Blog Archives

Marry Me (2022)

Marry Me has a premise that is so silly that it feels like it would be the setup of a fake movie within some other movie universe, something depicting the creative lunacy of Hollywood for easy satirical laughter. But no it’s real. Based upon a graphic novel by Bobby Crosby of the same name, Jennifer Lopez plays music superstar Kat. She’s a best-selling and provocative performer and her latest single, “Marry Me,” is ruling the charts. She co-wrote the track with her fiance, and the two plan to marry live during one of her stage shows. Then news leaks that her fiance has been cheating on her with her assistant. Kat is stunned and as she’s still processing her hurt feelings onstage she spots a “Marry Me” sign in the audience, held up by Charlie (Owen Wilson), an ordinary math teacher and single father. She agrees to marry him on the spot, and Charlie is rushed onstage and the two tie the knot. Now, what to do and can they make this actually work?

Think of Marry Me as Notting Hill but where it starts at the level of international fame for romantic coupling. I found the premise to this movie, at first glance, to be absolutely preposterous. I was hoping that the movie wasn’t going to spend so much time worrying how to legitimize this silly impulsive marriage between two complete strangers. Fortunately, from their first “I do” onward the pair doesn’t really view their subsequent “relationship” as more than a publicity stunt. He’ll get more attention for his school and causes that are important to him. She’ll get a run of media attention and allow her to rebrand herself in the wake of her history of cheating louses. I was happy that the movie, at least early, doesn’t try to make this spontaneous union credible. Kat wonders, “Hey, maybe something so crazy just might work,” and of course we know it magically will, but at least they’re not panicking about how they just got married and how they are going to make this relationship work when they could as easily get annulled and got about their separate lives again. So from there, Marry Me follows the path of having these two fake lovebirds become real lovebirds over the course of their shared time.

We know it’s all going to work out, their romantic fate is sealed, but the process needs to still feel organic and earned, and that’s where I found Marry Me to be unsatisfying. Rom-coms will live and breathe depending upon their quotient of cute moments to swoon moments, ultimately winning you over and desiring the coupling. This movie already starts with the couple together, at least in a legal sense, but they don’t know one another and have no immediate feelings for one another, so the movie is like any other rom-com. They have to fall in love for real now, almost like an arranged marriage. However, I found the interactions between Kat and Charlie to be far chummier than passionate or romantic. Lopez and Wilson have zero chemistry together. There is no heat between these two. He’s too laconic and she’s too pressing. As the movie progressed, I could believe they were becoming friends. He got her to be more self-reliant, and she pushed him outside his moderate comfort zones with social media and self-promotion. They’re better friends but I felt nothing romantic between them and that’s a pretty big problem. In fact, that’s the biggest problem in a romantic comedy. If I walk away feeling like the leads would be better friends than lovers, then you haven’t put in the work, and that’s the case here.

We associate fun and cute moments from rom-coms, amusing scenarios that force our couple to work together or wacky situations where they learn more about the other in a new setting, and Marry Me feels too unimaginative here as well. This is another vital area for the development of the relationship to feel genuine, and simply just for audience enjoyment. The three screenwriters are unable to take the Notting Hill-dynamic of an ordinary person thrust into an unwanted, elevated level of fame and scrutiny and do anything with it. Charlie’s life never feels too disrupted from before; his casual public walks with Kat do not have dozens of paparazzi hounding them, annoying fans inserting themselves into his personal life, envious family members and exes coming back into the picture for attention, or even Charlie’s past being litigated by the media. His new life feels strangely absent the surreal touches we would expect and want from this plucked-from-obscurity setup.

The script assembles the standard rom-com tropes without anything more personable to make it feel meaningful to this story and these characters and their conflicts. Charlie asks Kat to come to the school dance, and this sounds like it has potential to be fun, but it never goes further than the mere idea. She’s there, the kids are flummoxed and naturally starstruck, and she sings a song to them. That’s it. When the third act comes calling, we’re left impatiently for the resolutions to hit their predictable end points. We know that the bad ex will still be the bad ex, we know that the big decision about whether to go to the fancy music industry gig or the humble Mathlete championship is no struggle, and we know the valiant efforts to travel back in time will be crossed at the exact moment desired. Marry Me disappoints because it squanders its unique or alluring plot elements and too often settles for resuscitating stale genre tropes.

Marry Me feels almost out of time, like an early 2000s rom-com star vehicle for Wilson (Loki) and Lopez (Hustlers). Both actors are in their 50s now, and ostensibly playing characters in their 40s, but the movie treats them like they might as well be in their late 20s. He’s divorced with a pre-teen daughter and she’s had multiple high-profile marriages, but so much more could have been articulated, especially about a 40-something woman trying to keep her perch in an industry always looking to replace aging superstars with the next young pretty thing available. This perspective gets the occasional mention, but that conflict feels mysteriously ignored, like even approaching the idea would be insulting rather than establishing an intriguing new level of self-reflection and potential connection for these two middle-aged characters. A big screen rom-com with characters in their 40s, or beyond, is such a rare find, let alone having one of those characters in the shallow field of entertainment. Ignoring this opportunity is confusing.

While the writing and chemistry is lacking in Marry Me, the two stars are still enjoyable to watch. I didn’t believe their romantic union but I believed that they genuinely enjoyed hanging around one another. So while Marry Me doesn’t work as the story of two people miraculously falling in love under contrived circumstances, it can work as the story of a burgeoning friendship of unlikely friends. If you think of it from that angle, the movie is a lot more agreeable and entertaining to watch over the course of its 110 minutes. Lopez and Wilson are still charming leads, and the movie never gets too serious or overwhelming to actively dislike. It’s ultimately a middle-of-the-road rom-com, low-key enough to coast on the appeal of its stars but absent anything to make the characters and their romance feel personable and meaningful. It’s no different than something you might see on cable in the middle of an afternoon. You can do worse than Marry Me as far as formulaic rom-coms go, but you could certainly do better, and I advise you dear reader, in your rom-coms as well as your relationships, not to settle for less.

Nate’s Grade: C

The Cell (2000) [Review Re-View]

Released August 16, 2000:

Welcome to the not too distant future where the miracle of science (i.e. red bodysuits and washcloths over people’s faces) allow you to transport your mind into that of another individual. So what happens when a serial killer snags a catch only to be dropped into a coma with no way of discovering where his victim is before time runs out? Well we send Jennifer Lopez into his head — duh! The Latina songstress transports herself to learn the secrets of Mr. Madman before his next victim becomes just a number on a sheet. Sound contrived, like the movie was in production before they had a workable script? You’re not alone. One-named director Tarsem is from the land of music videos but for the life of me I can’t think of one he’s done.

Perhaps the excruciatingly long Nine Inch Nails promo would be less frustrating if the outpourings of creepy imagery meant something. Despite the desire to explain the inside cerebrum of a crazy man, 90% of the imagery is there for the simple sake that it looks cool. Lopez plays Alice to a lumbering wonderland of dark images and a mind-numbingly clattering musical score. Would someone please explain to me why a CGI vine grew on screen for five minutes then went away?

Lopez speaks in whispers, Vaughn speaks like he’s on Ritalin, and the movie speaks that if you had abuse as a kid it’s okay to trap women in self-filling aquarium cubes and bleach them into albino Barbies. Won’t see that in your typical after school special.

The Cell may present some things you’ve never seen before, like a jack-in-the-box theme to twirling intestines, but too often it presents things you have seen much too often in film — boredom.

Nate’s Grade: D

——————————————————

WRITER REFLECTIONS 20 YEARS LATER

I really thought The Cell might be better twenty years later but no. I was fairly critical back in 2000, referring to it as one of the worst movies of that year, and twenty years later it put me to sleep. Never a great sign for your entertainment. I had to re-watch the final act of this movie twice, and then I reviewed certain scenes a few more times just for good measure to make sure I wasn’t missing anything essential. The Cell doesn’t really play like a movie. It plays more like the film adaptation of a video game. The premise is promising, a psychologist (Jennifer Lopez) that has to venture into the twisted mind of a serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) in order to extract key info before time runs out finding his latest victim. We got something there. However, the actual movie becomes little more than an enterprise for director Tarsem Singh (Immortals) to get drunk on his lavish visual self-indulgences. As my 18-year-old self observed, it does feel like a 90-minute Nine Inch Nails music video.

I suppose The Cell could have been a harbinger of a sub-genre of movies that has multiplied in indie horror, namely the atmospheric movie where the atmosphere is the entire point. Forget story, forget characters, forget setups and payoffs, forget basic emotional investment; the film is simply constructed to deliver strange and memorable imagery and an overwhelming feeling of discomfort and/or transcendence. This isn’t a new sub-genre. David Lynch has been dabbling in this realm for decades, and Terrence Malick fully converted around the time of The Cell’s theatrical release (granted his atmospheric dawdles are considered more high-art). Dear reader, I’ll fully admit my own filmmaking tastes and biases and confess this sub-genre rarely does much for me. That’s because, in my personal experience, the atmosphere gets repetitious and predictable and without greater investment I just grow bored. I completely acknowledge that there is an audience that feels the opposite, that celebrates the immersive quality of giving one’s self into the visual decadence of a filmmaker creating a vivid dream to tempt and confuse your senses. I get it, but it’s not for me, and so I found The Cell to be overall empty and tedious.

Credit where it’s rightfully due, the visuals on display are often striking and luscious, as are the amazing costumes that were shockingly not nominated for the Academy Award that year (The Cell did receive a nomination for Best Make-Up). The sequences are gorgeously composed starting with the opening of Lopez riding a black horse through the desert and then scaling the dunes, each shot so artfully composed that it could be mass produced as a postcard. Tarsem is a gifted visual artist and has been from his early days as an in-demand music video director in the 1990s (R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” En Vogue’s “Hold On”). The mind of a serial killer allows the man to open up the bizarre and grotesque imagery we would expect from that slippery setting. There’s one scene where a series of glass partitions slice a horse into slimmer portions and then spread out the still-breathing remains. There are definite nods to classical baroque painting, like Caravaggio. The various incarnations of our serial killer’s demons gave me a reason to keep watching. There’s demon horn version, giant purple curtain caped version, Alice in Wonderland version, and a final incarnation that resembles a Star Trek alien crossed with Michael Keaton’s Birdman. There is a draw to exploring a brain built upon trauma and abuse and mental illness. It’s like the horror version of Inception. However, while commendable from a production and visceral standpoint, the plot diversions have the feel of visiting the most messed up museum, taking in display cases and then moving onto the next. There’s little here beyond the superficial and the imagery, while artful, is too disposable and ephemeral.

I’m slightly surprised Tarsem hasn’t had a bigger career in feature films. He delivers pretty much what you would ask a visually decadent director to do with this material. It took him many years to get his next film up and running, 2006’s The Fall, and from there it’s been a series of studio-friendly jobs, each further neutering his distinct visual style (watch 2015’s Self/less and tell me it’s the same director of The Cell). He seemed like the kind of artist who might follow Michel Gondry’s (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) path but it didn’t seem to play out that way.

Music videos in the 1990s became the fertile training ground for Hollywood to snatch up-and-coming talent for their projects, but looking back, very few of those directors had lasting feature film careers. Not everyone is going to be a David Fincher or a Spike Jonze or even a Francis Lawrence. Many of the most influential and prominent names, like Hype Williams (Belly), Samuel Bayer (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2009), Joseph Kahn (Torque), Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), Floria Sigismondi (The Runaways), Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Jonus Akerlund (Spun), and Dave Meyers (The Hitcher 2007) only got one or two movies to prove themselves as long-form filmmakers. You have your directors that were attached to action movies, like McG, Marc Webb, Marcus Nispel, Mark Pellington, and most successfully, Michael Bay (strange that they all start with “M”). I’m sure my general ignorance of contemporary music videos (beyond Billie Eilish it would seem) has kept me from citing more names that made the big leap. I guess this paragraph was just examining that most prominent music video directors don’t seem to last in the studio system unless they can prove themselves to be reliable purveyors of mainstream action.

The only real actor worth noting here is D’Onofrio (Men in Black). He gets to be gleefully weird, his favorite kind of acting. He looks like he’s having fun scaring Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers) and inhabiting the different demons of a very disturbed soul. Lopez is perfectly fine but almost entirely reactionary here, like she’s a video game avatar going from one dark corner to another as she clears stage after stage. Her biggest acting was simply putting on the weighty costumes. Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers) is completely wasted as a determined F.B.I. agent desperate to find the last victim before she drowns in one of those movie-world elaborate death traps. All of the scenes outside the killer’s psyche are a general waste and serve as monotonous running-time padding. That also includes a deleted scene, restored for the BluRay release, where the killer suspends himself from metallic piercings over a corpse and masturbates onto her body while watching another woman drown in his elaborate death trap. It’s so absurdly try-hard that it’s stunning. This scene offers no further insights into the character, only another gratuitous excuse to be transparently “edgy.”

Looking back at my original review at age 18, I’m struck by how much I agree with my younger self (good job, me). I didn’t have much to say beyond my general dissatisfaction with the boring narrative and the pretty yet vacant visuals. I would classify this review as one of my glibber entries, something I’ve noticed with bad movies and generally being a smart allecky teenager. I do think that perhaps I should raise my grade only slightly due to the level of visual flair. It’s certainly not a fun movie, or an interesting one, or even a good one, but The Cell is first-rate fetish wallpaper.

Re-View Grade: C-

Hustlers (2019)

Think of it as a feminist companion piece to The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short. Inspired by a true story, Hustlers follows a diverse group of strippers who wine and dine Wall Street middlemen and execs, feeding off the spoils of their feeding frenzy, and then eventually upping their game, drugging them and fleecing them for one wild night that they’ll be too embarrassed to report that next morning. The story grabs you early on and is stuffed full of interesting details about the ins and outs of the stripping industry as well as how to service and manipulate the wealthier men who frequent said clubs. Hustlers becomes a combination of a crime caper, a con artist thriller, and a class-conscious drama about the haves and have nots, but it really becomes a showcase for the talents of one Jennifer Lopez, a woman who does not seem at all close to her fifty years on this planet (her introduction is quite the jaw-dropper). Lopez plays Ramona, the alpha leader of the group, a loving single mom with a healthy distaste for the hand she’s been dealt. She is sensational and delivers the best performance of her long career. Even when she’s doing bad things, even when she’s taking bold risks, there is a moral center to that woman, an unbreakable heart for the people she chooses to let into her life, and it does not budge, which was a poignant note. In many ways she is more the main character than Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians), a figure that serves as more entry point than fully-fleshed out character. I enjoyed learning the various tricks of the trade writer/director Lorene Scarfaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) peppers throughout with her love of montage and stylish transitions, but it really picked up after the 2008 financial crash where the women cross over into direct criminality. At first they figure they’re just skipping ahead, drugging with MDMA rather than waiting for their marks to get drunk (“Drunk enough to order the bill but sober enough to sign the check,” Ramona cautions). Then things get escalated and sloppy and the women are in trouble. It’s a fun ride watching the ladies get theirs, and I was challenged to muster much of any sympathy for their Wall Street marks. Part of me wishes more women would be inspired by this movie and follow suit, fleecing the people who fleeced our economy. The movie rides that wave of the good times you know can’t last, prolonging the fall we’re all anticipating coming. The supporting characters can be a bit weak; several of the other girls involved in the scheme merit one note of description, and some of the humor feels a bit out of place, like a running joke where one of the women nervously vomits often (this is like her single character trait, and it’s weird). It’s also likely the stripper-centric movie with the least nudity I’ve ever seen, thanks to Scarfaria treating a sensational story with candor rather than exploitation. Hustlers is a glitzy drama that will entertain you with its flash and then surprise you with its edge. And all hail, Jennifer Lopez, ageless wonder and underrated actress getting her due.

Nate’s Grade: B

An Unfinished Life (2005)

Einar (Robert Redford) is a gruff  rancher living with his long-time friend and ranch hand, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who has been recovering from a bear mauling. Jean (Jennifer Lopez) and her young daughter (Becca Gardner) have run away from her abusive boyfriend and seeking temporary refuge with Einar. There’s still a lot of tension and unspoken anger between the two. Einar blames Jean for the death of his son from a car accident. As their stay continues each member imparts wisdom to the other, hard exteriors get warmed, and lessons about forgiveness are learned.

This is melodrama with a capital M. An Unfinished Life is clunky, the movie hasn’t the foggiest idea when it comes to subtlety, the characters all shout out their feelings all the time, and worse yet, it’s also incredibly transparent. A scene where Lopez breaks a dish and Redford goes nuts is just too much. Of course they’re talking about his dead son but the moment is played to the hilt that I half expected every line to end in a wink (“It’s just a dish” wink “Maybe it’s more than a dish to me!” wink “Maybe that was my favorite dish!” wink). Honestly, it was at this point that the film lost me. The metaphors are another symptom of the film’s overly ramped-up obviousness; Redford might as well be pointing at the bear to pantomime that it?s supposed to represent his pain and anger. And Freeman’s eventual forgiveness of his attacker is meant to encroach upon Redford to do likewise to the source of his pain, and many other moviegoers, Jennifer Lopez. I cannot find a movie emotionally involving when it doesn’t even bother to mask its grand statements.

Seriously, this movie is brimming with sprawling earnestness meant to cover the narrative shortcomings. This is a simple tale that could have suckered the audience in with its framework to showcase complex characters and their personal interactions, like a Million Dollar Baby, but even though An Unfinished Life is simplistic it still manages to beat you over the head. Every line of significance is underlined so you get it. It’s like director Lasse Hallstrom was making a seething parody of these overarching, small-town, large cast, homesy feel-good flicks he’s specialized in for a decade.

The acting is all fine. Redford is fun to watch and get his Jeremiah Johnson back on. Lopez makes you forget how much you hate her in other movies. Freeman is settling into a weird groove as a disfigured narrator. The acting of the ensemble really isn’t the issue with An Unfinished Life.

Despite all its earnest intentions and lush scenery, An Unfinished Life is too much melodrama squeezed into such a small space. It’s an old fashioned tale that feels too convenient, too simplistic, too perfunctory, and too unhappy with being any of those things. This feels like a Hallmark card turned into a movie by someone who has no grasp for human emotion. Everything is shouted when it needs to be a whisper and explained when it needs to just be experienced. And yet there will be an audience for this slow burn small-town tale of forgiveness and accountability. It may please people immensely, but I prefer a little subtlety to my drama. I won’t say the film is bad but I’ll never say An Unfinished Life is particularly good, even as melodrama.

Nate’s Grade: C

Jersey Girl (2004)

Writer/director Kevin Smith (Dogma) takes a stab at family friendly territory with the story of Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck), a music publicist who must give up the glamour of the big city to realize the realities of single fatherhood. Despite brief J. Lo involvement, Jersey Girl is by no means Gigli 2: Electric Boogaloo. Alternating between edgy humor and sweet family melodrama, Smith shows a growing sense of maturity. Liv Tyler stars as Maya, a liberated video store clerk and Ollie’’s real love interest. Tyler and Affleck have terrific chemistry and their scenes together are a playful highlight. The real star of Jersey Girl is nine-year-old Raquel Castro, who plays Ollie’’s daughter. Castro is delightful and her cherubic smile can light up the screen. Smith deals heavily with familiar clichés (how many films recently end with some parent rushing to their child’’s theatrical production?), but at least they seem to be clichés and elements that Smith feels are worth something. Much cute kiddie stuff can be expected, but the strength of Jersey Girl is the earnest appeal of the characters. Some sequences are laugh-out-loud funny (like Affleck discovering his daughter and a neighbor boy engaging in “the time-honored game of “doctor””), but there are just as many small character beats that could have you feeling some emotion. A late exchange between Ollie and his father (George Carlin) is heartwarming, as is the final image of the movie, a father and daughter embracing and swaying to music. Jersey Girl proves to be a sweetly enjoyable date movie from one of the most unlikely sources.

Nate’s Grade: B

Gigli (2003)

It’s the feel-good movie of the year revolving around a lunkhead mobster (Ben Affleck) and his mentally challenged kipnapee and their attempts to covert a lesbian hitman (Jennifer Lopez) in between her yoga/horrific monologues concerning the superiority of female genitalia. Believe the hype people; Gigli is indeed as bad as they have told you. It’s not even entertainingly bad, like Bulletproof Monk, no folks; Gigli is just mundane and awful. During the entire two hour stretch, which feels much much longer, I kept saying one thing aloud: “How could anyone making this think they were making a goodmovie?” Did they think audiences would find it funny that Affleck’s mother (the mother from My Big Fat Greek Wedding) shows us her big fat Greek behind? Did they really think that a mentally retarded kid (who has an affinity for gangster rap and wishes to travel to the mythical “Baywatch”) would come off as endearing? Well instead it comes across as insulting. And what else is insulting is the laugh-out-loud dialogue Lopez is forced to spit out concerning her attraction for women. I can’t think of any actress that could say the line, “I love my pussy” convincingly. And I’m sure a lot of actresses out there have true affection for it. The writing is just atrocious. And so much else fails as well. The score is a perplexing mix of upbeat jazz and inappropriate string orchestra. I don’t understand what emotions they were going for during scenes in Gigli but a full string orchestra playing music better suited for a real drama does not fit. Maybe it was for a tragedy. In that case, then it’s right on the money. You won’t see a more sloppily executed, horribly acted, painfully written, lazily directed, inept film this year. And what the hell did Christopher Walken walking in have anything to do with anything?

Nate’s Grade: F

The Cell (2000)

Welcome to the not too distant future where the miracle of science (i.e. red bodysuits and washcloths over people’s faces) allow you to transport your mind into that of another individual. So what happens when a serial killer snags a catch only to be dropped into a coma with no way of discovering where his victim is before time runs out? Well we send Jennifer Lopez into his head — duh! The Latina songstress transports herself to learn the secrets of Mr. Madman before his next victim becomes just a number on a sheet. Sound contrived, like the movie was in production before they had a workable script? You’re not alone. One-named director Tarsem is from the land of music videos but for the life of me I can’t think of one he’s done.

Perhaps the excruciatingly long Nine Inch Nails promo would be less frustrating if the outpourings of creepy imagery meant something. Despite the desire to explain the inside cerebrum of a crazy, 90% of the imagery is there for the simple sake that it looks cool. Lopez plays Alice to a lumbering wonderland of dark images and a mind-numbingly clattering musical score. Would someone please explain to me why a CGI vine grew on screen for five minutes then went away?

Lopez speaks in whispers, Vaughn speaks like he’s on Ritalin, and the movie speaks that if you had abuse as a kid it’s okay to trap women in self-filling aquarium cubes and bleach them into albino Barbies. Won’t see that in your typical after school special.

The Cell may present some things you’ve never seen before, like a jack-in-the-box theme to twirling intestines, but too often it presents things you have seen much too often in film — boredom.

Nate’s Grade: D

Reviewed 20 years later as part of the “Reviews Re-View: 2000” article.

%d bloggers like this: