Posts Tagged ‘Bride Wars’

Frenzy on the Wall: Anne Hathaway is a Great Actress … Right?

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

“Anne Hathaway is a great actress.”
“Is she, though?”

Both speakers in that conversation are me. This was the dialogue I was having with myself as I watched Hathaway on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. She was so effortlessly charismatic, her timing excellent, and her presence inviting. Whether she was playing a hillbilly waiting in line at MegaMart or a very frightened Kate Middleton, she seemed at ease getting into the skin of many varied characters. She, like Justin Timberlake, was one of the rare guest hosts who I could see being a regular cast member (provided, of course, she wanted to take a huge step back career-wise and make far less money).

I found myself thinking that it should have been obvious how good she would be (and she was excellent last time she hosted too) based on how talented she is. Then I started to think of all the great performances she had given.

That’s where I ran into a bit if a problem. I rushed onto IMDb and found that, despite the universal praise for her acting skills, she has given only one unquestionably great performance – Rachel Getting Married – and a whole lot of forgettable or passable or pretty good ones. Have we all been brainwashed by some kind of massive conspiracy plotted by a team of publicists and journalists into believing that Hathaway was the next Meryl Streep?

Let’s look at the evidence.

Hathaway burst onto the scene with The Princess Diaries, a film that is admittedly not aimed at me. However, I thought that she was pretty good, considering the material. Although I don’t really know how much of that performance is due to good acting and how much is simply due to the fact that, as we’ve already covered, she’s immensely likable and charismatic. She has something that is completely separate from any kind of talent – she has a face that we trust and like and she projects warmth as a human being, especially in interviews. So I’m inclined to believe that her portrayal of Mia Thermopolis is really the result of her being a performer we like rather than one who is truly crafting something special.

I never saw The Other Side of Heaven, but I’m fairly certain that if she set the world on fire with that one, I would have watched it by now. Her next film is Nicholas Nickleby, the adaptation of the Dickens novel. I thought the film was passable and utterly unmemorable. In fact, I remember very little about it – including Hathaway’s performance. I would fault the filmmakers more than Hathaway for that, however, because as we’ve already established – Hathaway is memorable. To somehow take a performer like her and have her not make much of an impression is a shame. But I do like that Hathaway was attempting to make a “prestige” film, so points to her for that.

Next we have the one-two punch of Ella Enchanted and The Princess Diaries 2. If anything, these two films proved that Hathaway had officially outgrown films aimed at people under thirteen. Once again, she gets by on her luminosity and smile rather than finding an interesting character in a complex film and then making complicated choices once on set. Because these films are aimed at younger folks, they have characters that aren’t particularly well-drawn and Hathaway doesn’t add that much performance-wise that another performer that was equally charismatic wouldn’t have. In other words, she was coasting.

After that, we have Havoc, in which Hathaway wanted to show exactly how grown up she was. Unfortunately for her, the film was utterly awful and sadly, she was terrible in it. She was not convincing as this damaged character, unable to really make me believe that she was as troubled as she’s supposed to be. And the script doesn’t do her any favors, with lines like “We’re teenagers and we’re bored.” I doubt any actor could say those lines and make them sound right. I admire the fact that Hathaway attempted something that would be a complete 180 for what she had been known for, but she was flat, stilted, and mannered. I saw the wheels spinning the whole time.

With Brokeback Mountain, she had finally picked a winner. It’s a terrific film and while she’s good in it, she is absolutely blown off the screen by Jake Gyllenhaal (who seemed much more focused), Heath Ledger, and Michelle Williams. I thought Hathaway got the part right mostly, although I think she went over the top a few times, whereas the rest of the cast underplayed – making her stand out a bit more, for the wrong reasons. But she was passable and I think the rest of the cast just seemed a lot more comfortable with that kind of material that she was venturing into for the first time.

Then we have The Devil Wears Prada, a choice that I can’t fault because it gave her the opportunity to work with Meryl Streep. A lot of people point to this film as Hathaway’s coming-out party because it was such a massive hit. Unfortunately, she is completely overshadowed by Emily Blunt and – of course – Meryl Streep. So she’s working primarily with two performers who steal every scene from her and, as a result, make her seem like the least interesting character in her own movie.

A good deal of the problem rests with the character herself, who is not pleasant to be around, but Hathaway plays her in such a whiny way that I found myself siding with Streep’s character way more than was intended. I didn’t understand why this snotty girl stuck around if she thought the work she was doing was so beneath her. I found her arrogant, stuck-up, and pouty. It was the first time I had seen Hathaway lose her charms and play a character who was utterly unlikable.

Next was Becoming Jane, which I think I remember as being fine, but truthfully it’s a blur in my head. I remember walking out of the theater and thinking that she had redeemed herself partially, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the performance. At this point in Hathaway’s career, I was certainly not a fan.

Her role in Get Smart didn’t make me jump on the bandwagon either. But I thought it was actually an interesting step in the right direction for her. She had found a character that was sexy and in control and she seemed very much at ease in that role, while able to bring back her charisma and likability and winning smile. Her chemistry with Steve Carell was good and I believe in her character. She wasn’t aiming very high in that one, but at least she hit the mark.

Okay, then comes Rachel Getting Married, where for the first time I felt like I “got it” with Anne Hathaway. She was playing a character that was dark, tortured, beaten up and beaten down and supposed to be putting on a happy face for her sister’s wedding. This is the stuff that drama – and great acting – is made of: putting characters in a combustible situation in which outward actions belie inner emotions. It’s also the type of role that needs to be played expertly or else the entire film falls apart under the weight of that failure. Hathaway hit it out of the damn park, taking the audience on a whirlwind of tumult with a biting wit to help us ride out the bumps.

Other actors shine – notably Bill Irwin and Debra Winger – but none brighter than Hathaway. I walked out of the movie believing that Hathaway would win the Oscar that year and I’m pretty surprised that she didn’t. Either way, I could finally see that not only was Hathaway charismatic but she had greatness in her.

And then she does the following: Passengers, Bride Wars, and Valentine’s Day. I don’t think I can express to you how awful all three of those movies are. Granted, the last one she’s not in for more than twenty minutes and she’s actually pretty charming in it and the first one just seemed like it got mangled somewhere in production, but Bride Wars is just inexcusable. I suppose I can’t begrudge actors for trying to get paid, but why that movie?

With the other films, I could understand that it might be about the opportunity to work with a certain actor or director, but was Hathaway’s desire to work with Kate Hudson so great that she would lower herself to those depths of idiocy? I mean, that movie just flat-out doesn’t work. It’s a film that purports that all women want is a fancy wedding at a certain place and they are so persnickety and self-centered that they can’t even allow their friendships to alter their plans. It boggles my mind how Hathaway could stoop to this. I can’t even judge her performance in it because I spent the entire time screaming at the screen, “Why are you doing this?!” (Note: not literally.)

Earlier this year she played the White Queen in Tim Burton’s useless remake of Alice in Wonderland and she was fine in it. The movie was boring and silly, but she got to work with Depp and Burton, so all is forgiven.

Love and Other Drugs comes out this week and I really need for it to be good. More than that, though, I need Hathaway to pick projects worthy of her talents. It’s all well and good to have a fun time at work, doing projects that don’t make you miserable, but the best actors and actresses – I’m thinking Daniel Day Lewis and Kate Winslet, among others – do indeed make themselves mad playing certain characters. Acting is an art form and if I’m to believe that Hathaway is a talent worthy of calling great, I need to see evidence that she believes it’s an art form as well.

While it’s possible that she is the great actress of her generation, the evidence sadly isn’t there to support that. I think she’s got all the talent in the world, but until she starts consistently picking better projects and difficult roles, I can’t put her in that upper echelon. Here’s hoping Love and Other Drugs gets her closer.

Frenzy on the Wall: A Sad State of Affairs

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Let me start by saying that I didn’t see Life as We Know It because I’ve already seen it. Chances are you’ve seen it too. Based on the premise and the trailer, I’m fairly confident that I could predict every beat in that film. Not only do I know everything that will happen in it, I’m pretty sure I can predict how the actors will say their lines, when the music will reach a crescendo, when a montage will occur, and how it will be shot and edited. This is the nature of romantic comedies today; no innovation, just re-purposing old tricks that have worked well in the past. It is the one genre where it seems like nobody has any interest in creating art.

Look at Katherine Heigl’s filmography over the past four or five years and you’ll see that it is littered with nothing but romantic comedies. And, other than Knocked Up, there isn’t a single decent one. It’s not just that she’s in films that are unoriginal and uninspiring, but that the characters she generally plays is the same: uptight, hard-working, no sense of humor, shrill, etc.

Frankly, she’s playing a very specific female stereotype and it’s difficult for me to see her movies as particularly empowering to women when all of them involve her not finding happiness until she finds love with a man who is usually irresponsible or loutish or a murderer (as in Killers). So, the message of these movies – like The Ugly Truth, 27 Dresses and yes, even Knocked Up – is that if you’re a hard-working and mature woman in your late 20s or early 30s, then just loosen the fuck up and lower your standards already!

How many films have we seen that follow this pattern in the last few years? Hollywood continues to churn out romantic comedies with the same theme. I just find it fascinating that in all of these films it’s the woman who has to be the one to lower her standards in some way. Look at She’s Out of My League; hell, it’s in the title! She’s a wonderful, beautiful woman and she falls for an unattractive, fumbling man because he makes her laugh with his awkwardness? Yeah, sorry, I don’t think that relationship’s going to last a long time.

There’s a strange kind of propaganda with these films about marriage. Every film like this ends with a proposal, a wedding, a flash-forward to a point where they are already married, etc. It’s bizarre to think that there can’t be a romantic comedy that doesn’t end with the leads either getting married or having children. It’s even more bizarre to think that in this day and age we can’t have a romantic comedy that ends with our leads single. Sometimes in life, avoiding a relationship is the smartest move one can make, so why can’t we have a film that shows us that?

Know what would have been a perfect film to show us that? Sex and the City 1 or 2. I will always be disappointed in the way that show unfolded to the point where four self-reliant single women all became dependent on rich men for their happiness. When the show ended with each woman involved in committed relationships, I was aghast that an HBO show didn’t have the balls to follow through on its initial premise and have at least one of the women remaining single and fabulous.

They compounded that mistake in the first film by having Carrie actually get married, then realized that they had to find a way to extricate Samantha from her relationship so that future films wouldn’t be about four married women. Still, in the sequel, we have four happy women and so the filmmakers have to create things for the characters to do that we might find interesting; they painted themselves into a corner. So instead of giving us a narrative we find compelling, instead we get two and a half hours of Sarah Jessica Parker wearing different outfits! I understand fashion is a big part of the show and the films, but I’m willing to bet most people aren’t going to the movies to see women in their 40s try on different outfits.

But women love shopping, right? That’s what Hollywood has taught us, which is why we get a scene of women going to boutiques and trying on clothes in every other romantic comedy. I can think of one time when it worked well: Pretty Woman. It was an empowering moment for Julia Roberts in that film because she had been denied the opportunity by those snobby women earlier in the movie. In most “shopping” scenes since then, it just feels contrived.

The reason people went nuts for 500 Days of Summer last year was the fact that for once there were real people doing semi-realistic things that couples actually do. But even that film couldn’t help itself and had the happy ending and the scene where he quits his job with a big speech in front of a board room full of co-workers. Still, at least that film was attempting something different. Same goes for Adventureland. But these are films about a younger generation, so there is no marriage on the horizon and we can assume that they are young enough that these relationships might not last a lifetime.

Know what my favorite romantic comedy of the last year or so has been? Drew Barrymore’s Whip It. I’m not quite sure that I would call it a romantic comedy, although there are definitely scenes of romance and it is definitely a comedy. I don’t think that film got enough credit for what it accomplished: it gave us an empowered young female who realizes she might be getting played by her boyfriend and instead of forgiving him or believing his (possibly legitimate) excuse, she just kisses him and walks away. She’s a strong, independent woman who has bigger dreams (and nightmares) in her life than some dude who may or may not be in love with her. I was surprised because it went in a direction I did not expect, which is so rare for movies in general these days and especially for movies like that one.

Films like The Proposal, He’s Just Not That into You, It’s Complicated, Bride Wars, etc. I just don’t understand why anyone is seeing them. I keep hearing over and over that it’s because they are “fantasies.” But fantasies are supposed to be empowering or exciting; they are supposed to show us that we can lead lives that are different from our own. A true “fantasy” is something that most mere mortals cannot attain, so I don’t understand how getting engaged or married or having a child is a fantasy when it’s completely within the realm of possibility for most people.

I could see how Eat, Pray, Love could be considered a fantasy since most people don’t have the means or courage to do what Julia Roberts’ character does in that film. Although, again, her journey is not complete until she finds a man of course!

Look, I’ve written a lot about romantic comedies in this column and it’s because it’s one of my favorite genres. I complain only because I love. I mean, the films of Eric Rohmer are mostly romantic comedies, but they have almost no resemblance to what America has produced in the last twenty years. There is no risk-taking with romantic comedies these days. Look at Annie Hall, a film that is hailed as one of the greatest films in the genre; spoiler alert, Alvy Singer doesn’t get the girl in the end. How about Billy Wilder’s The Apartment? That film deals with suicide and adultery. Doubtful we’d find those two topics in romantic comedies made fifty years later.

One of my favorite romantic comedies of all-time (and indeed one of my personal favorite films of all-time), something I watched with my mother when I was growing up countless times, is a film called Seems Like Old Times. Neil Simon wrote it and it stars Goldie Hawn. She’s a lawyer who represents small-time crooks who are mostly illegal aliens. She’s married to the District Attorney (played by Charles Grodin) and her ex-husband (Chevy Chase) is a writer who is on the run for as crime he didn’t commit. It’s a complicated film that deals with complex emotional issues, but does so in a hilarious screwball way. Hawn also gets to play a woman who is never shrill, always accommodating and yet she’s tough, but sweet. She’s, you know, an actual person.

The craziest part is that Goldie Hawn is actually stuck trying to choose between two men she loves very deeply. As an audience, our allegiance shifts constantly and we don’t know how it will end or who she will end up with. Then, in a stroke of brilliance, the film ends on a moment of ambiguity. Can you imagine? Ambiguity at the end of a romantic comedy? I just need to say something I almost never say: when it comes to romantic comedies, they really don’t make them like they used to.

Wilmington on DVDs: Nothing But the Truth, Johnny Got His Gun, In the Realm of the Senses and more…

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009


Nothing But the Truth” (Three Stars)
U. S. Rod Lurie, 2008 (Sony)

The most effective of writer-director (and ex-movie critic) Rod Lurie’s political melodramas (more…)

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

Friday, January 9th, 2009

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. (more…)