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Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Weekend movies
No, I didn't actually head out to one of those funny places where you sit in a dark room with a big screen and watch a movie, but I did catch a couple of movies over the weekend that I thought were pretty interesting. I watched two movies that are classified as comedies. But to be quite honest, both were on pretty much the opposite ends of the comedy spectrum. I watched Sideways, which is not exactly what I'd call a fall on the floor laughing until your sides hurt type of movie, but is, instead, one of those movies where you establish characters and have the comedy sort of flow out of chuckles but not a lot of belly-laughs.

Now, I read the novel Sideways a few months ago when the hype for the movie was going strong. And I liked the book a good deal. I really identified with the protagonist Miles and his attempts to try and put his life back together following his divorce and finding out his ex-wife has moved and is now remarried. (It also brings up the debate in me--is it better to know or not know?) The book was a good, quick read and I looked forward to seeing how it might translate into a movie. The book and the movie both examine two guys at various points in their lives--one is Jack, who is getting married and having some doubts about he. He's gone on a week-long wine-tasting trip with buddy Miles to help cheer up Miles and to have his one last great fling before settling down into marriage. Meanwhile, Miles is looking to try and move on with his life, but not always succeeded. He's a writer whose book can't find a publisher and he's having a hard time letting go of his ex-wife. In fact, he holds out hope that mayb they will get back together. These hopes are dashed when Jack tells Miles that not only is his ex-wife coming to the wedding, but she got re-married the month before.

The guys head up to a small town in California for some wine tasting and doing guy stuff like playing golf and picking up women. They meet Maya and Stephanie. Maya knows Miles from his previous visits and happens to be good friends with Stephanie. The story follows how each man pursues his perspective conquest as it were. To Jack, Stephanie is his final conquest before he gets married. He pursues her with reckless abandon, lying to her, connecting with her and her son and setting himself up for a fall later when the truth comes out. On the other hand, Miles is the one pursued more by Maya and it's far more subtle. Both are hesitant, having gone through a divorce. Miles is depressed of the other situation in his life, but feels a deep connection to Maya due to their mutual interest in wine. Miles actually goes as far as to be honest with Maya about the sitation with Jack--but only after he's slept with her. Maya is upset and tells Stephanie who gets upset as well.

Now, this is not what I'd call a roll on the floor, clutching your sides with laughter type of film. If you're looking for something outrageous along the lines of American Pie, you probably want to look elsewhere. But if you're looking for a movie that is character driven with some lines that will make you smile and seeing how the characters get into and out of situations, then this is an enjoyable enough movie. I do think that it's been extremely overhyped by various critics and while I can see that it's well done, I'm not sure it was worthy of an Acadamy Award nomination. It was good, but I'd not say it was great. It's not a movie that after seeing it, I feel compelled to run out and buy the DVD.

Part of that may be that they altered the ending a bit. (Just so you know, I'm giving away the ending to the book and the movie here) In the book, Jack and Miles stay on their wine-tour a bit longer--I think the wedding takes place on Sunday as opposed to Saturday. In the ending of both, Maya sees his ex-wife at the wedding with her new husband. In the novel, Miles is rescued by the fact that Maya shows up after the wedding and says that Jack told her about the wedding and she wanted to come and be there for him. In a lot of ways, it helps to redeem Jack just a bit in the end because he cares enough about Miles to try and help his friend in what will be an awkward situation. As the novel ends, Maya tells Miles they should skip the reception and they wander off into the sunset together, hand in hand.

In the movie, Maya doesn't show up at the reception and Miles goes out for fast food. Time passes and a few days or weeks later, he gets a call from Maya. It's a message praising his new book that he let her read and saying that she's finishing school and may be leaving the area. She says if Miles is in the area, he should drop by the restaurant she waitresses at to say hello. The movie ends with Miles getting in his car, driving up to her place and knocking the door. Fade to black--we have no idea if she's there or not or if she'll even answer.

Now, certainly that's a better Hollywood type ending, but I'm not sure it's as satisfying. As I said before the ending of the book redeems Jack a bit, but the movie ending does give some better substantial character arc to Miles. In the end, he makes the decision to move on and to take the chance on going after Maya rather than letting her slip away or wallowing in self-pity and wine any more. In either case, we're not sure how it will turn out but we're giving hope for the characters involved. I guess there's just part of me that finds the book ending a bit more satisfying in the long run.

The other movie I watched was The Replacements. It was on cable and it's one of those that I've been wanting to watch since it came out, but never quite got around to doing so. Now, if Sideways is a movie that acutally requires some intellectual thought, The Replacements is the exact opposite end of the spectrum. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

It's not exactly what I'd call a falling on the floor funny movie, but it was still enjoyable enough. It's a sports comedy about a bunch of football players who cross the strike line to play as replacements. The story is fairly forumalic and predictable, but honestly, it doesn't matter that much. It's still fun, diverting and entertaining which is sometimes all I ask of a movie. I was entertained for the two or so hours I watched and that's all I wanted. You can predict some things that will happen--such as Kenau will show up in the end to save the day and that he'll get the cheerleader who doesn't date players in the end. But like I said--still fun.

I did find some things that didn't quite gel for me. In the first game the replacement players play, they go for a field goal on what should be first and ten. Not quite sure why. Also, the team has to find replacement cheerleaders, though why this is done is never quite spelled out. Did the cheerleaders go on strike with the team or was the head cheerleader just really overworking herself the first eight to 12 games of the regular season? Turns out, she hires a bunch of exotic dancers to be cheerleaders and they help spice things up on the sidelines and, at times, distract the other team. That said--some of the best moments come from the cheerleader tryouts and a couple of typical air-head blondes who join the team.

Again, it's not ground-breaking new comedy..but then again, it doesn't have to be. It kept me entertained for two hours and again I'm not running out to buy it on DVD but I enjoyed it.

Also, I have to admit that each movie had an attractive female lead that kept me interested in the film. Sideways has Virginia Madsen and The Replacements has Brooke Langton. Both were appealing not only physcially but also the character they played. Both characters had this cute, vulnerable side to them that both actresses did very well. I will give Madsen a bit more credit as her character was more complex than Langton's was.

So, that's two wildly different ends of the comedy spectrum. But yet, both are enjoyable. I think with each movie, you have to be in the right mood its own particular brand of comedy.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/07/2005 08:04:00 AM | |
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