Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Avoiding the obvious

Avoiding the obvious is so hard, especially when you're writing genre fiction, and tonight I saw two films that made me think about this and want to try harder.

The first was a great film I was seeing for the second time and the other was a really, really disappointing one.

The great one was Blue Valentine.

As a group of young woman said on the way out, "Boy was that a downer!" And it is. Um, what did you expect? The good kind of valentines aren't blue. But it's also pretty wonderful and it never goes the obvious route. While it's about the end of a relationship, it doesn't paint either character as the good guy or the bad guy. I read a review that said that the Ryan Gosling character is the more sympathetic of the two, but I really think it depends on your perspective. I think I related to her side of it more even though she's the one who wants out.

And the screenplay is so smart about how and when we learn things about the couple. Some heartbreaking things. The small miracle of the story, which I didn't really notice until the second viewing, is that while it starts off almost feeling like a character sketch kind of thing, with little vignettes about the two main characters, every detail ends up being important.

But because of the order in which the story is told, nothing seems obvious. There's a moment in this film, near the beginning, where the Ryan Gosling character does something that made me cry both times I saw the movie. He's a mover, new at his job, and they're moving a very elderly man into an old-folks home. His boss tells him to empty the boxes, flatten them and get out of there fast. But he doesn't. Instead he carefully unpacks and thoughtfully organizes the man's possessions so he'll feel slightly at home when he comes in. It's so sweet it made me cry. Twice. And completely defines the character. And we know that the Michelle Williams character is across the hall in her Grandmother's room at the time. And they haven't met yet. So it's not a leap to jump to the conclusion that the plot reason for this scene will be their meeting. And from there assume that his sweet gesture is how he wins the girl over and gets that first date. But that's not what happens. At all. It's just so real and sweet. I don't think she ever finds out what he did... (Instead, she thinks he did something horrible.)

Another thing I noticed on second viewing was a line that seemed like idle conversation the first time. Tonight I realized that it was "the statement of the theme". The screenwriting gurus say that you should state the theme of your movie on page 10 or something... and while this so didn't feel like a movie that followed those kind of rules,  it did follow that one. Ryan Gosling tells his work mates that he thinks men are the real romantics. They act like they don't care about love or settling down, until they meet the right girl, then she's all they want. Whereas women, with all their talk about prince charming make practical choices when it comes to choosing a mate. (That's not exactly, but the gist of what he said.) And it totally sums up the movie... or at least their two characters.

Great movie. Sad. Not a date movie (in spite of the sex). But so well done.

Then, I went to see Country Strong. If you've seen the trailer and, like me, thought it looked great... Stick with the trailer. Whoever edited that trailer together was a genius and made it look like the movie would actually be about something. Whoever wrote the script? Not so much. Trite and predictable and corny and cliched, and although sad stuff happens you don't care. At all. Because you don't care about the characters and the things they do and the choices they make aren't well motivated. I knew the reviews were really bad, but had to see for myself...

Just realized that, in some ways, it tries to be like a sports movie, with the big game at the end... but because there are no character arcs in the story, at all, we don't even care whether she wins the big game gets through the concert at the end. And certainly don't care enough about what happens after...

Love that Garrett Hedlund dude, though. Boy, he can sing to me with that sexy baritone voice anywhere, anytime. Looks mighty fine in a pair of jeans, too.

7 comments:

Molly O'Keefe said...

I can't wait to see Blue Valentine. And while I adore Gwenyth and country music - the whole thing smelled off....

Karen Whiddon said...

LOL on Garrett. I haven't seen the movie but just bought a couple of his songs on ITunes. That voice - OMG!

I'll have to check out Blue Valentine.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Maureen - you're way too far ahead of me in the movie game. I'm STILL trying to get to see Black Swan before someone gives it away...

Maybe this week!

Kwana said...

Thanks for this review. I really want to see Blue Valentine. I had a talk about it on The Loft as to if it was a romance or not because of the sad ending. I thought a romance could be sad. I think if a movie or a book is romantic and shows a love story then it is a romance for me. Others need a HEA. What do you think?

Eileen said...

I think I might be the only person who saw that Country Strong trailer and thought it looked awful. Gwyneth says maybe one line in her fake southern accent and all I could think of was how stupid she sounded.

Blue Valentine is a tough one. I'm not sure I want to watch a relationship come apart, especially if they do it really well.

Sinead M said...

I want to see Blue Valentine... but will have to wait till it comes out in DVD.

But I have heard enough reviews of Country Strong to know that it's not really well written. Just the part about the baby bird seems too obvious, and clunky..

Maureen McGowan said...

Oh, Sinead, the baby bird thing was RIDICULOUS and it didn't even go anywhere. OH, but it didn't need to because it symbolizes her fragility. (Cough, gag.)

So bad. So bad. Really, one of the worst movies I've seen in ages -- and I saw Burlesque. There isn't one clear character ARC. No one even has clear motivations for their actions. (But the dude is hot, especially when he sings.)

BTW. The thing that annoyed me most in Burlesque was a song Cher sang that had no reason for being in the movie... Guess what song won the Golden Globe for best song? Yup. Song for song's sake, not storytelling's sake...

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