Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Be Normal?

We had a bit of a snowy Sunday -- it started with sleet in the morning, turned to snow around 11, then snowed a few hours. We didn't get much where I live, and it had all pretty much melted in the time between the snow stopped and the temperature went below freezing. It looks like we got a little more overnight, but it's now all gone, too. I hear the roads were pretty bad this morning, which makes me very grateful that I don't have to commute, but the speedway running by my house seems to be pretty much normal now. The local PBS station obliged me by running the entire Cranford series in the afternoon, which was the perfect thing for a snowy day. I made some tea and scones and curled up on the couch to watch, with the blinds near the sofa open so I could see the snow falling. You know you're a grown-up when your idea of enjoying a snowy day involves staying indoors watching the snow fall rather than going out in it and attempting to play. When I was a kid, the moment snow started falling, I had to be out in it, right away.

I did also do some book-related research while hibernating, so today I get to figure out what really needs to happen next. I had it planned one way, but I'm not sure the research supports it. It is fiction, so I can make it up, but it has to make sense, and one way of predicting what might happen is to look at what did happen in similar circumstances in the real world.

I didn't do any movie watching over the weekend, but I have a backlog from the previous weekend, all from HBO. I finally watched The Time Traveler's Wife, and while I liked the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wiminess of the book, it came across as far creepier in the movie, where it really did look like this grown man was brainwashing a little girl into falling in love with him so she'd want to marry him when she grew up.

But that's not the movie I want to talk about. I'm going to make a rare controversial statement here: All About Steve wasn't that bad. I know it was widely hailed as one of the worst movies of that year, and Sandra Bullock won the Razzie for it -- and won major "good sport" points by actually showing up to accept the award in person -- but the problem had more to do with positioning than with the movie itself. The problem was that they treated it like a romantic comedy, and if you're thinking of it that way, it's truly icky. Not to mention an utter failure because it isn't romantic at all. There's no love story, no developing relationship, no romantic happy ending. If you're expecting that, then you'll spend the entire film cringing in dread because if the relationship in this movie were to have a romantic happy ending, it would be totally unbelievable and kind of sick. However, I suspect that if this film had been given the Little Miss Sunshine "Indie comedy about not letting other people define what normal is for you" treatment, it would have had a totally different reception.

Going even further out on a limb, I would have to say that this role was probably a more difficult acting challenge and required far more craft and talent for Sandra Bullock than the role that actually won her the Oscar. The Blind Side was total Oscar bait, full of big, dramatic speeches and heartfelt moments, and just about any actress in that role who managed to seem like a real human being instead of a cardboard cut-out saint could have won an Oscar. But Sandra Bullock's role in All About Steve required a total commitment to the character that was carried through in everything from facial expressions to vocal inflections to body language. I have known a number of people like that (though most of them are male, and they're the reason I have "rescue me" signals worked out with my friends for conventions), and she nailed that personality type completely.

In case you managed to miss hearing about this movie, Sandra Bullock plays a crossword puzzle creator who is more than a little odd but who is trying desperately to hide it. She's pretty clueless about communicating with people or dealing with the real world and she still lives with her parents, with a vague "my apartment is being fumigated" cover story, though you get the feeling that apartment has been fumigating for years, as it doesn't look like she's ever lived anywhere but that room. Her parents set her up on a blind date with a news photographer who is the son of their friends, and she does okay with him -- until she starts talking (I did like that the movie didn't pretend she didn't look like Sandra Bullock, that it was her personality that was off-putting). Then she's so weird that she freaks him out and he comes up with an excuse to end the date. She doesn't pick up on the message and instead decides to follow him around the country to various news events, and the reporter he works with sees her as the key to getting the story that will get him an anchor job, since she's got a weird knack for noticing details and is essentially a walking encyclopedia.

So, we've got two simultaneous road trips from hell and a ton of rather incisive and brilliant satires on the news media. Maybe it's just my TV news background, but I laughed myself silly at a lot of it. I was also a little disturbed by how often I gave a response a split second before Sandra Bullock's character did (I've done way too many crossword puzzles, I guess). I don't think I'm that socially clueless, but I did find myself occasionally identifying with that character.

I'm not saying it's a great movie or one that I'll buy on DVD, but I may watch it again on HBO now that I know what it's really about and can relax about anticipating how they'll ever pull off a romantic happy ending. I do think that if they'd taken that script and those actors and had deliberately done a "who gets to decide what's normal?" movie, it would have been much better and would have had a better reception.

And now I must go do today's New York Times crossword.

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