Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Tom Hanks is attempting a cinema experiment with Larry Crowne (2011), that is, to do without the basic elements of drama as promulgated by such luminaries as Aristotle and Robert McKee. Three act structure, goodbye. Conflict and obstacles, farewell. Tension and resolution begone. Let's put a man through some of the most difficult transitions in life, have him discard most of his assumptions about himself and the world and because he is So Darn Nice, he will just float through the whole thing. And there will be a beautiful daughter-like young woman to offer him affection and unconditional support without any romantic overtones or complications, so that he is free to have a grown-up romance with a movie star who has "troubles" which are dispensed with in a manner of minutes.
In fact, everyone's troubles are dismissed with an airy brush of the hand. Larry can't even pay his bills, but somehow he has tuition money. (It's been pointed out to me that as a veteran, he might have access to tuition money, but the movie which deals with so many other financial details never addresses the question.)
Not only is the whole thing ridiculous dramatically, it is an insult to the very audience it is aimed at, the American public struggling through the changes imposed on it by the current recession brought on through no fault of their own. Not a political diatribe, that would be of no value in this context. But something that addressed the very genuine difficulty and rewards of change, especially when they come in the middle of your life. There are real, hard and ultimately gratifying things to be said if the filmmakers had had the courage, tenacity and skill to address the very real issues of this kind of change. But instead, things are pasted together with a slapdash romance with Julia Roberts, who is the kind of actor who invites writers not to bother writing a character, because she will seem to create one anyway, and who also is capable of throwing a film entirely off-balance, especially when she appears in what should be a small supporting role, but which she -- intentionally or not -- converts into a co-starring role, though she has little if any story function.
Simply put, niceness may be an adequate way to pass time, but it is no way to create an actual aesthetic object. Similarly, Nice Guy Johnny (2010) announces its slender and hackneyed story and its central production problem in the title. The news handle for this film is that experienced filmmaker Ed Burns made it for $25,000. That is the sole matter of interest about this movie. It looks and feels exactly like a movie made for $25,000, especially in the acting department. But it also looks one of those post-apocalyptic movies in which both lower Manhattan and the popular Hamptons have become completely uninhabited. It is one thing for the lovers to feel as if they are the only people in the world; it is another thing for them to be the only people because the film can't afford background players.
Don't they know that we know that if the main character is engaged at the beginning of the movie, they will never never never marry that person? Really, was that relationship supposed to be of interest to us?
Literally the only defensible circumstances under which to watch this film is if one is an aspiring filmmaker, to listen to the DVD commentary track and pick up some tricks and tips about low-budget filmmaking. Getting it made seems to have sucked up all of Mr. Burns' attention and, like Mr. Hanks, he seems to have disregarded the need for original characters, conflicts, surprise, tension or really any element of storytelling. But it is a pretty cool commentary if you're interested in such things.