Thursday, November 26, 2009

A movie that makes me want to hang out with friends--a rare phenomenon

St. Elmo's Fire | dir. Joel Schumacher | rel. 1985

Once in a while, I see a movie that is so obviously flawed, yet so completely endearing and lovable. I withdraw from the film's universe with a big, goofy smile on my face.

St. Elmo's Fire is that movie.

In the same breath, I would also like to point out that I never cared for The Breakfast Club, a film released in the same year as St. Elmo's Fire that, like St. Elmo's Fire, also featured prominent members of the "brat pack," a group of up-and-coming actors from the eighties. I wrote a review for The Breakfast Club several month ago, with the hope of re-reviewing it after I re-watch it with my English class. (The Breakfast Club was used as the cinematic companion piece to The Catcher in the Rye.) Well, my English class certainly loved it.

The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire are very different, despite the fact that they are both prominent "brat pack" movies and share several actors. The former is about high school and the latter is about post-college life. Because of their general classification, they are often compared to each other. The Breakfast Club usually wins the comparison battle.

If you would like to convince me that The Breakfast Club is indeed the greatest high school movie ever made, please feel free. For the time being, I would like to convince you that St. Elmo's Fire is the greatest movie about dumb people ever made.

St. Elmo's Fire is about a group of recent college graduates from Georgetown University. They struggle to come to terms with adult obstacles. Since the writers of this film naturally wondered why these drastically different people would ever be friends, they gave the audience the excuse that the characters really don't remember who met who first and why the hell they are even friends. It is just a fact that we have to accept. Director Joel Schumacher establishes this sense of warmth and trust between the characters that makes their friendships strangely believable.

The seven friends meet at St. Elmo's Bar & Restaurant and discuss their difficult lives. They ponder the meaning of life while they curiously venture into the world that would become their lives.

Alec (Judd Nelson) and Leslie (Ally Sheedy) are the golden couple of the group. Although he is a Democrat, Alec finds a higher-paying job with a Republican senator. Alec hopes that marrying Leslie would finally terminate his unfaithfulness. Leslie doesn't know about Alec's unfaithfulness, but she is still hesitant towards the idea of marriage.

Alec's best friend, Kevin (Andrew McCarthy), is an aspiring journalist without a byline. He's sensitive, yet pessimistic about love. Kevin is secretly in love with Leslie, but holds back his knowledge about Alec's unfaithfulness.

Kevin is roommates with Kirby (Emilio Estevez), who is attending law school. But he's willing to quit law school to become a doctor to impress Dale (Andie MacDowell), an older woman who he has been smitten with since his freshmen year at Georgetown. Kirby forms an almost stalkerish attachment to Dale and surprisingly, Dale doesn't seem to be scared.

Jules (Demi Moore) is the party girl of the group. She has a drug problem and her monthly paychecks aren't enough to fuel her high maintenance lifestyle.

Billy (Rob Lowe) is the frat boy of the group. He has a wife and baby, but he can't keep a job to support them. He plays the saxophone well, but it is a talent he doesn't seriously pursue. He is often irresponsible and unfaithful to his wife.

But Wendy (Mare Winningham), the virgin of the group, has faith in Billy. Wendy comes from a well-to-do family who is eager to see quit her social services job and get married to a good husband. Unfortunately for her family, Wendy has a crush on Billy. In return, Billy has an almost creepy interest in Wendy's virginity.

How do these people know each other? Who cares?

None of these characters are very smart people. But the point is, most young people are not smart. They can cheat on their girlfriends, hoping that marriage would solve all their problems. They can change their political party affiliation to get a higher-paying job. They can fall in love with their best friend's girlfriend. They can be compulsive liars and have drug problems. They can even stalk the woman they claim to love. They can even infatuate over a guy who probably isn't worth it. Or have a weird obsessive interest over their friend's virginity.

What do I know about what people can do and feel?

I do know that St. Elmo's Fire is a wonderfully entertaining movie. It is not a movie that captures realistic situations, but it is a movie that captures realistic emotions. When Kirby finally gets his romantic moment with Dale, I feel for his triumph. Or when Kevin confesses his love to Leslie. Or even in the dramatic scene where Leslie confesses to Alec why she refuses to marry him. I feel for these characters, no matter how inane they are.

I wasn't alive in the eighties, but St. Elmo's Fire epitomized what I knew about the eighties: horrible fashion, obnoxious hair, cheesy music (and what was up with Lowe's dangling earring?). But it was a decade that defined youth as we know it. Although some may credit the fifties for inventing the teenager, MTV, John Hughes, and the brat pack revolutionized what it meant to be a teenager. St. Elmo's Fire explores the aftermath of youth. No one can be angsty forever, yet they just want to hang on.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The truth about an ugly rom-com starring attractive people

The Ugly Truth | dir. Robert Luketic | rel. 2009

Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler are two fairly attractive people, but neither of them have enough charisma or charm to keep the formulaic engine of The Ugly Truth spinning.

The main downfall of The Ugly Truth is that it is too blindly ambitious. It desperately wants to be a cleverly risque romantic comedy. The writers (shockingly composed of three women) must have aspired to re-invent the romantic comedy genre, but that is impossible when they stay so much within the confines of the predictable pitfalls of the genre. What makes The Ugly Truth so offensive is not because its often raunchy and distasteful humor, but how much it wants to be something more than a crowd-pleasing romantic comedy--and how it fails so miserably.

The Ugly Truth never goes beyond what its audience would expect, assuming that the average moviegoer has seen a conventional romantic comedy before, yet it teases its audience that it is breaking barriers by cracking some perverted one-liners. I've seen junior high boys make cleverer sex jokes than the ones in this script. A good adult romantic comedy understands the usefulness of subtlety. Unfortunately, The Ugly Truth is far from good.

Heigl stars as Abby Richter, a control freak workaholic and producer of a local Sacramento morning news show. Ratings are down, so the show hires Mike Chadway (Butler), a misogynist creep who hosts a show called "The Ugly Truth," much to Abby's dismay. Mike is a relationship expert who passes sexist comments as relationship advice. But no matter how insanely offensive Mike is, the ratings for Abby's news show are increasing. People like to watch the outrageous unfold.

Although Abby disapproves of Mike's superficial outlook on love (and of course, lust), Abby seeks Mike's help to snag her the perfect man (Eric Winter).

I have to admit that the film does have a clever set-up that could have worked as a decent television satire, but the writers try so hard to be vulgar and outrageous, like Mike's show, that it's difficult to care about the more human side to the characters. It's a classic battle of the sexes scenario, but boy, has Hollywood seen better days.

The film has an annoyingly perky supporting cast that aren't even worth mentioning because of the unfortunate material they have to work with. None of them are very funny, nor does the script allows them to be very funny. The humor the supporting cast is equipped with are so ridiculously stupid that for the writers to expect its audience to laugh is offensive and demeaning.

The "romance" that eventually blooms between Abby and Mike is not only predictable, but it just doesn't work. Abby realizes that Mike is, deep down, a hopeless romantic and a decent man who wants to be a good role model for his teenage nephew. But does that excuse him from being a frustrating jerk and enforcing every over-the-top male stereotype? And Mike realizes that Abby is actually quite endearing and falls in love with her flaws, but unfortunately, that doesn't make Abby more likable to the audience.

There is no question that Heigl aspires to be the next romantic comedy star, but she doesn't have the "it" quality that is so apparent in Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, and Sandra Bullock. Men might like her because she's easy on the eyes, but she doesn't have the instant approachability that women often seek for in leading ladies. Heigl lacks warmth. And for her, comedy seems to be a relatively unnatural reflex.

Gerard, on the other hand, wants to be in romantic comedies as much as Humphrey Bogart did. But the genre just doesn't fit him. He knows how to let loose, but I don't know if that's enough. And the next time he tries to play an American, he should work on his American accent.

I will admit, I laughed once or twice during The Ugly Truth, but I pitied the film's desire to be so outlandishly different, but so unable to break out of any confine. The only reason that anyone should want to watch such a formulaic movie is because they genuinely want to spend 90 minutes with two likable characters, in hopes that they would fall in love in the end. Abby and Mike do not that fit that bill.

You'll be better off watching The Proposal.

Rating: 3/10

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Want These Things To Happen In My Life

I want...

my younger self to visit me
(This film is so underrated. And I prefer Bruce Willis in non-action genre roles.)

to see my future
(Jennifer Garner is awesome.)

to become my older self in the present
(Is it just me, or does Tom Hanks look kind of pervy in Big? Or just in the movie poster?)

a long-lost twin
(Because I grew up with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen in my life.)
(Because Lindsay Lohan successfully tricked me into thinking that her roles were played by actual twins.)

a body-swapping experience
(Probably not with any of my family members, though)

a "what if" scenario played out in my dream so I could see what could have been
(Every time I watch this movie, I end up on the brink of tears. Thanks for the emotional manipulation, Nicolas Cage & Co.)

another "what if" scenario so I can appreciate my own existence
(Because this movie is as welcoming as a warm fire place and hot chocolate.) matter how sentimental the experience might be.

I haven't seen 17 Again yet, but I kind of want to be my younger self in the present too. Maybe the actual viewing of the film would change my mind.