MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Bride Wars, Marley & Me, Last Chance Harvey, The Reader and Not Easily Broken

Bride Wars(One-and-a-Half Stars)
U.S.; Gary Winick

How‘s this for a fractured high concept: Beauteous best friend brides-to-be turn vicious enemies for the stupidest reasons imaginable, and behave like viciously addled morons for two unfunny hours. Then (SPOILER ALERT FOR NEXT SIX WORDS) everybody makes up and makes nice.I’m not making this up — though I wish I were. In this jaw-dropping fiasco, Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway play Liv and Emma, two lifelong best gal pals, both engaged at 26, whose lifelong dream is to be married at Eloise’s palace, the Plaza Hotel. Suddenly, they become the worst of foes when Candice Bergen — as Marion, supposedly New York City’s classiest, most exclusive wedding manager — mistakenly books their Plaza Hotel weddings, which were supposed to be scheduled for opposite ends of June, on the same day. The third bride, who got the wrong June date, won’t budge, for reasons that weren’t clear to me — everyone was shrieking and pummeling each other in a department store — and I also was mystified that the two best friends, who are set to be each other‘s maids of honor, couldn’t just have a double wedding.

So Liv and Emma both freak out and sadistically sabotage each other for weeks on end: planting phony wedding photos in newspapers, messing up suntans, dying their foe’s hair blue, and even exhibiting soft-core home movies in the most embarrassing possible circumstances.

Why? Although they ultimately act like delinquent school escapees on crack, Liv is actually a high-powered lawyer and Emma a school teacher. So why don’t they take the obvious compromise and have a double wedding? Because then there‘d be no more movie? Because the writers have absolutely no imagination? Probably, though the official explanation is that schoolmarm Emma would feel slighted by sharing.

Inanity piles on inanity. How did Bergen‘s Marion get to be New York‘s classiest wedding impresario manager, when she makes such enormous boo-boos and is unable to correct them? Why are the brides’ buddies and hubbies such do-nothing nebbishes and doofusses through all this? And, when you get down to it, why isn’t a lifelong friendship worth more to them, at first, than the schedules of their Plaza weddings? (Maybe the movie would have worked better if they weren’t friends but lifelong rivals.)

Bride Wars is also a poor title, however close it is to Star Wars. (I suggest “Marrying Monsters” instead.) The movie was directed by Gary Winick, who made a pretty good computer-animated 2006 show out of E. B. White‘s Charlotte’s Web, but fares less well with the alleged human beings here, though. along with his pro technicians, he keeps this movie looking good. (Hathaway and Hudson, who is also the producer, do their bit too.) It was scripted by three credited writers, whom, out of courtesy (or sheer compassion) I won’t name — since their work is as dubious as Marion the Wedding Guru’s. The great science fiction writers Theodore Sturgeon and Damon Knight described what they called an “idiot plot,” as a story which only moves forward only because everyone involved is an idiot. Bride Wars goes a step further. You have to be an idiot to watch it as well.


Marley and Me (Three Stars)
U.S.; David Frankel

I hadn’t been able to get to this movie about newspaper columnist John Grogan, his family and their dog, starring Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and that soulful golden Lab, in its first two weeks, and it certainly doesn’t need my help now. Yes, I cried at the end. Want to make something of it?


Last Chance Harvey (Three Stars)
U.S.; Joel Hopkins

This week‘s good romantic comedy about a wedding is London-born writer-director Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey, in which we see another marriage ceremony, disrupted by bad feelings. This story however makes sense, always an asset, and it’s well-written, directed and acted. We get to watch an expertly handled late-life love story, as interpreted by the masterly little guy Dustin Hoffman and the marvelous and somewhat taller (at least in heels) Emma Thompson, both at the top of their games. It’s not a great movie, or completely original, but a good one, a nice one — and it boasts what I would call a great movie kiss. (Thank you, Dustin and Emma. I hope it was as much fun as it looked.)

Hoffman plays Harvey Shine, a divorced, morose TV jingle writer, whose life and career seem to be falling apart, even as he takes off from the States to attend his daughter’s wedding in London. Thompson is Kate Walker, a good-natured single airport survey worker, with a terrific smile, who lives with her very nervous mother (Eileen Atkins) — who believes she’s in Rear Window. Kate’s love life is a mild disappointment, not helped any by her mum‘s obsessive cell-phone calls during blind dates.

The first part of the movie shows Harvey and Kate‘s first, unpromising meeting (he refuses, rudely, to do her survey) and their repeated near miss almost-encounters later on. It also shows how alienated Harvey is from his family; he apparently behaved badly at another wedding and his daughter Susan (Liane Balaban) has requested that her stepfather Brian (James Brolin) give her away at the ceremony. Kate meanwhile, has to watch her date flirt with a late arrival and is then accosted the next morning by Harvey, who leaves the wedding to fly back to the States and a job emergency — and, when he spots Kate in a restaurant-bar, tries to redeem himself by coming on to her.

The rest of Harvey consists of a Before Sunrise-style walk around the city that works wonderfully — because Hoffman and Thompson are so good together — and the scene we really want to see, Harvey’s return to the wedding party with Kate. The movie teases us throughout. But it never lets us down. And if it has a major flaw, I’d say it’s the fact that we don’t know enough about Kate, whose speech near the end should be longer.

Hopkins’ movie, probably intentionally, has several links to Hoffman’s starmaking 1967 hit The Graduate, where his character, Benjamin Braddock disrupted another wedding. Harvey might well be a Benjamin in winter, and that’s one reason he connects with us. This is the Hoffman we like to see and the Emma Thompson we like to see as well: witty, humane, smart charmers, who may be out of step, but are still a step or two ahead of the rest.


The Reader (Three Stars)
U.K.; Stephen Daldry

Forbidden romance with a Holocaust background, taken from Bernhard Schlink’s novel, intelligenty executed by writer David Hare, director Stephen Daldry and a fine cast. Kate Winslet, in an Oscar-slanted role, plays Hanna, the woman with a secret who seduces a young boy; David Kross and Ralph Fiennes play the boy Michael and the man he becomes. (As characters, I didn‘t like young or old Michael or the choices they made — which becomes a story problem.) Well done, but uninspiring. I haven’t heard any Oscar talk about Lena Olin here, but she has a great cameo.


Not Easily Broken (Two and a Half Stars)
U. S.; Bill Duke

A Christian-themed domestic drama about marital strife and inter-racial seduction, based on a book by superstar evangelist T. D. Jakes — and a better acted, more effective movie than you might expect, thanks mostly to director Bill Duke (whose work I’ve missed since his powerful The Killing Floor) and a fine cast headed by Morris Chestnut and Taraji Henson (Benjamin Button) as a troubled couple whose lives are thrown into turmoil by an accident, Jenifer Lewis as a mouthy mother-in-law, Kevin Hart and Eddie Cibrian as Chestnut’s ball-playing chums, and Maeve Quinlan as a physical therapist with hanky-panky on her mind. It’s nothing new, but Jakes knows how to disguise a sermon and make it engaging.

Read Michael Wilmington’s Top DVDs of 2008: Pineapple Express, Europa and Carmen Jones … plus this week’s box set and more

– Michael Wilmington
January 9, 2009

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon