Monday, November 01, 2010

Jekyll and Hyde Movies

I thought I'd recovered from the travel, but then last night I was lights-out at ten and just barely started waking up at eight this morning, so I must have been still a bit tired. I've come to the conclusion that my personal power source is inside my house, so if I'm away from home for any length of time, I will be tired, no matter what I'm doing while I'm away or what mode of travel I use (maybe I should try to find the source of my power so I can take it with me. And I think I just invented a new magical system that I will have to use in a book). I think I am recharged now, so I can get down to some serious work.

For the Monday after Halloween, I've got some Movie Monday discussions of Jekyll and Hyde movies. Not actual movies about the Jekyll and Hyde story, but rather movies that seem to have a split personality. It's weird how many movies like that I've stumbled upon lately.

First, I watched Up in the Air on HBO OnDemand not long before I left town. With this one, the problem wasn't so much with the movie itself as it was with me and my expectations. The movie seemed to be building into one kind of story, and then they did a huge reversal that made it something else, and that something else was less satisfying for me. I can't really get into it without spoiling it, and this was a major plot twist, so I don't want to spoil it. I can see that it was a perfectly valid creative choice and maybe they wanted to leave people unsettled and dissatisfied because that fit with the theme of the movie, but the cynic in me was thinking that they thought they had a far better chance of being treated like an Important Film by making that choice, and that says a lot about what gets valued in our society. It doesn't help that I don't find George Clooney at all attractive. He just radiates smug, and I get the feeling that I could never be as into him as he is into himself. Plus, I don't think he's that great an actor. He's pretty much the same in everything, unless he's doing an over-the-top caricature.

Since that movie left me with this unsettled sense of dismay, I grabbed onto the next thing that was coming on one of the HBO channels, Love Happens. It's a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Anniston, so I figured it couldn't leave me that unsettled, even if it wasn't any good. This one didn't have the one big Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation. Instead, it kept switching back and forth. It seemed to be two things that don't go together. It wasn't "you got your chocolate in my peanut butter" but rather "you got your chocolate in my Dijon mustard." It seemed to be two entirely different movies spliced together in the editing room. The story is about a widower who has made a career out of dealing with his wife's death. He wrote a bestselling self-help book about dealing with grief and travels around the country doing grief seminars. Except, he really hasn't dealt with his own grief, and he's lying to himself and to everyone else about that. Meanwhile, he runs into a standard issue romantic comedy kooky free spirit and starts to fall for her, except, of course, he can't really get into a relationship until he truly deals with the death of his wife. I actually liked the parts of the movie that were about his seminars and the dealing with grief. The romantic comedy parts were totally unnecessary and so generic, and ultimately, how do you believe in the big romantic happy ending for a relationship that starts before the man deals with his grief over the death of his wife? It would have been a better film if it forgot about the romance and just focused on the relationships he was building with the participants in his seminars, and how they forced him into honesty.

But the movie still left me unsettled over one thing. I love animals, but I'm not an extremist about it. I'm not one of those people who is okay with a high human body count but who has a meltdown if one dog dies during a movie. But this movie did something that pissed me off royally. While he's starting to realize he isn't as okay as he says he is, this guy admits that his wife wanted him to take care of her pet bird, but he left it with his in-laws. He steals the bird from their house, takes it out to the woods, opens the cage, and lets it go. The soaring music and the imagery of the soaring bird give the impression that this is supposed to be some positive cathartic moment. But this bird is a pet, brought up in captivity (it even talks!). This act is the equivalent of taking your family dog out to the country and dumping it on the side of the road. It won't know how to find food or deal with predators. Not to mention that it's a tropical bird, so in Seattle it's in the wrong climate and may not have the right food appearing naturally. And it's introducing a non-native species into the ecosystem. I was seething through the rest of the movie because this struck me as incredibly irresponsible and cruel.

Then while I was in Denver, one afternoon I was taking a mid-afternoon tea break in my room and flipping through channels and came across something that had Paul Rudd in Nice Guy Romantic Comedy Mode (as differentiated from Frat Pack Jerk Mode). The woman he was with seemed nice and funny, and I was surprised that I couldn't place the movie at all. Then Eva Longoria showed up and I realized that it was Over Her Dead Body and then I knew why I hadn't seen it. I had to leave then, but then Sunday night when I realized that the Denver public television station was even worse than the one in Dallas and wasn't going to show the first episode of Sherlock because they were in pledge drive mode and first showed a ten-year-old Gordon Lightfoot concert and then started an infomercial about diabetes, I looked for something else to watch and caught the beginning of this movie, then watched just to see if it was as bad as I'd heard. It really had a bad case of Jekyll and Hyde. The scenes between Paul Rudd and the heroine were cute and funny, but then the movie went straight to hell when Eva Longoria showed up. It wasn't really her fault, just that they wrote a terrible character for her.

The movie is about the Bridezilla from Hell who gets her just desserts when an ice sculpture falls on her and kills her as she's micromanaging the set-up for her wedding reception. A year later, her finace seems to have given up on love, so his sister drags him to a psychic, hoping a message from beyond the grave encouraging him to move on will help. When something distracts the reading and he refuses to go back, the sister gives the psychic the dead finacee's diary and some inside scoop and begs her to use it to convince him it's real, then tell him his dead fiancee said to move on. She doesn't even have to try that hard with the psychic stuff because the two of them just hit it off and start dating. Meanwhile, the dead fiancee was such a bitch to the afterlife greeter that she didn't get her assignment of what to set right so that she can move on, so she assumes she's supposed to keep her fiance away from this fraud of a psychic, though that's just her rationalization because she really doesn't want him to move on and sees him dating someone else as cheating on her. Except that the psychic isn't a fraud and can actually see and hear her. Soon, the ghost and the living woman are fighting over the guy and the ghost is making the woman's life hell.

The main problem with the movie to me was that they seemed to entirely forget that the dead woman was a raging bitch, even while writing her as a raging bitch. She was killed because she was a raging bitch and missed her afterlife assignment because she was a raging bitch. And yet no one who knew her seemed to notice this. For one thing, it was hard to imagine her with her fiance. Unless it happened in the minute or so of the very beginning that I missed, we never saw them together in life. I know that nice guys do sometimes end up with bitches, but there's usually some kind of issue at work and until they deal with that issue and realize the mistakes they're making, they usually end up choosing the same type, not going for a down-to-earth free spirit. However, I can't imagine what a woman like that saw in him, other than that he was played by Paul Rudd. He was the kind of guy a woman like that would try to make over while dictating every aspect of his life. And yet he truly seemed to think that he'd lost the love of his life. There was no sense that maybe his holding back from trying to love again came from the guilt that came from his secret relief at being free from the bitch from hell. Meanwhile, his sister didn't hint, even behind his back, that the dead fiancee had been no prize and it really made no sense for him to be putting the rest of his life on hold because of her. It seemed like it was written this way to be "funny" and to play on Eva Longoria's Desperate Housewives persona rather than because anyone involved with the movie actually thought about it for five seconds. It might have worked better to have had the dead fiance just be a normal woman who really had loved the guy and who really did think that the psychic was lying to him for selfish reasons. Or else let her be a bitch, but then have that be a factor in the situation, where he feels guilty about being relieved and the sister sets up the scam because she doesn't want the bitch dictating the rest of his life. I'm ashamed to admit that I actually lay in bed the next morning after waking up, thinking of ways to rewrite the movie to make it make sense. And then to see if I could rewrite it enough to file off the serial numbers and make it look original. Now I kind of want to try to write a jealous ex ghost story.

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