Your Unsubtle Weekend at the Movies

09/16/2011 8:55 AM |

Drive, Ryan, drive.
  • Drive, Ryan, drive.

Drive: I feel like at this point, movie nerds across the land have pinned most if not all of their hopes for unpretentious, well-crafted action-thriller badassery onto this one stylish-looking movie. Basically, they feel about this movie the same way I do every time Jason Statham appears in something (basically, they live more rational but also slightly sadder lives than I do). I don’t know what’s going to happen if this movie disappoints people. But so far that doesn’t seem to be the case; the smart set is finally getting their own Transporter. It looks like it also sticks with my Preferred Gosling: the one who doesn’t appear to work so damn hard to seem raw and real and devastating (I know, you all adore Blue Valentine, but I also saw The United States of Leland, and also Blue Valentine isn’t that good [I and former L critic Benjamin Strong agree with you, and for similar reasons. So does Miriam Bale, she told me so herself! -Ed.]). Movie Star Gosling has, so far, been the best thing about movies like The Notebook or Crazy, Stupid, Love; maybe Drive will fuse his actorly chops and movie-star charisma.

Based on the novel by Anthony Lanes wife.
  • Based on the novel by Anthony Lane’s wife.

I Don’t Know How She Does It: What do Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Christina Hendricks, Kelsey Grammar, Seth Meyers, Jane Curtin, Olivia Munn, Busy Phillips have in common, besides appearing in this film? Television! Granted, counting Brosnan’s Remington Steele or Kinnear’s Talk Soup might be extending the statute of limitations on “TV actor” further back than most movie stars would feel comfortable, but the collective television experience of this ensemble is truly impressive, ranging from Emmy-winning dramas, various hosting and hostessing duties, long-running comedies, and several eras of Saturday Night Live.

Odd, then, that the MVP of this middling, boilerplate can-you-have-it-all dramedy is Munn, maybe the least experienced of the bunch, playing Sarah Jessica Parker’s frowny, put-together assistant, looking askance at her somewhat frazzled boss. SJP herself makes a return to likability after the cutesy, pun-addled entitlement of those Sex and the City movies, but likability is all she gets; her character here is a symbol of working mothers, not an actual person. Maybe her work-family juggling act would have more resonance if the movie could commit to the idea, vaguely floated early on but then more or less dismissed, that her family actually needs incomes from her and husband Greg Kinnear to survive. But SJP’s character works at a demanding finance job, which makes any financial straits seem increasingly unlikely as the movie goes on. Like so many movies written by Aline Brosh McKenna, this one is careful to present any real-life dilemmas nestled gently in a bed of wish-fulfillment and assurance that yes, you kinda sorta can have it all! Sometimes you’ll just have to rush around or be firm with your boss! No big deal!

Restless: Over the last few years, some of the most prolific aughts-era directors—Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg—who seemed like they might continue making a movie every year or so indefinitely have hit the brakes (or, in Soderbergh’s case, announced plans to, presumably so people like me can savor his last four movies which will presumably be released within about five months of each other) have slowed their output considerably. Gus Van Sant has never made movies quite at the same rate as those guys at their most prodigious, but from 1997’s Good Will Hunting to 2008’s Milk, he did manage a solid eight movies in eleven years, and the three-year gap between the Oscar-winning Milk and his new movie Restless was uncharacteristically lengthy, especially given the apparent smallness of the latter, which is about a sad boy (Henry Hopper) falling in love with a sad girl (Mia Wasikowska). I love Van Sant’s so-called death trilogy (Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days), but I was less taken with his too-similar-yet-not-as-great Paranoid Park, so if Restless is a dreamy youth story with a dash more of that mainstreamy Good Will Hunting vibe, I won’t mind as much as I should; I’ll just be thankful for the change of pace. It’ll also probably help to have a female character front and center; those other forays into floaty, doomy long takes had a distinctly male bent, albeit a sensitive one. If Restless does have a tone similar to those first four without quite matching the power of the first three, I may start devising bizarre analogies about the way Kevin Smith’s original “Jersey Trilogy” was expanded to five and how Paranoid Park and Restless are the Dogma/Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back of Van Sant’s career, and then someone will point out that Van Sant appears in a Good Will Hunting 2 gag in Jay and Silent Bob, and everyone’s minds will be sufficiently blown.

Straw Dogs: As long as James Marsden is taking old Dustin Hoffman parts, maybe Hoffman can play Cyclops in some kind of X-Men: Last Class movie yet to be written or even pitched. In the meantime, you may question the wisdom of remaking Straw Dogs as what appears to be more of a deranged-hillbilly thriller. I try not to judge movies I haven’t seen too harshly, but once you check out the behind-the-scenes interview with James Woods chuckling about how it’s not a subtle movie [And dear Christ does James Woods know from not subtle. -Ed.], and that’s what’s so great about it, you will probably not so much question the wisdom as wonder if there is any, even at all. But what am I saying? Finally, an unsubtle Hollywood movie! What a balm this will be, after so many months of subtlety and nuance! Why just a few weeks ago I was watching Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, wondering if maybe it would’ve been better if it had been just a smidge less subtle.