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Archive for the ‘Mary Steenburgen’ Category

The Book Club

03 Jun

The Book Club – directed by Bill Holderman. Romantic Comedy. 144 minutes Color 2018.
★★★★★
The Story: Four older ladies decide to reinvent their sex lives.
~
I loved fucking in the days when I did it, and it loved me. But this movie is not about men fucking, but about women not fucking and wishing they were and doing something about it. The jokes are vaginal and good and ready. The four actresses who deliver them are good at that and very funny – or they would not be good at at that. All of them miss the hardon no longer inside them. None of them miss love.

The women seek fucking. They find men. But the men seek love. And each lady makes her way by meeting up with what she did not dare to expect or risk if she came upon it: The Palace Of Perils Of Love.

With The Amusement Park Of Fornication thrown in.

They all start on their adventure by reading a book called Fifty Shades Of Grey. I have not read it, but evidently it bestirs these ladies to revisit their sex lives.

They are played by actresses whose ages vary from Jane Fonda aged 80, Candice Bergen and Diane Keaton aged 72, and Mary Steenburgen aged 65. But they are all presented as ageless beauties of that uncertain age called “contemporaries.”

Although we are not told that, the men they meet are younger — and, unlike the actresses, are unrecognizable, for, while all of the actresses have been before us on the silver screen in leading roles in recent movies, none of the men have – so I see the men as strangers – as does each woman as she meets him.

Andy Garcia plays a multimillionaire pilot whom recent widow Diane Keaton must fly from in order not to offend her grown children. Don Johnson, who has no known income (as befits his established screen persona), woes ice-queen Jane Fonda. And Federal Court Judge Candice Bergen assumes nothing good will come of her dinner date with the accountant played by the diminutive Richard Dreyfus.

The recipe is for a Hollywood Romantic Comedy. It is the sort of film that, pre-Doris Day, did not exist, nor did it exist in the ‘30s and would never have been made with older actresses. Nor did it exist when these four actresses themselves were young. But these four have aged before us through middle age and now into antiquity in major roles such as none of the male stars opposite them have been able to do. With the pleasing result that Jane Fonda aged 80 mates with Don Johnson aged 68, a fox devouring a wolf.

Such a film must stick to the Hollywood Romantic Comedy recipe laid down for our guidance. Which means, for the story to end happily, which it must do, its incidents must surprise our expectation into suspense.

It also must have witty dialogue.

And it must have comic genius in the playing.

It does not have to be true to life in any of this. Verisimilitude is not an ingredient in the recipe for Hollywood Romantic Comedy, ever. And crassness and coarseness are incensorable.

How does The Book Club rank as Hollywood Romantic Comedy?

Its plot twists are often fun enough to be adorable.

The wit of its dialogue is particularly fetching when the four ladies gather together to express it.

And the comic genius of the four actresses is at a peak.

Mary Steenburgen is endearing. Her genius is simplest: her comedy depends upon her being always The Foolish Virgin.

Jane Fonda’s comedy depends not upon her sense of humor (she perhaps has none) but upon the ability of her acerbic tongue to wring the most bite from her lines. Her persona on screen is, as usual, She Who Stands Alone.

The only actress of the four who actually has a sense of humor is Candice Bergen. Which means her sense of humor comes from including herself in every joke she makes. She’s the funniest of all of them. And she is given the right lines to say and the right things to do. (Check her out with the ice cream.) She is marvelous. Her underlying screen persona is her tried-and-true I Cannot Believe I Ended Up Here.

Diane Keaton’s comedy does not depend on a sense of humor, does not depend on what she is as a human in a chair, as does Candice Bergen’s, but on what she in motion does. She is a sort of Garbo of physical comedy, and, like Garbo’s, her acting depends upon a display of inner volatility refreshing muscular and emotional movement. As an actress, she is highly technical, perfectly planned, a through-instrument. Her comedy-central mind probably lies somewhere near her sacroiliac. Her persona is, as before, Paranoid. Her paranoia makes her readable. Without it, as an actress, she is opaque.

But she is not so here. And one of the great acting passages in film history is achieved in The Book Club by Diane Keaton in a scene I shall not destroy by preparing you for it.

Safeway sheet-cakes have certain virtues, one of which is that they sometimes taste better than they look. The Hollywood Romantic Comedy invariably calls for too much icing – you just have to swallow that. But the costumes of The Book Club by Shay Cunliffe are rare in their discretion and aptness. The director, Bill Holderman, co-wrote and co-produced The Book Club, and I can see no fault in his execution of the form.

Hollywood Romantic Comedy I generally spurn. But I love these four ladies. I’ve loved them for years. I’m glad they’re working. And comedy is where all four of them belong! I’m glad to be in front of them, still watching, still receiving such pleasure watching.

 

The Help

16 Aug

The Help – Directed by Tate Taylor. Magnificent Feat Drama. An ambitious Mississippi Junior Leaguer decides to make a secret collection of the  recollections of the other Junior Leaguers’ colored maids. 137 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

Have you ever heard of invisible ink? Well, The Help is the story of an invisible revolution. It all goes on completely underground, until one day the lemon juice of publication brings the revolution into the embarrassing light of day.

The book is devoid of description, but told solely in monologue of what the characters are thinking and dialogue between them. This gives an inside picture, naturally somewhat lost to the film, but the film gives an outside picture of the world of the Mississippi town, standing-in for Jackson, where it was originally set, and a view of the characters in the round.

As a film it is amateurly directed and edited. Someone says something to the camera; the camera shifts to someone saying something back; the camera shift back to what the first person says.  This bashes any sense of what really lies between people, and leaves us only with character reactions. And the result is that the actors’ work tends to be emotionalized: that is the actor will produce the emotion concurrent with registering righteous satisfaction in having the emotion. It is TV acting at its basest, self-congratulatory to the max.

The beautiful Cicely Tyson, the great Allison Janney, Oscar winners Mary Steenburgen and Sissy Spacek all bring their chops to provide a strata of foundation stone to the story. Bryce Dallas Howard gives a ruthlessly honest performance as the control freak Hilly. Jessica Chastain (the mother in The Tree Of Life) startles as the Dolly Parton white trash millionairess.

Octavia Spenser and Viola Davis play the leading roles of the maids who are the first to sign on to speak their secret memoirs, records of the pain and beauty of their servitude. There is a moment when Davis pulls her arm away from the consolation of Spenser that will make you weep to behold. The director is clumsy with these actors, but their skill and dignity win through.

The character of the young woman inspired to gather these recollections would appear to be a hard role to play, but it is done beyond the call of duty by Emma Stone.

The entire endeavor is too self-satisfied to get away with itself, but the fundamental story is a good one and is honored. I don’t know if you will love it if you haven’t read the book, but I say it’s, like the creation of the memoirs themselves, worth a try.

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