Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #80


End Of The Week Shorts #80

Today's shorts: California Man (1992), Struggle In The Valley (1955), What Women Want (2000), The Holiday (2006), It's Complicated (2009), The Intern (2015), Something's Gotta Give (2003)

I grew up watching Encino Man (a.k.a California Man) and it has only gotten better. From "SHUSH!!" to "I'm the Stoney crusty dude, d'ya know that?", this has stuck in me somehow, not as the dopey stoner comedy/nonsense high school prom romance that it is kind of is, but as a series of ridiculously memorable characters and moments. Seeing this after quite some time today, however, there emerged quite a bit more. What struck me most was the construction and performance of the Encino man himself: Link. Fraser and the writers give this character an uncanny depth and humanity, which elevates the rather silly narrative about popularity and becoming ones true self to a respectable level of maturity. So, whilst this could be dismissed as nonsense, there is substance to be found in this, a film about unconscious, genuine social conduct being the pathway toward morality and some good times; a hero's journey that will see you master all realms of society equally and develop your own family.

Struggle in the Valley (a.k.a The Blazing Sun) is a classical Egyptian film from a period when Egypt's cinematic industry was the third largest in the world. This is only my third venture into Golden Age Egyptian cinema, but, though there are of course implicit problems in comparing any non-American cinema to Hollywood, the films that I have seen from this period do have a slight classical Hollywood touch - and this is most evident in Struggle In The Valley via its melodrama, romance and large, sweeping score. This tells a tale of corruption and betrayal that tests a pure and incorruptible hero archetype. It has subtle socialist and anti-system overtones that are wrapped up in more traditional ethic concerning religion and romance. This make for what you might call high-mimetic drama, which is itself a little dry (I had to watch this in sections) and not too investing. So though I cannot say I enjoyed this Struggle In The Valley much, its story stands out as strong, as does the direction and cinematography.

I remember sitting through this quite a lot when I was a kid - my mum really liked it... and so did I--just a little bit. When I was a kid, the magical element of this high concept melodrama captured my imagination. Today, however, the conceptual spectacle was less attractive to me. What makes this work is the thematic exploration of empathy and the rather unique incarnation of a hero's journey that literally, rather than symbolically, sees a masculine character try to figure out his place in a feminine world. It is this element of the film that reaches out and, whether you want it to or not, pulls you into the cushy melodrama for a good time. That said, this isn't a masterpiece. The dialogue can often be silly, our main character gets off too easily and isn't truly tested, and the depth of character can sometimes leave you wanting more. A little too sentimental and not smart enough to move into a self-reflexive mode, What Women Want is highly watchable even if it is imperfect.

The high concept is thrown in your face and you immediately know the ending... and then you realise it is 130 minutes away. Whilst I want to say that The Holiday is just too long, it needs every second of its run-time to pull something out of its characters. It starts out considerably shaky, constructing a romance about love of an unconventional character through figures who are contrived with what is supposed to be human fault, but what sometimes feels like stupidity. These characters go on predictable character arcs and in so subtle sparks of palpable humanity eventually begin to fly. Kate Winslet's performance and character is the strongest; Cameron Diaz's is the weakest. Our male side-characters are somewhat awkward and their presence imbued with often unbearable sentimentality. And the masturbatory reflections on Hollywood--simply not to my taste. The many moving parts of this narrative, whilst individually weak, do come together to form something of a cohesive hole. So, whilst this is a little inane and rather easy to let play in the background, I have to say that I didn't mind The Holiday.

Maximally cringe-inducing, awkward, laughable, immoral, contrived and human, It's Complicated is probably Meyer's most dramatologically complex film. Though unquestionably a romantic melodrama, this has hints of absurdity in it that feel inadvertently 'artistic' - 'artistic' in the sense of European art cinema; something uncanny, perturbed, non-Hollywood (maybe too Hollywood) and ever so slightly avant-garde. It's then hard to objectively confront this thematic bellow of coherent ridiculousness. Simultaneously enjoyable and detestable, I could not help but deeply empathise with certain elements of It's Complicated's narrative, whilst I was entirely disassociated from much else. One moment I'm then sentamentalising over my own experiences that certain conflicts arise in my memory and then the next I'm scoffing and sneering. Needless to say, but this was something of a ride.

I hated this when I first watched it. Running through much of Meyers' filmography before re-watching The Intern today made things so much more palatable. That doesn't mean that this is particularly good, however.

As is always the case in Meyers' films, what you are tasked to look for is humanity in messy situations. The difficulty here, however, is confronting the 'mess' - which is always presented with a thin skin of pretence, sentimentality and insipidness. Such a skin rests rather thickly upon The Intern, yet its greatest fault is the depth of complexity. Character conflicts are then rather inane and so the melodrama is inflated with a sense of inconsiquence and frivolity too contrived to be swallowed without a grimace. In total, this says and does nothing particularly noteworthy--nothing that isn't done 'better'(?) in The Holiday and It's Complicated.

Having just dedicated over 10 hours of my life to Meyers' works, I have been left quite numb. Something's Gotta Give is one of Meyers' weakest films - maybe a little better than The Intern. Nicholson initially disrupts the expected tone with a more morbid and unanimated performance. This quickly gives way. Emerging from this is one of the most nonchalant and nonsensical relationships Meyers manages to put to screen; a mother falls for her daughter's 60+ year old boyfriend. Very little time is spent on the absurdity of this predicament (which is uncharacteristic of Meyers) and so you are left with a rather nasty taste in your mouth. Much of the narrative spends time waiting for the two to come together and fall apart, never does it actively investigate the development. And all ends weakly. Where there is often a subtle question - a precarity - held over the melodramatic conclusions of Meyers' films, this ends with an unpronounced, inane feeling of happily ever after. So, as a Meyers film, this is not really up to scratch in my opinion.

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