Your Weekend Swinging with Couples at the Movies

10/09/2009 8:21 AM |

Couples, Swingers, your film editor does not honestly see the difference, this was almost an Ice Storm poster actually.
  • Couples, Swingers, your film editor does not honestly see the difference, this was almost an Ice Storm poster actually.

Couples Retreat: And the domestication of Vince Vaughn continues unabated. Since his reinvention as a mainstream comedy star with Old School, Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers, Vaughn has shown a taste for putting himself into less anarchic (though not always less antic) situations with movies about coupledom (The Break-Up; Four Christmases), Christmas (Fred Claus; Four Christmases), and family (Four Christmases; hey, maybe the problem is just Four Christmases). Of course, most of those movies made money, and so probably will Couples Retreat, in which he plays a dude on a therapy-laden vacation with his wife (Malin Akerman) and three other couples. Maybe that’s just where Vaughn’s head is at, but rare is the comedian who can fuse his schtick with husband-and-father routines without sitcommy results. Casting-wise, though, this at least bears some resemblance to Vaughn’s better movies; his Swingers/Made buddy Jon Favreau co-stars and did the first draft of the script (Vaughn himself handled a later one as Favreau had to begin work on Iron Man 2), and Jason Bateman, Kristin Bell, and hilarious Brit Peter Serafinowicz also appear. Two more minuses, though: (1.) the trailer is heavier on mild chuckles than real laughs; aren’t these movies supposed to blow some big jokes in their ads? Does this movie just not have any to blow? (2.) In said trailer, Vaughn has some mild line making fun of his buddy Faizon Love for dating a chick half his age. But the movie pairs Vaughn (actual age: 39) with Akerman (actual age: 31) and Bateman (actual age: 40) with Bell (actual age: 29, and could pass for teenage as recently as a couple of years ago). IMDB doesn’t give the age of Kali Hawk, the actress paired with Love, but her credits go back more than a decade, so she’s probably not more than a few years younger than Bell or Akerman. A small detail, but not promising for a movie that will probably attempt to have some kind of roots in actual relationships.

An Education: I suspect this movie, based on a memoir and adapted by novelist Nick Hornby and director Lone Scherfig, will fit all too easily into the hype/backlash cycle afforded to most critically praised movies, which is too bad, as its low-key charms aren’t especially well-suited for either. Relative newcomer Carey Mulligan plays Jenny, a precocious sixteen-year-old studying for her destiny at Oxford under the watchful eye of her taskmaster father (Alfred Molina). An older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) enters her life and gives her a glimpse of a sophisticated, jet-setting lifestyle, and that’s just about it. Like the recent Whip It, An Education is predictable in its plot outline but surprisingly grounded and sensitive in its character-driven particulars; Jenny and her father have a contentious relationship, but it never overflows into melodrama. Similarly, though the audience knows that a thirtysomething cruising for teenagers cannot be up to much good, Sarsgaard has an expert way of parceling out his (formidable) creepiness subtly and slowly. It’s too early to tell whether Mulligan just happens to be a precocious charmer like her character, but her performance here is lovely, with readable wide-eyed reaction shots reminiscent of Linda Cardellini on Freaks and Greeks. So: if you dig coming-of-age stories and/or early-sixties Britain, you should check this movie out before it gets overhyped and/or underrated.

The Damned United: In most movies, Michael Sheen is content to play werewolves or miscellaneous supporting parts. But if it’s written by Peter Morgan, Sheen will suddenly vault above the title and turn into a goddamned movie star mega-actor superstud: The Queen, Frost/Nixon, and now The Damned United, which takes him out of politics but not away from real-life characters to play football (soccer) coach Brian Clough. Sheen playing a real guy pretty much guarantees that the movie will have merit, and focusing on the coach means that the filmmakers won’t have to deal with how to film soccer games properly (notice how often soccer movies make everything boil down to a penalty kick?).

St. Trinian’s: One more British romp this week, maybe hoping to catch audiences sold out of An Education or Damned Unitedor maybe secretly hoping to be overlooked entirely. I’d scarcely heard of this rebellious-girls-school movie until a bizarre trailer alerted me to its existence right before I saw Post-Grad. It apparently came out in England in ’07, with a motley crew of a cast including Rupert Everett, apparently double-cast as a brother and sister; Russell Brand; that Strawberry Fields lady from Quantum of Solace; the other Capote; U.K. film industry mascot Colin Firth; and Mischa Barton. As herself, I assume and will not be told otherwise.

Bronson: This is not, in fact, an animated adventure of the Simpsons version of Charles Bronson. Man, that would rule. This is loosely based on a real guy who went to prison as a young man, and develops some kind of alternate violent-sociopath personality, gaining notoriety (and many additional prison years) for his in-prison crimes. According to IMDB, Jason Statham was originally going to do this, which would’ve increased my interest in a prison movie roughly a million percent. Just FYI, filmmakers, I never watched Oz or the prison movie Steve Buscemi directed, so your movie minus Statham isn’t gonna turn up at the front of that particular line.

Good Hair: I’m sure Chris Rock’s documentary about African-American women and their hair is amusing and fun, but it does seem a little like low-budge celeb-produced documentaries are the new adopted orphan children: basically noble but undercut a little by their ubiquity. Still, I bet Rock has fun interviewing a bunch of ladies.