LIT­TLE TO LAUGH AT

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

THERE’S a scene in the new chick­flick com­edy, The Other Woman, that seems to typ­ify post- Brides­maids Hol­ly­wood: Mark (Niko­laj CosterWal­dau), a mar­ried man and se­rial wom­an­iser, is given a cock­tail laced with lax­a­tives by Carly (Cameron Diaz), one of his girl­friends, and winds up in a restau­rant toi­let evac­u­at­ing ex­plo­sively and at con­sid­er­able length. This is sup­posed to be hi­lar­i­ous, and for many young film­go­ers un­doubt­edly it will be, but (call it a gen­er­a­tional thing if you like) I find it a bit de­press­ing that this sort of ado­les­cent toi­let hu­mour has be­come such a sta­ple of so­called com­edy on screen these days.

I’m tempted to re­mind the reader how smart and so­phis­ti­cated come­dies about adul­tery used to be (does any­one re­mem­ber The Aw­ful Truth?), but in­stead I’ll try to ex­plain why I find The Other Woman and other films that con­fuse crass vul­gar­ity for hu­mour so tire­some.

The set-up is promis­ing. As the open­ing cred­its un­fold, Mark and Carly are en­joy­ing a se­ries of ro­man­tic dates while a sen­ti­men­tal song plays on the sound­track. They make a hand­some cou­ple, and Carly — who, we later dis­cover, is a lawyer — is clearly bowled over by Mark’s charm and at­ten­tive­ness. He even gives her a present to mark the an­niver­sary of their eighth week to­gether. This ro­man­tic idyll comes crash­ing down the night Mark breaks a date with Carly with the ex­cuse that he has a plumb­ing prob­lem at his home in Con­necti­cut and she de­cides to sur­prise him there, only to be con­fronted on the doorstep by his wife, Kate (Les­lie Mann).

De­spite ev­ery­thing, the wife and the girl­friend be­come close friends, and when they dis­cover Mark is cheat­ing on them both with the stat­uesque Am­ber (Kate Up­ton) they re­cruit her into the anti-Mark girls’ club — but, of course, if you’ve seen the trailer for the film you’ll know all this, and more, plus you’ll have seen all the best jokes, such as they are.

The film is di­rected by Nick Cas­savetes whose fa­ther, John, was one of the great in­de­pen­dent Amer­i­can film­mak­ers, a pioneer of the kind of in­ti­mate, prob­ing, ul­tra-real­is­tic style with land­mark films such as Shad­ows, Faces, A Woman Un­der the In­flu­ence and many more.

Nick’s films to date have been maudlin ( The Note­book) or wit­less ( The Other Woman). Subtlety is not a word in his lex­i­con; he’s a stranger to nuance. He en­cour­ages his ac­tors to play to the hilt and be­yond, whether they’re in a sen­ti­men­tal drama or a silly com­edy.

Cameron Diaz just about sur­vives his di­rec­tion, but Les­lie Mann’s shrill and at times em­bar­rass­ing per­for­mance doesn’t. Mann’s Kate is one of the most an­noy­ing char­ac­ters seen in a movie in quite some time. How­ever, Nicki Mi­naj, who over­plays Carly’s sec­re­tary, is a close run­ner-up.

The di­rec­tor’s lack of subtlety ex­tends to the se­lec­tion of mu­sic used on the sound­track; when the women de­cide to go on the at­tack, the theme from Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble ac­com­pa­nies their ac­tions, and that’s only one of the blind­ingly ob­vi­ous uses of mu­sic cues.

In the end, even Melissa Stack’s screen­play fails to fol­low through on the theme of wronged women get­ting the bet­ter of weak and dis­hon­est men: poor Am­ber winds up in the arms of a char­ac­ter (Don John­son) not only es­tab­lished as yet an­other se­rial wom­an­iser but one who is old enough to be her fa­ther. So much for ne­ofem­i­nism. IT must be tough to be the son of an artist such as John Cas­sevetes, who is widely re­garded as a ma­jor fig­ure, and be­ing con­stantly re­minded you’re not in the same league your old man. An- other case in point is Nils Tav­ernier, whose fa­ther, Ber­trand Tav­ernier, is one of the finest of the older gen­er­a­tion of French di­rec­tors still ac­tive. (Ber­trand’s lat­est, the funny and charm­ing po­lit­i­cal com­edy Quai d’Or­say, was a high­light of the re­cent French Film Fes­ti­val.) Like Nick Cas­savetes, Nils Tav­ernier be­gan his ca­reer as an ac­tor, but he has made a num­ber of doc­u­men­taries and two fea­tures, of which De toutes nos forces, aka The Fin­ish­ers, is the sec­ond.

This is a story of courage and en­durance in the field of sport. Julien (very well played by Fa­bien Her­aud), suf­fers from con­gen­i­tal palsy and is con­fined to a wheel­chair. He lives with his par­ents, Paul (Jac­ques Gam­blin) and Claire (Alexan­dra Lamy), in a beau­ti­ful vil­lage in the French Alps. Ten­sions be­tween fa­ther and son in­crease when Paul, who works on the main­te­nance of ski lifts, loses his job and takes to drink­ing in the lo­cal bar rather than spend­ing time with his fam­ily.

Partly in an at­tempt to get his fa­ther out of a rut, but also to spend more time with him, Julien pro­poses they en­ter as a team in the forth­com­ing iron man race, which takes place in and around Nice. At first Paul dis­misses the idea, but even­tu­ally agrees and — well, there are ab­so­lutely no sur­prises here, be­cause even if you didn’t guess there’d be a happy end­ing the id­i­otic English ti­tle given to the film would con­firm it for you.

Still, though the film is shorn of any­thing in the way of sus­pense or sur­prise, it’s very watch­able, thanks to the com­pe­tence with which it has been made, no­tably the fine pho­tog­ra­phy by Lau­rent Machuel and the ex­cel­lent per­for­mances from Gam­blin and, es­pe­cially, Her­aud. The film strives to be in­spi­ra­tional and ends up be­ing sen­ti­men­tal, but de­spite its flaws it con­veys a sense of ex­hil­a­ra­tion and per­sonal tri­umph. IN Re­view last week, Tom Ryan wrote about the back­ground to Cedric Klapisch’s Chi­nese Puzzle, the New York-set cul­mi­na­tion of a tril­ogy that be­gan in 2001 with L’Au­berge Es­pag­nole, and there’s no doubt that catch­ing up with the lives of Xavier (Ro­main Duris) and his friends ev­ery few years is prov­ing as plea­sur­able as be­com­ing re-ac­quainted ev­ery so of­ten with the lovers in Richard Lin­klater’s Be­fore tril­ogy. To be­gin with, dis­cov­er­ing Xavier is no longer mar­ried to Wendy (Kelly Reilly), the girl he met in the first film, is al­most as painful as learn­ing a cou­ple you know and like have di­vorced. But Xavier has ac­cepted that Wendy is now liv­ing with an Amer­i­can (Peter Her­mann) and has moved to New York to be close to his chil­dren.

Chi­nese Puzzle ex­plores his life in an en­vi­ron­ment that is so dif­fer­ent from his Euro­pean roots with quiet hu­mour, em­pha­sis­ing those chance en­coun­ters that can make such a dif­fer­ence. Xavier’s meet­ings with an in­jured taxi driver or an African-Amer­i­can sin­gle dad bring him un­ex­pected op­por­tu­ni­ties as well as friend­ships. Klapisch packs a lot into the film and though there are a few mis­steps (Xavier’s en­coun­ters with dead Ger­man philoso­phers seem par­tic­u­larly ill-ad­vised), the film as a whole is a very sat­is­fac­tory con­clu­sion to the tril­ogy — if, in­deed, it is a con­clu­sion. Per­haps we’ll be catch­ing up with Xavier again in a few years.

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