My Week in Movies: December 17, '11

Young Adult
Jason Reitman, 2011
After a steady qualitative decline over the past half-decade or so, I was ready for Jason Reitman to refresh me with something on par with "Thank You For Smoking". Instead the director has done me several better and gifted the treasure that is "Young Adult", which provided one of those oh-so-rare, distinctly personal experiences (a la "Weather Man", "Punch-Drunk Love", "Vanilla Sky", etcetera) in which I felt the film had been made just for me - obeying what I might wish of it or any project while challenging me, never falling to peeves and generally just "getting" me. From the onset there is so much to this multi-faceted examination of a fascinating character that I imagine with each subsequent viewing I'll come out having honed in on a new theme, whether it be the numbing permeation of reality television, the complexity of what it means to come home, various definitions of success and integrity, or our views of modern society as we know it - is it the way we like to think it is, as we see conveyed through iPhone commercials and Facebook conferences, or is it the actuality - fallen leaves on dillapidated signs and people simply making the best of what they have? And how do any of these ideas and observations affect us as individuals? Diablo Cody's seemingly introspective script has retained the wavemaking writer's characteristic new age wit while maturing beyond the insipidity of "Juno", even once poking fun at that picture's overt dialogic reaches with Buddy's (the multi-talented Patrick Wilson) reaction to Mavis (the pitch-perfect Charlize Theron) calling a triple-hybrid fast food joint a "Ken-Taco Hut". Despite bold and defining creative choices, the supporting characters do remain one-dimensional throughout. This works swell as they mesh and clash with Mavis' world (and, perhaps more importantly, vice versa), but I'm still gradually coming to terms with the third-act narrowing this one-dimensionality generates. It's not what transpires - I see few other ways it could have gone down - it's that all the sociological layers seem to peel away to more superficial quibbles. Maybe that's the point. Either way, I am eager for a rewatch so I might re-experience the film's tailored idiosyncrasies and further galvanize my interpretation of the wind-down.

New Year's Eve
Garry Marshall, 2011
There's just something magical about New York City in the wintertime. This welcome fluff piece with a classic Hollywood feel celebrates the spirited joy of a unique holiday, uniting us as it unites its star-studded cast, which includes many beyond those depicted on the "Mortal Kombat" character select screen-esque poster, including Cary Elwes, John Lithgow, Yeardley Smith, Carla Gugino and Matthew Broderick (portraying a character named Beullerton). I can't say I'd go out of my way for many of the charmingly intertwining stories had they comprised their own respective films, but as vignettes even the lessers engage on some level. I particularly took to the indie stage show-like thread involving a prematurely curmudgeonly Ashton Kutcher and a heartened Lea Michele becoming stuck on an old apartment building elevator, while others involving Sarah Jessica Parker and Abigail Breslin as mother and daughter and Robert De Niro as a man in hospice with one final wish are also of particular note. The weakest link involves Seth Myers and Jessica Biel racing with Til Schweiger and Sarah Paulson to have the first baby of the new year in what becomes a wildly innacurate (though, admittedly, touching in the end) tale featuring one of the worst fake pregnancy bellies I've seen on screen. Though not without its appropriately subtle touches, the screenplay does feel as though a working draft was churned up and never revised prior to production as it features some of the most trite dialogue and blatant exposition this side of "Days of Our Lives", but as should be clear, artistic heights are far from the goal in this case. In the politically correct world of "New Year's Eve" (which oddly features no homosexual or interracial relationships), no one is a bad guy and everyone gets some form of happy ending. Every so often it's a real treat to have a film of that sort, especially when it's as fun as this one, which in its superficial musical crescendos and climaxes did have me welling up at least three times, even once finding a tear rolling down my cheek (hint: during the countdown, a youthful smooch). And... Zac Efron! I'm telling you, the man is our new millennium Gene Kelly. The character he plays here (opposite a frumpy Michelle Pfeiffer) is precisely how I'd imagine "Gene 2000", and I can only hope this becomes embraced and Efron's agents quit making him shy from being "typecast" as "that singing, dancing guy".

Further first-time viewings:

The Change-Up - David Dobkin, 2011
As much as I dislike it, there is one moment in "The Change-Up" writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's "The Hangover" that I think of often. We cut to the aftermath of a wedding reception, and while the three men are engaged in buddy talk, Phil's (Bradley Cooper) son is innocently draped, asleep, on his father's reclined chest. It's a stealthily sweet moment that defines the character's relatively docile home life for the remainder of the film's exponentially zany shenanigans, and I feel it's that kind of thing that Lucas and Moore were trying to recapture with much of the inappropriately emotional "Change-Up". Where "Hangover" director Todd Phillips has proven again and again even in his lesser outings that wrangling crazy comedy and core emotion simultaneously is well within the bounds of his work, David Dobkin's fumblings here make detrimentally uneven what was already an ostensibly one-dimensional script. Never once did I suspect I'd find something in the realm of true quality in a rated-"R" body-switching movie starring Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds (whose character seems to possess an extra chromosome), but I didn't think I'd find something so wildly inept in every technical aspect it hardly justifies itself as a proper film. "Shanghai Knights" and "Fred Claus" weren't this bad. What gives? For as wearingly drawn out as it all is, it feels so rushed, as if there was only one chance at any given take and only a couple hours of production time a day for maybe a total of a month-long shoot. So it is possible to dislike a film in which a patch of pubic hair is referred to as being "like Sonny Crockett". What's more, while I'd heard reports of computer-generated nipples on a reverse shot of Olivia Wilde to cover up pasties that "accidentally" made it in to the final frame, I did not expect prosthetic breasts on the naturally lovely Leslie Mann. Who thought this was a good idea? My penis felt like it had wandered in to the uncanny valley. At least this is only the second-worst movie this year that features a joke about coprophagia.

Total: 3

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