Love and Other Drugs: Like Morning Glory, Edward Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs qualifies as a triumph within the low, low standards of the studio romantic comedy (and unlike Morning Glory, it’s actually a romantic comedy of sorts, not a comedy with romcom elements grafted in pointlessly), but a letdown to anyone looking for a movie transcending formula, or at least executing it with precision. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a floundering pharmaceutical rep who hooks up—first for sex, and eventually for more—with Anne Hathaway playing a Parkinson’s patient. Gyllenhaal, callow and fast-talking, and Hathaway, prickly and faux-cynical, have a tentative, smart (and nicely immodest! By which I mean they are naked a lot!) rapport; they’re almost able to compete with Gyllenhaal’s pharm-sales subplot holding far more inherent interest than yet another love story that changes everyone’s lives forever. But while the movie’s mixture of sales-world competition, sincere disease drama, and slapsticky sex comedy has a certain anti-formulaic kick, formula is exactly where Zwick and company head when they’re not sure how to end things. Gyllenhaal shows peak leading-man confidence, but Hathaway still lacks that McAdams-style spark; she’s a diligent, likable, believable actor, but outside of her stinging portrait in Rachel Getting Married (and, actually, her brief, wonderfully bizarre turn in the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland), not an inspired one. She’s heartfelt, but for such a free spirit, a little safe and scripted.
It doesn’t help, though, that her Maggie lives in convenient isolation; ostensibly she doesn’t want Gyllenhaal’s Jamie meeting her friends, but it seems more like the screenplay doesn’t want any characters cluttering up her purpose as Jamie’s salvation. Strange, then, and frustrating, that the writers have no trouble giving Jamie a vulgar older brother (Josh Gad) who stops every scene cold for broad, clammy reiterations of Jonah Hill shtick. Also: a small thing, but this 1996-set story fudges era details like crazy, folding together songs, cultural touchstones, and events from a ten-year span into an all-purpose 90s a la The Wedding Singer; you’d think a couple of former My So-Called Life staffers would have better 90s recall.
Faster: I can’t believe that neither Faster nor Burlesque will have a chance to play at a drive-in. Wait, do drive-ins in parts of the country without much winter stay open all year long? Good lord, they do! Although apparently they don’t necessarily play Faster or Burlesque. Fair enough. Anyway, The Rock returns to ass-kicking in this revenge movie which would probably be way more fun if he was getting revenge on everyone involved with The Tooth Fairy and The Game Plan. I’m just spitballing here based on the fact that Faster is not very much fun at all; it wants to be a straight-up badass revenge thriller, and though George Tillman, Jr., shoots his minimal action (lots of staring and shooting and staring) coherently and stylishly, the movie interprets this mission to mean brooding, and lots of it. Yes, rather than letting the Rock attack motherfuckers three at a time with his bare hands or maybe a two-by-four, the filmmakers hired the Rock to brood, power-walk, and shoot people in the head. I know a lot of people have the idea that shooting guns is just inherently cinematic, but I’m sorry, I need more. I’m sure the screenwriters can cite lots of gnarly 70s revenge pictures that inspired them, but Tarantino already re-pulped that sort of material for Kill Bill, which Faster resembles in its broad outlines (The Rock gets out of prison, rather than a coma, but he was left for dead and has a deathlist with family-related grudges). Billy Bob Thornton brings in some weary empathy as a dirty cop on The Rock’s tail, but the movie is too caught up in its simplistic and hypocritical ideas about vengeance to make much use of it.
Tangled: Almost everyone I know hates the trailer for this movie, and with good cause as it utilizes a Pink song and some bad tagline punctuation in a manner befitting DreamWorks Animation or worse. But lots of people who have seen the newest non-Pixar Disney cartoon seem to like it, and my hopeless affinity for Mandy Moore, who does voiceover work (and singing!) as this contemporized (but still fairy-tale-set) version of Rapunzel, assures my interest. But the kids whose desire to see last year’s retro-adorable Princess and the Frog couldn’t match their interest in, say, Madagascar 2? I’m not so sure about them. I wonder if there might be some weird reaction against Tangled apparently being at least a semi-musical, as DreamWorks has decreed that final-scene full-cast dance-alongs to incredibly cheesy pop songs are way, way cooler than characters breaking into a song that has something to do with the movie’s story—or maybe this technique has become so ubiquitous that it’s safe for cartoons to try singing again.
Burlesque: Speaking of singing cartoons, why, it’s Cher and Christina Aguilera (may I continue to call her Xtina like it’s still 2001 or whenever that happened? Don’t mind if I do!). In no way does backstage musical Burlesque look like a “good” movie, especially when you consider it stars at least two first-time actors: Xtina, and the parts of Cher’s face that weren’t there last time she appeared in a movie. But I’m happy that someone has, however cautiously, decided to make a non-Broadway non-cartoon original-by-which-I-mean-probably-entirely-composed-of-parts-of-other-bad-movies movie musical, even if it’s of the non-integrated variety (in the sense of characters not bursting into song when offstage, although I’m sure Burlesque will look plenty non-integrated in the racial-makeup-of-Los-Angeles way, too).
The King’s Speech: Take your Weinstein medicine! They want to win more Oscars! It gives them their evil powers somehow! The title The King’s Speech makes this movie sound forty percent fustier than it probably is, being set in the 20th century and all, but the prospect of Colin Firth learning to overcome his speaking difficulties and address a crowd with the help of Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter sounds so Weinsteiny and Oscar-y that I may never see it out of residual Chocolat spite.