too hard to be funny and isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. Many quirky elements are thrown out but don’t have the same sticking power as Kaufman’s previous film. It’s a fine line between being quirky just for quirky’s sake (like the atrocious Gummo) and turning quirky into something fantastic (like Rushmore or Raising Arizona). Human Nature is too quirky for its own good without having the balance of substance to enhance the weirdness further. There are many interesting parts to this story but as a whole they don’t ever seriously gel.
Debut director Michel Gondry cut his teeth in the realm of MTV making surreal videos for Bjork and others (including the Lego animated one for The White Stripes). He also has done numerous commercials, most infamously the creepy-as-all-hell singing navels Levi ad. Gondry does have a vision, and that vision is “Copy What Spike Jonze Did As Best as Possible.” Gondry’s direction never really registers, except for some attractive time shifts, but feels more like a rehash of Jonze’s work on; yep you guessed it, Being John Malkovich.
Arquette and Robbins do fine jobs in their roles with Arquette given a bit more, dare I say it more, humanity. Her Lila is trapped between knowing what is true to herself and fitting in to a society that tells her that it’s unhealthy and wrong. Ifans has fun with his character and lets it show. The acting in Human Nature is never really the problem.
While Human Nature is certainly an interesting film (hey it has Arquette singing a song in the buff and Rosie Perez as an electrologist) but the sum of its whole is lacking. It’s unfair to keep comparing it to the earlier Malkovich but the film is trying too hard to emulate what made that movie so successful. Human Nature just doesn’t have the gravity that could turn a quirky film into a brilliant one.
Nate’s Grade: C+