Published on: August 28, 2015
Last weekend, I saw two movies that vividly illustrate the fact that it is incredibly difficult to make a good romantic comedy these days. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it is because we live in a technological world where romance sometimes seems hard to find, and where comedy more often is harsh, not romantic. And maybe it is because filmmakers take more easily to movies with explosions and action sequences than those with real emotions and characters.
The one that hurt the most was She's Funny That Way
, a movie by famed movie director Peter Bogdanovich that is meant to emulate the screwball comedies of the 1930s. The setup is that the director of a new Broadway play (Owen Wilson) also has a thing for prostitutes, though after sleeping with them he likes to give them enough money to start a new life. When he sleeps with a Brooklyn hooker (played by British actress Imogen Poots, affecting a really bad accent), the next day he finds her auditioning for his new play, and acting across from his wife. From there, there are an enormous number of coincidental and not-so-coincidental encounters, as the director's life spins out of control.
The problem is that the script is lame, the acting mostly hammy and the direction uninspired - not a great combination. What made it hard to watch was my memories of Bogdanovich as one of the mid-seventies most impressive directors, with films such as The Last Picture Show
, Paper Moon
and What's Up, Doc?
to his credit ... since then, his directing output has been uneven at best, and he's worked more as an actor in other people's projects (most notably as Dr. Elliott Kupferberg in "The Sopranos"). Bogdanovich also remains one of his generation's foremost film scholars, but in She's Funny That Way
, that knowledge does not transfer to making a movie with any panache at all.
The other film was less disappointing, if only because I had fewer expectations. In Some Kind of Beautiful
Pierce Brosnan plays a libidinous Cambridge professor who gets his college student girlfriend (Jessica Alba) pregnant, and then marries her and moves to Los Angeles to raise their child together. For all sorts of reasons, their marriage disintegrates, and Brosnan's character finds himself attracted to his wife's sister, dealing with alcohol issues and facing the immigration authorities all at the same time ... which is meant to be funny but isn't.
The shame of this one is that the filmmakers could've made a different kind of movie of they've focused more on the relationship that actually provides the emotional core of the movie, as Brosnan's professor finds himself completely captivated by his young son, in a way that he never expected since he had a more tumultuous relationship with his own father (played by Malcolm McDowell). If the love story had been more about fathers and sons, and what the definition of being a man is, it would've been a much different movie ... and, I suspect, a better one.
Two final points on this. As I sat down to write this, I found myself unable to remember which movie was which. Their titles are almost completely interchangeable - vanilla, vague, non-specific, of the sort that used to be featured on Matthew McConaughey movies (before his recreated his career).
My daughter, Allison, also had an interesting take on the state of the romantic comedy - that it takes movies like Trainwreck
to break through, simply because it has such an unusual perspective on the form. I agree with her on that ... though I'd point out that my idea of a romantic comedy is one that I can watch with my kids, and I'm really glad I didn't see Trainwreck
with her. Funny, original movie ... but not one, in my view, that was suitable for father-daughter viewing.
On a somewhat happier note, we were sitting around the kitchen last Saturday night talking about best sports movies, and my son, Brian, threw out Happy Gilmore
... and I had to admit that I've never seen it. (I generally hate Adam Sandler movies.) He was shocked by this hole in my cultural knowledge, and so we sat down, rented it on iTunes, and watched it.
I must admit, I laughed at much of it. The supporting cast is terrific - I loved Carl Weathers, Christopher McDonald, Bob Barker and even Richard Kiel ... an eclectic cast if I've ever seen one. I thought Julie Bowen seemed impossibly young - she's a favorite actress of mine, but I have to admit I didn't even recognize her at first. But, in the end, I thought that Sandler was Sandler ... this was relatively early in his career, so the act hadn't gotten old yet, but it is all pretty recognizable.
At the end, my son made an interesting observation - that Sandler's lousy recent movies actually make his older movies seem less funny, because he keeps mining the same basic material over and over.
I was glad I saw it, but only because I need to fill the gaps in my education. I won't need to watch it again.