27 September 2011

What Movies I've Been Watching Lately: The Gos and Some Poop

Bridesmaids (2011)

Bridesmaids is not a "female Hangover," but a film of complex characterization about a woman, Annie (Kristen Wiig), who feels that she's regressing further and further away from the adult ideal, while her best childhood friend (Maya Rudolph) has somehow become a real grown up and is getting married. The film does have its share of scenes dealing with bodily functions, but those are just box office dressing on a really sweet, subdued story about friendship and growing up.

What friendship looks like.

Most of the big comedic sequences stem from a rivalry between Wiig and one of the other bridesmaids (Rose Byrne) at the various pre-wedding gatherings. These other bridesmaid characters are not developed much beyond a sentence of back-story, but regardless of the title, this isn't a movie about Rudolph's wedding party. This is Annie's film, and Kristen Wiig carries it beautifully. She's not afraid to go broad during the "comedy moments," but otherwise Wiig plays Annie very subtly; excluding those fecal scenes, Bridesmaids is really very heartbreaking. Wiig has romantic interests in Jon Hamm and Chris O'Dowd, but this isn't a romantic comedy, either, and Annie, though flawed in her relationships with men, thankfully exists independently of them.

So just ignore the poop or embrace it, because wrapped up inside this big Hollywood romp is actually a rather touching film.

Drive (2011)

Drive has been compared to film noir, but is more reminiscent of a cheesy action movie as filmed by a Danish auteur.

Ryan Gosling is ruining my indie-crush cred.

Ryan Gosling plays Drive's stoic, unnamed protagonist, a daytime Hollywood stunt-driver, and get-away car man for hire. After exchanging rides home for longing looks with his harried waitress neighbor (Carey Mulligan), Gosling takes a job driving for this woman's ex-con husband, and becomes entangled in a bloody, messy world, of which he may or may not have previously been a part. The characterization does not extend much beyond these vague outlines of people—Gosling is good at driving and always wears a Scorpion jacket; Mulligan wants her son to be safe—but this seems intentional, as though director Nicolas Winding Refn is acknowledging that action film roles tend to be underdeveloped. Instead, Refn wisely focuses on mood, manufacturing intense, wordless scenes with 80's pop songs in place of dialogue; the center point always Gosling driving, tightly gripping the steering wheel and gazing ahead silently. When there is dialogue, especially that between the mob boss antagonists, it often feels clumsy and reiterates the faults of this genre Refn is seemingly subverting, but still not able to transcend.

Drive is a poetic film, but very violent and ultimately pointless. It's pretty to look at, but not any more impacting than most summer popcorn fare.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Ryan Gosling is quiet loner Lars Lindstrom, for whom being touched burns and social interaction is a chore. Lars' neighbors—his brother (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer)—are elated when Lars not only comes over on his own accord, but gleefully shares that he has a female visitor named Bianca whom he met on the internet. Except she's an anatomically-correct sex doll. But Lars seemingly doesn't realize this, and expects everyone else to consider her as real as he does.


Lars and the Real Girl could easily turn either very twee or crass, but is instead a sweet, sincere story of family and acceptance. Bianca is rarely used as a joke—more so the townspeople's reactions to her—and neither is Lars, who has Bianca stay in his brother's spare room, and does nothing dirtier with this sex doll than whisper that she looks pretty at breakfast. The small Midwestern town's positive reaction is a bit unbelievable, but Gosling sells it as Lars, making a compelling character out of this socially- and sexually-inept man, and keeping this strange, but endearing film from veering into preciousness.

50/50 (2011)

Interestingly, my friend officially stopped fancying J G-L after seeing this.

Early in 50/50, Adam Learner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), recently-diagnosed with spinal cancer, is advised by his friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) to use his medical condition as a pick-up line. It works for Adam, but doesn't for 50/50, which employs its cancer tag to attract viewers to an ultimately uncompelling film about another twenty-something urban professional. Though Joseph Gordon-Levitt does his best with the role—and the rest of the superb cast with theirs—it is hard to feel anything for Adam: he's upper-middle class; has a good job at Seattle Public Radio; has supportive friends and family. The one sympathetic thing about this character is that he has cancer; his only other external struggles are that he can't drive and pushes people away.

Cancer is a shrewd plot choice to lure viewership, but like someone using a pick-up line, 50/50 routinely eschews any opportunities to make an emotional connection in favor of wooing the audience with one-liners and awkwardly-placed romance.


  1. I've heard great things about Bridesmaids, may go see Drive. But while I like both Rogen and Gordon-Levitt, will probably skip it until it's on cable.
    I did like Lars and the Real Girl. I didn't think it was great, but I do watch it when I see it on.

  2. My friend with whom I saw Drive completely disagreed and thought it was great, so people with good taste have liked it... it just didn't "speak" to me. (Maybe because I don't have a driver's license?)

    As it hasn't come out yet, I'm curious to see what film critics will make of 50/50. I generally find myself liking Rogen and Gordon-Levitt, and Anna Kenrick and Anjelica Huston - though G-L a lot less since 500 Days of Summer - but even their likeable personas couldn't make me care about the characters in this film.

  3. I keep hearing good things about Bridesmaids, have to see that soon.

    The Drive soundtrack made my day! Maybe Carey Mulligan’s character was too bland, as you say that's the norm for action films. How many lines of dialogue did she in fact speak? Hardly any . Well put: "these vague outlines of people"
    I liked Drive, minus the extreme violence and swearing. The film does seem a bit overrated in the blogosphere.

    Lars and the Real Girl was such a heart-warming film about acceptance, and encourages the same sort of understanding and warmth from us when we meet oddballs in real life. You like Ryan Gosling I suppose? ( :