Monday, March 28, 2011

Movie Monday: Road Trips

We seem to be having our annual spring cold snap. I've heard the term "Indian summer" used for a warm spell that comes in the fall after it's started to get cool, but is there a term for winter-like cool weather that comes in the spring after it's started to get warm? Saturday, it was in the 80s. I opened windows, turned on fans and spent much of the day pulling weeds and trimming the evil alien vines on my patio. Sunday, the high temperature was 51. I spent much of the day curled up under a blanket with some tea and the latest (and last!) Dick Francis book. It was bliss. This is what I call "writing weather," so I'm hoping to be productive today.

I wasn't that productive over the weekend, aside from Sunday night, when I sat down and wrote ten pages. Saturday night I gave up on trying to focus and was going to watch the Sci Fi Saturday night movie, but ended up with something just as hilariously awful on another channel. Back in December, there was a romantic comedy called How Do You Know starring Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd. In the promo for this movie, somehow it never came up that they'd co-starred in a romantic comedy before. I'd never even heard of this movie, and I read all the movie reviews, so I wonder if it ever got released in any significant way. The movie, called Overnight Delivery, was from 1998, and it's this bizarre combination of The Sure Thing and Better Off Dead. If that combo wasn't intentional, then the filmmakers had seen these movies way too many times and the influence seeped into their subconscious.

Paul Rudd is a college student trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with his high-school girlfriend while he's in school in Minnesota and she's in school in Memphis. He has his whole future with her planned -- marriage, white picket fence, family. But he's getting lonely, with Valentine's Day approaching, and when his roommates tease him about what his girlfriend might really be up to, he calls her. Her roommate answers, and before finding out who the caller is, she launches into a rant about what her roommate has been up to with some guy and there's finally some quiet now that she's out with him. He's devastated by the discovery that his girlfriend's cheating on him and ends up pouring his heart out to a fellow student (a brunette Reese Witherspoon). He wants advice on winning his girlfriend back, but she says what he needs to do is dump her in a pre-emptive strike, before she can dump him and before she knows that he knows what she's been up to. Together, they write a scathing break-up letter, and then she helps him stage a sexy Polaroid of them together. For the finishing touch, they take it to the express delivery drop box. It'll be picked up the next morning, then delivered the following day, which is Valentine's Day. But then the next morning he wakes up to find a message on his answering machine from his girlfriend. She talks about how she's dog sitting and was out walking the dog, which has the name the roommate mentioned. It was all a misunderstanding! In a panic, he begs his partner in crime to help him, and they end up on an epic, disastrous road trip to try to intercept the package or get there before it does. It Happened One Night (or, really, the 80s update The Sure Thing) ensues. If you've ever seen a road trip movie before, you pretty much know exactly what will happen along the way.

The similarities to The Sure Thing are obvious, with the road trip with one girl while heading to see another girl. Then there are touches of bizarre absurdity like in Better Off Dead. Instead of the relentless pursuit by the paperboy, there's the Terminator-like relentlessness of the delivery driver who has the package. He's a rookie on his first solo run, and he's convinced that their attempts to retrieve the package are a final test, so he's determined to deliver that particular package if it's the last thing he does. The reason they don't just fly and that the express packages aren't flown comes from another bizarre fit of absurdity that seems to come out of nowhere. I mentioned when talking about How Do You Know that Paul Rudd does some of the best meltdown freakouts in the business, and he got plenty of practice in this movie because he spends most of the movie in that state. I was rather impressed by Reese Witherspoon because she was playing a character totally unlike any other role I've seen her in. She really doesn't have a standard "type" she plays. Even her romantic comedy roles are all different. This was a pretty awful movie, but it was good for a mindless Saturday night in front of the TV. I think I'd have been disgusted if I'd paid to see it in a theater, but for a Saturday night with nothing else on TV, it was kind of fun.

But this did make me wonder where the line comes between expectations and cliches. Yes, the same sorts of things happen in every movie of this type, but there's not a lot of room to maneuver without disappointing the audience. Of course the travelers have to be opposites who disagree on things because there wouldn't be much of a story if they got along perfectly and spent the trip singing to the radio together or discussing their favorite movies. Of course disasters have to happen, getting worse as the story progresses, until they reach the point where they have no money, they've lost their luggage and they've lost their transportation and are in the middle of nowhere with only hours to go before their deadline. It would be a boring story if they just drove across country, stopping every so often for food and gas. And you pretty much expect the travelers to end up together because it would feel like a letdown if you'd spent so much time watching them face adversity together, only to have them part at the end.

Though I suppose you might be able to get away with having them turn out to be kindred spirits who get along perfectly if you've got some external conflict, like their rental car was last rented by someone the mob was chasing, and the mob thinks something crucial is hidden in it. And then the fact that they do get along so well might end up creating internal conflict if one of them is actually involved with someone else and finding the perfect person really complicates matters. There are probably more disasters and different kinds of disasters than the standard ones that seem to come up over and over again in these kinds of movies. I do have to give this one credit for avoiding the "We can only afford one hotel room, and there's only one bed! Whatever shall we do?" scenario or the related scenario of having to pretend to be married to each other to get that hotel room.

Yikes. Now I want to try to write a road trip story, just to see if I could get away with doing it differently. I'd have to figure out a way to add magic, though.

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