chick flick

It's Complicated

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How lovely to see a romance and flirtation and obstacles in a comedy based on history and life connections rather than lumbar tattoos and skateboarding talent. Even lovelier is getting to see the funny and playful Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin emobdy a divorced couple circling each other, drawn by the heady scent of unfinished business. What an extra treat to see Steve Martin (in Serious Actor mode, mostly) orbiting their complex dance and do what he does so well: be charming and sincere.

After 10 years of being divorced, Streep is still awkward about Baldwin’s young, hot wife Lake Bell, but Meryl and Alec still have a wonderful comfort to them when Bell is not around. Streep is luminous and gorgeous, even more so than when she was in Mamma Mia — she’s a stronger romantic comedy contender than I have seen all year (sorry Sandy!). Baldwin is all gruff confidence and unaware selfishess, wheedling his wants out of his ex without a care in the world. Watching them together, you root for them, even knowing why they divorced. Watching Streep groove on her own empty nest self-actualization, you root for Martin to win her heart. Truth is, no one is probably good enough for this awesome woman, except her amazing house and her fantastic little clutch of friends (Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place, and Alexandra Wentworth). Maybe.

Fun romantic comedy standard hijinks ensue, with some great extra funny supplied by John Krasinski, iChat, and a little mary jane. Characters are perpetually doing the math on the last time we… remember back in… they’ve been apart for… it started about X years ago… which keeps our historical perspective primed while we watch first-date-worthy giddiness muddle the heads of our leads. We get a strong sense of their history, one we become fond of without ever having experienced, and yet we also love Streep being finally happy for herself. Everyone is so freaking charismatic you almost forget to appreciate the great, adult story. It’s not an old person’s movie but it is an extremely enjoyable one that should be watched by second-bloom folks of all ages.

The kids of the divorce are a little fragile and flatly portrayed, as if the screenwriter/director Nancy Meyers can only imagine what it would be like to be a child of a divorced couple. How the tables have turned, youth culture! Now you’re the boring ones. For all the complicatedness of the emotions Streep and Baldwin navigate, it’s still a smooth ride to huge grins and hearty guffaws, with excellent performances.

MPAA R- some drug content and sexuality

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes

Director Nancy Meyers

Studio Universal Pictures

The Ugly Truth

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In a scary economy, buzz will keep me out of a movie theatre when my hard-earned dollars are at risk.  While I will often sacrifice my dollars for you, Constant Readers, to possibly prevent you doing the same, sometimes I just…hesitate.  The Ugly Truth is exactly what the preview promises — a cliché-ridden, predictable boy & girl resist each other love story.  However, the Ugly Truth is also quite hilarious and sexy in turns, as well as a call to arms for friends of people like these to help prevent these kinds of pathologies.  Director Robert Luketic was responsible for 21, which for all its lack of veracity was a well-paced, entertaining and sexy movie, but he also directed Legally Blonde (just the first, excellent one), so, he’s proven he can take a character whose type would immediately be resisted by his target audience and make her strong, interesting, and someone you would actually want to know.  Well played, Mr. Luketic.

Katherine Heigl continues to be beautiful, charming, and sympathetic as an actress (no, I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy so I don’t know her TV side. In movies she’s luminous).  She manages to take a successful, career-driven OCD control freak character and make her genuinely human and likeable.  Gerard Butler continues to be beautiful, alpha male, and vulnerable as an actor (yes I saw 300, that doesn’t count).  He manages to take a vulgar, emotionally stunted chauvinist trash-talker character and make him genuinely human and likeable.  Of course we get to Heigl’s gooey center first because the filmmakers know the cardinal rule of chick flicks, which is never let us see inside the guy’s mind at first (yes I saw Notting Hill, please stop interrupting).

The premise as revealed by the preview is Butler says women should accept and approach men as the simple dogs they are instead of expecting or providing high-falutin’ romance.  He promises to teach Heigl how to worm her way into her dream guy’s heart, and you know the rest.  The movie does one wonderful thing with the management of all the dream guy (TV’s Eric Winter as Dr. Colin Perfect) business, from their movie-ready meet cute to their narrative’s sudden but inevitable end.  Like all good movie romance couples, Heigl and Butler would drive each other to murder in real life, but their path to realizing what it is they were missing in their previous lives is the joy.  The supporting cast is fabulous, though little used.  Co-anchors Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins are a troubled married couple who help us like Butler’s character when he’s doing his Man Show best to not be liked.  Heigl’s assistant Bree Turner is quietly hilarious in her too-small part.

My companion and I were taken aback (to say the least) at echoes from our social circle in the dialogue.  Considering how hugely over the top the whole premise is, that realization made the movie as a whole feel much more possible, much more poignant.  This movie overtly states that the ugly truth about the two genders is that they want different things from each other than are wanted from them; the real ugly truth is that there are 100 ways to grow a thick protective skin on a cat, and only one way to remove it.  I enjoyed the film taking the time to show the shrapnel created when people wall themselves off from intimacy or trust. I valued the film emphasizing character over characteristics, and reminding us all to thine own self be true.  After all the rote funny restaurant scenes and giddy banter, I got my nice easy girlie movie fix, but also I came away from The Ugly Truth appreciating it for what it really is.  I was sorry the movie had to pretend to be something that it really wasn’t, in order to seduce audiences to the theatre at these prices.

MPAA Rating  R- sexual content and language
Release date 7/24/09
Time in minutes 95
Director  Armando Iannucci
Studio Columbia Pictures

The Proposal

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Everyone loves Sandra Bullock.  How can we not?  She’s adorable and accessible and funny and beautiful and cool.  Casting her as a Prada-Wearing Devil (at a publishing company, no less) was actually quite a stretch, but the manages to fill the spiky Manolos of much more plausible screen harridans.  At first we just assume she said or did that horrible thing and then will feel remorse, or show some vulnerability, but no — she really, really meant it.  It’s like seeing Jimmy Stewart in a Nazi uniform.  So, props to Sandy for playing the movie cliché harpy role that for most women paints them into an unsympathetic corner, and still coming out lovable and redeemable.

Now, this is a romantic comedy, titled The Proposal, no less — it’s impossible to spoil: the pleasure as always is in the journey.  Bullock’s character’s assistant is Ryan Reynolds, an adorable, earthy, genuine fellow, compromising himself as her lackey to be able to build a base for his dream career of an editor.  He’s miserable but kind, and he, of course, hates her.  He knows her better than anyone, but no one knows the real her.  Not even her.  And the real her is Sandra Freaking Bullock.  Of course there’s romance.  Reynolds and Bullock have terrific hatred chemistry together and implausibly sexy, fit bodies.  She is 44!  I must join a gym.

Because of their intimate-but-one-sided working relationship, the requisite farce of them trying to make their sham relationship look real is funny and snarky.  In fact, seeing Reynolds rise to the occasion of behaving as her peer after three years of being terrorized by her is quite delicious and even serves an unnecessary side story with his father.  It’s a nice slice of evil boss revenge fantasy.  These actors are so insanely lovable, of course, that they can’t help but show their characters’ likeable vulnerabilities, and it’s sweet and smileworthy.

Directed by film dancer/choreographer Anne Fletcher, and written by first-time screenwriter Pete Chiarelli, The Proposal feels both new and familiar.  It’s new, in that it doesn’t obey a lot of rules of romantic comedies, while not breaking with tradition, and familiar in that it is reminiscent of some of the best romantic comedies without seeming too derivative.

Bullock and Reynolds are supported by a nice ensemble of funny faces, including Aasif Mandvi, Oscar Nunez (from The Office; a kooky treasure in this film), Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson, and previous romantic-comedy-harridan Malin Akerman.  Oh, and of course the glory that is Betty White.  Throw in some father-son conflict, a drizzle of Bullock’s lonely-soul-tasting-family-again-after-so-long (see: While You Were Sleeping), and a romantic family heirloom undeservedly bestowed, and you have a pleasant, charming, sweet movie to enjoy.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/19/09
Time in minutes 108
Director Anne Fletcher
Studio Touchstone Pictures

He's Just Not That Into You

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I was intrigued by this cast of fun actors, all of whom I enjoy in different ways, bringing to life a non-fiction advice book (which, I was later told, grew out of a line and then episode of Sex and the City). This movie is funny, sweet, diverting, and frustrating, and reminds one of many past life experiences. The ensemble is a loose web of six degrees of separation – not dissimilar to the social mechanics in Love, Actually, but with fewer extremes. I liked this conceit as it enabled the characters, like real people do every second, to advise on and learn from other people’s mistakes while turning around and making those same mistakes in their own situations.

HJNTIY has a lot of insight into the female mind – fellas, you’ll have to tell me if that’s also true for the males – and it’s fun to laugh at one’s own foibles from a safe distance. Oh no I can’t believe she said that out loud! Ah yes, that rush of excitement at the first voice mail. A few subtle jokes are thrown into the mise-en-scene, inviting further study. My favorite is when lovelorn Drew Barryore contemplates purchasing a Gilette Venus razor for women. You know, the one that as an inexplicable (in shaving terms) vibrating handle?

I wished more men (especially all of them) would see this movie and those like it. The male actors were in a pretty funny ad directed toward guys who avoid chick flicks, assuring them that it’s safe and cliche-free. While HJNTIY is certainly genre-cliche-free, it is not at all real-life cliche-free. It’s delicious and painful and piteously funny to watch Ginnifer Goodwin chew on her foot in nearly every social contact. It’s awful but somehow comprehensible how Bradley Cooper is tempted away from his immeasurably hot and groovy wife (Jennifer Connelly) by a different flavor of temptress (you’ll figure it out). I liked the big and small things over which our characters would obsess. All the interactions were very enjoyable as their own microcosms.

My favorite couple (though the most spoon fed of plots) was Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck. After all his Jennifers he has finally found the one he should romance on screen.
They had a great chemistry and balance of their humor styles, and I would see a whole movie about them in a heartbeat. Justin Long appears to be carrying the “spell it out” burden of the narrator, but he too is not immune to making mistakes. The character are so aggressively and gently flawed and dumb and generally likeable, it’s hard not to enjoy them. I almost rated the movie Rental With Snacks, but I am going to own it: I had a very good time!

Sure, it’s a big ensemble designed to have a facet for everyone, so it comes out a little convenient and/or artificial at times. As romantic comedies go, though, it’s no more constructed than ones with a greater element of fantasy. This is like, the anti-fantasy movie (excepting maybe Cooper’s character), so it’s a nice flip. It’s really a relationship comedy more than a romantic comedy, since a lot of the film is concerned with demonstrating when one should walk away, rather than when to lean in for the kiss and cleave. As a person who has made a number of the same mistakes in her life, I applaud Hollywood for even trying to make this movie happen.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 2/6/09
Time in minutes 129
Director Ken Kwapis
Studio New Line Cinema

House Bunny

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I went to see House Bunny against my usual judgment for two reasons: 1. Anna Faris is always better than her materials, and brings a commitment to her choices that rivals big-money comic actors, and 2. Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody told me to (via Entertainment Weekly). Cody views the Playboy phenomenon in much the same way I do — a kind of retro, innocent dirtiness that never seems harmful or suspect, just bubble baths and sugar daddies. No, I haven’t seen a Playboy since my 1980 discovery of my grandfather’s stash, and the 1959 issue we used as a prop in a play. So maybe I am out of touch.

Anyway, the premise is simple: defrocked Bunny leaves Hef’s mansion and becomes house mother for a sorority of misfits. Leaving aside why any of these girls would want to align themselves with Greek culture (I only know the Texas version), you would assume, somewhat correctly, that makeovers ensue. What House Bunny bothers to do is to follow the makeover with the negative side of that shallow type of self-presentation, and even teach our hapless, saucer-eyed heroine a little something about what real friendship and relating to men is about.

Be not fooled — this movie is not all that funny. It’s not terrible, and it does amuse; what I am most grateful or is that it does actually address the women beneath the sexy makeup and hair. The movie was produced and designed by women, for the most part, but was directed by a man. As we all know, Hollywood men don’t think women can be funny, so they do a shopping montage and that’s lunch!

Two of the misfit collegiates in general shine. First is Mona (recently also in Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist), tough as and pierced by mails — why is she in a sorority at all? Her justifications to go inevitably along, though, were the funniest. Lead nerd Natalie (Superbad’s Emma Stone) is a real shining star in this ensemble. She rolls her eyes and moves and talks too much in just the right away — she’s a perfect nerd, and she’s hilarious and sweet and determined and eager and just great. Sure, the girls all clean up pretty good — this is a movie, after all — though Carrie May (Dana Goodman) remains refreshingly and annoyingly awkward even post-transformation. Her character was directed in a weird SNL-more-is-more kind of way (and resembled a female Mose from The Office), but Goodman still managed to sell it.

I think most of the flatness of humor comes from the directing and timing, rather than necessarily the dialogue or actor skill. More than once I thought to myself, “That joke totally could have worked,” and tsked away. Some seriously great gems of dialogue are sprinkled throughout this movie, but are lost among the midden of the failures in execution.

Colin Hanks throws away a chance to turn into his early-career father (not a criticism) by being an actually interesting and not black-or-white person. Mostly he’s relegated to straight man, a role he fulfills admirably, but he doesn’t just sit there like Stan Laurel.

Overall, though, whether it’s the director or the suits, the tone of the movie can be summed up with one couplet of dialogue. Upon two sorority sisters being referred to by Faris as sexy bitches, they exclaim with some incredulity and some glee: “Did she just call us bitches?” “Did she just call us sexy?” The line was thrown away, but the glimmer of newly minted self-esteem in both those lines deserved a better overall package in which to be presented. Wait for HBO, but watch it with some girl friends. Boys can enjoy the visuals while the ladies parse out the good intentions.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/22/08
Time in minutes 97
Director Fred Wolf
Studio Sony Pictures

DisFigured

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Disfigured is a tiny little movie about female body image and acceptance. It’s an extremely difficult film to qualify I must say (hence the massive delay in doing so). To be blunt, DisFigured is a movie about the clumsy, emotionally loaded friendship that grows between a very fat woman (Lydia) and a barely recovering anorexic woman (Darcy). They meet in a support group for overweight women, one that struggles to decide whether or not it’s about accepting themselves as is. Understandably, they are unsympathetic to Darcy’s dysmorphia.

Deidra Edwards plays Lydia with a depth and realism that feels like a documentary; even if sometimes her line deliveries come off as amateurish, she is extremely committed to conveying the experiences of being an overweight woman in contemporary American society. She is castigated for accepting her appearance from one camp, and equally decried for looking to change it. She gets judged for desiring sexual contact and for denying it of herself. Then we have Darcy. While I don’t know if the actress actually had an eating disorder in life, certainly convinces us that she has. She’s so very very thin, so people-pleasing and guarded.

Lydia and Darcy dance around each other, both aliens from the same planet, finding the same seeds within each other of their very different fruit. My favorite scene is them quoting to each other the horrible things that people say to them about their appearance. It’s enlightening, funny, honest, terrible, and so intimate. This sounds terrible to say, but I don’t think their character would have played as effectively if there were not such a marked contrast in their appearances.

The movie explores the universal female experience of judging others and feeling judged on one’s appearance rather than one’s merits — the terror of confronting what makes us flawed to others’ eyes and internalizing the unfavorable comparisons. These women, fighting self-hatred and societal disapproval and balancing self-care with self-indulgence, express these experiences in somewhat exaggerated terms of what every woman goes through to some degree. DisFigured is extremely effective on this level, with lots of laughs too.

From a purely technical standpoint, the sound is muddy, the camera focus goes in and out even on a static head shot, like a consumer-grade video camera, and the pace gets bogged down between the phases of Lydia and Darcy’s friendship. That said, the film is still well worth seeing even if the execution is a little choppy, because the issues explored here really attain some excellent depth. It is valuable to share ths with women and men alike. Perhaps it will remain a mystery to men why women seem to hate ourselves so disproportionately. Who knows, maybe it will start some real conversations. Check it out.

MPAA Rating Not Rated: nudity, sexuality, language, adult themes
Release date 7/29/08
Time in minutes 95
Director Glenn Gers
Studio Cinema Libre

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Mamma Mia!

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I feel an utter loss of clinical objectivity as I sit down to write this review. I can say that I had a ball and a half, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen this year. Like a similar adored hoot, Hairspray, Mamma Mia is a stage musical adapted to the big screen and stuffed with appealing stars. Where Mamma Mia lacks Hairspray’s deeper satirical touches about intolerance, it gains in sheer fantasy pleasure. Sure, the characters make huge decisions on a dime, mainly to move the plot (yes, there is one), but the joy of Mamma Mia is in all its relationships. And songs. Oh yes, the songs.

Love between girlfriends, new couples, old lovers, mothers & daughters, and the love of a special place on earth entwine like the eye-popping bougainvillea gracing the set. The bride (Amanda Seyfried, surprising me yet again) is adorable. The mother (Meryl Streep, a bottomless pit of delightful surprises) is relatable and cool. The fiancé (Dominic Cooper) is scrumptious. The best friends (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) — a hoot. The old lovers (Skellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth) — dreamy. The Greek chorus is maybe unfairly too anonymous but they are darling.

If you didn’t know, the songs are all ABBA songs, reorchestrated and jiggered a bit to fit the story. Giving Abba Gold a fresh listen, it’s evident their songs were written with a story in mind for each of them, unlike the techno dance hits (uhn-tss-uhn-tss) of more recent years. The songs are, more often than you remember, in a minor key, driving a certain tension, even darkness or danger, below the soaring vocals or peppy tempos. It’s a gleefully appropriate score for a musical about so many kinds of feelings. A happy side effect of the familiar songs, besides being able to sing along loudly in harmony (I please the 5th), is the sense of joining in the moment. Three gal pals burst into song much more often in real life than anti-musical curmudgeons care to admit — but we do it to songs we already know. Roping the audience into this delicious conspiracy feels like a personal invitation into their glee. Using pop songs to carry a musical isn’t only as recent as Across the Universe or Moulin Rouge — lots of Golden Age musicals were scored with serendipitous standards.

Movie musicals also benefits from extra built-in chemistry among the cast due to all the extra rehearsal. A regular film might shoot a love scene on the first day the actors have met! That can’t compete with three intense weeks in sweatpants in a warehouse jumping around like loons together. The staging and choreography is funny and accessible and o-able — more like your friends dancing for pleasure than intense pros West Side Storying it up the lane in tandem. This lends to the “we’re all just winging it” feel which gives the movie a close intimacy (as do the heart-stopping close-ups).

The story is simple: a single mom’s daughter, wondering which of her mom’s old flames is her dad, invites all three candidates to her wedding. Obviously chaos ensues. The stakes are high (paternity!) and the feelings run higher (A daughter! A family! A secret! An old love!) and the whole hard core emotional event is distilled into a rapturous froth from which I have not yet emerged. While the character’s actions are impulsive (even by musical theatre standards), most of them feel like real people whom you might know and adore. Streep’s Donna is so full of life and love and vim that you just want to jump into the movie to lend a hand.

The whole film is moving and fun and scenic and ecstatic, and we cried too. You may already know if this is not your thing, but I hope you take a chance take a take a chance chance on Mamma Mia even if you think you won’t like it. The rest of you who are already in line: bring a diaper — the combined powers of Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Sky, and Phillip Michael will ruin your delicates.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/18/08
Time in minutes 108
Director Phyllida Lloyd
Studio Universal Pictures

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Sex and the City

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In the interests of science, this movie review will be handled in a little different way. My friend Melanie is a long-time fan of the show, and went to see the movie with her mom. I had watched maybe half of one show in the first season and just couldn’t get into it, and never went back — I had no intention of seeing the movie at all. Sure, I know some things from the series, thanks to its ubiquity in pop culture media, but basically I am a noob. I’ll start with my review, and end with Melanie’s.

I convinced two people who were equally disinclined to see this movie to go with me in the interests of science. One was a female lit major type who cringes every time the show’s dialogue reaches her ears. The other was a male nerd-type friend who really, really is uncomfortable in girlie movies. No, I could not convince the boyfriend to go.

The film opens with a little back-story montage just to summarize the dynamics of the four leads and how long they have been close, and through what. It was handled neatly and efficiently and was much appreciated later in the film. The plot line of the film centers around Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her relationship to Mr. Big (Chris Noth), a man that Entertainment Weekly and the other characters tells me was a huge epic romance in her life, but on screen with none of that behind him, was…kind of boring. He seems nice enough, and he’s richer than anything. What I could gather about Carrie (had I not known from outside sources) from the movie is that she thinks nothing of $500 shoes, $500 purses, so she would need a zillionaire just to pay the rent in Manhattan, never mind support her sartorial habits. Labels labels labels, crushing any sense of attractiveness in one’s style, opting for ridiculous and outrageous rather than flattering or even painless to the eye. The amount of awful clothes and insane conspicuous consumption in this movie was very queasy-making.

That said, the story swings into a whole lot of huge things (I’m including Dante) happening to our foursome, some of which we can react to without knowing any back-story, and some of which we can’t. It’s not clear Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is with that guy in the first place, he’s simpering and unpleasant the whole movie, It’s not clear why Big is such a big deal to Carrie, what do they have to talk about except spending money? At the same time, certain characters’ responses reminded me of good friends of mine, and I have to say, every female performance rang true to me. Most of the time I was wondering why a man was doing what he was doing, but everything the ladies did made perfect sense (after they got dressed, anyway). It did have a lot of heart, and it did have a lot more humor than I imagined I would be able to get. There were some things that one could tell were for the fans and that’s great, I applaud that in a movie adaptation, but it didn’t make me a new fan. I missed many layers, but besides the male motives, the movie does stand on its own as a movie, so check it out.

My lit friend: “I didn’t hate it nearly as much as I expected to. I didn’t hate it at all.”

My guy friend’s response: “Not so much.”

And now….

Melanie’s review of Sex and the City

Matinee (caveat: for fans of the show, matinee plus snacks)

For fans of the show it was everything we could want in the movie version: bigger, longer, and the chance to get to see what our 4 TV girlfriends are up to four years later. Although there is some helpful character introduction through the familiar Carrie-voice-over trope, if you didn’t watch the show then most of what happens in this movie will either a.) make zero sense or b.) fail to make you care about what’s happening to these characters. Which is too bad because Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and to a lesser degree, Charlotte experience life-changing events, some larger than others but all affecting. Some of the movie events aren’t enough by themselves to suck you in if you’re not a fan. But at the same time, they are major life changing events.

Much has been said about the silliness of SatC (the clothes, the “nothing happens outside of Manhattan” ethos, the careless way in which the women treat men-although I disagree with that last assessment. While there have been many men in and out of these characters’ lives, the goal for all, Samantha excepted, has been to find lasting love. If it take going through some bad apples to get the good one, well then that’s life. At its core it has always been a story about four friends who stick together through thick and thin.

Four years after the show ended the ladies are as close as they can be given the circumstances: Miranda and Charlotte are married with kids; Carries is still single but in a committed relationship with Mr. Big; and Samantha is out in Hollywood, managing the career of her younger boyfriend, Smith. There isn’t a lot that happens in this movie that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone who’s seen a romantic comedy. There is betrayal, despair, grief, and finally, hope and joy at the end of this couture-laden tunnel but any connection I felt to what was happening on screen was based on being a loyal viewer of the show. Even as I cried along with Miranda’s character, it was clear to me that in order to fully empathize with her gut-wrenching pain you had to know her back-story (Cynthia Nixon’s performance is worth the price of a ticket). I’d have to hear from someone who’s seen the movie but didn’t watch the show for their take but I tried to watch the movie with Cinerina (not a fan of the TV show) on my shoulder for impartiality. [Ed. Note: awww!]

Throughout the movie my companion and I (another SatC loyalist, my mom) were apt to say out loud, “after all that she went through!” and “ha, typical Samantha” but sotto voce, of course. However, everyone around us was doing the same! Again, this is one movie where the built-in audience factor helps. The catch-22 being that those who weren’t fans of the show will probably stay away.

Should they stay away? As much as I abhor the term, SatC is the chick flick. About women for women. A celebration of female friendships and what women do for each other. There has been (as only to be expected) lots of feminist backlash about the “silliness” of their lifestyles — not that they are sluts, and quite frankly, there is not as much sex in the movie as the title suggests, but more that these women are frivolous. I think it’s mostly BS and there’s other stuff going on under the couture and the fabulousness. But here’s what I see as the core of this movie (and the show): men may come and go but in order to survive (and thrive) in life you need to be strong and you need your girlfriends. What’s more “sisterly” than that?

Ok so, draw your own conclusions, Constant and Loyal Readers, but you can’t say it won’t be an informed decision.

MPAA Rating R-strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Release date 5/30/08
Time in minutes 145
Director Michael Patrick King
Studio New Line Cinema

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Definitely, Maybe

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I confess, I was a little squeamish about seeing this movie. My companion’s a Ryan Reynolds fan, but he’s an unproven lead for me. Abigail Breslin is adorable but clearly she is more the framing device for the movie’s story than the meat of the thing, so I can’t rely on her to save it. I am SO glad I went. This movie has a little of everything, blended together without the horrible Hollywood fantasy filter that could have ruined it a dozen times over. The preview gives too much away, but the idea is that a newly divorced dad, Will Hayes (Ryan Roberts, escaping his filmography) is telling the story of how he met his ex-wife (TBD) to his adorable daughter Maya (Breslin). So, it’s a love story, but one in which we already know the answer: this relationship worked a while, then ended in divorce. It’s a modern fairy-tale romance, peppered with bittersweet realism.

Reynolds of course is the lead, being now-dad and then-courtier to the equally eligible and charming Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, and Isla Fisher. All the women are great, all could be a viable partner for our hero, whom we come to love through how he loves them. It’s liberating not to be hung up like in a regular romantic comedy, waiting impatiently for the hero to realize that the horrible shrew he’s shackled to is the wrong person. Instead, we are rooting for all of them and feeling the sadness when things don’t work out. The looming spectre of the a priori marriage and divorce is there, but we can lose ourselves in the romance of the past stories, since the women are all good catches and seem to love him all well. We share Breslin’s enthusiasm to work out the puzzle, but really we just sit back and let the story pour out over us.

William makes the usual rookie mistakes that a young man would make – he’s young, he’s not seeing the big picture, and his befuddlement is believable and even endearing. Hayes does grow up, and make better, more mature mistakes, and better choices too, as do his paramours. The fact that his character is my age drove some of the details home for me as well. Maya doesn’t understand why her parents are divorcing, and hearing these stories makes it harder, in a way, for her. She has a scene late in the movie of lovely childish wishfulness that is just priceless and should pang at any child of divorce’s heart. How can any relationship with such great starts ever end so sadly? By default we know two didn’t work out, since he married “Mom,” but of course, that doesn’t work out either.

There is no “happy ending” in life as there is in a movie – everything real and worth having is tinged with lessons learned on the way. Romantic comedies end with the hookup – this one begins after it fell apart, as life goes on. Definitely, Maybe is a terrible title, but it is romantic indeed, and funny and sad (our audience was synchronizing sniffles with us) and heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Despite all the implicit sadness, it’s a delicious, positive, romantic movie full of love and sparkling eyes and wit and forehead slapping. We get a rare look at a long personal journey through relationships (including his relationship to politics) from the point of view of the man, and a new appreciation of the silver lining on even the saddest cloud. Fun, witty, careful dialogue and solid big Movie Moments, together with a terrific story arc and great casting equals a big winner.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 2/14/08
Time in minutes 112
Director Adam Brooks
Studio Universal Pictures

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27 Dresses

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There is a reason why movies develop formulae:  it’s what we want to see, when we escape into the dark.  During 27 Dresses, there were few-to-no major plot points that you wouldn’t expect, nay, demand.  The requisite moment of truth happens exactly as it should, with no regrets or forehead slapping needed, leaving hearts and minds tucked away safely as they should be.  The stumbling block we all fear and await is accompanied by the most appropriate response.  Is that a negative?  Not alt all.  This is the meat and potatoes of the story.  The pleasures of 27 Dresses is, as with any quality product, the details and the exquisite moments.

What elevated it to my high recommendation are these precious and delicious elements, not the arc of perennial wallflower and bridesmaid finding her own happiness.  And if there is anyone out there who does not personally know someone like Katherine Heigl’s highly plausible Jane character, smart, attractive, busy, romantic, and single, I will be very very surprised.  (Though in real life most of them know to hide their InStyle Weddings hardbound edition.)

Heigl proves herself worthy of abandoning television and reasserts her Knocked Up triumph with her delicate take on Jane, the hottest dogsbody in any bridal party.  Her eyes, filled with love and mania and loss and conflict carry this movie further even than her hilarious frocks and winsome collarbones.  And she still manages to be smart, modern and funny, while honoring the treasured memory of her mother’s wedding but knowing what moment is most important on that day (hint: it’s nothing to do with the bride).

Sister Tess (Malin Ackerman, looking terribly LA to be related to Jane) comes in as the perfect nightmare of a self-asborbed-yet-vulnerable force of maddening nature.  Ed Burns is their unwittingly shared romantic focus – a genuine great guy and not a ridiculous vessel for female insecurity.  James Marsden, fresh off my parade float after Hairspray and Enchanted, swans in like a pretty boy and roars like a lamb, being a conflicted and funny foil for Heigl.  With his cheekbones and profession you might expect arrogance, but Marsden gives his writer Kevin an actual soul.  The core cast is supported by the delectable Judy Greer, Melora Hardin, and Maulik Pancholy, making the most of their screen time.

When Tess crosses the last sacred boundary with Jane, my companion and I were in tears – it was delectable pain at the acknowledgement of what is really important and what is replacable, and a beautiful wake-up call to Jane.  The payback?  Vicarious glee is good.  The movie only blames Jane for forgetting herself in the needs of others, instead of the traditional Hollywood punishment for being single.  She punishes herself enough for that, and this makes 27 Dresses one of the truest depictions of the cross-purposes of a modern single female that we’ve seen for a while.  Boys – stay away.  You won’t get it anyway.  Gals – bring a gal pal and enjoy the ride (and the schadenfreude of truly embarrassing bridesmaid dresses).

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 1/18/08
Time in minutes 107
Director Anne Fletcher
Studio 20th Century Fox

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