screen wriTer

Pe­riod de­tail could be dead, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

Robert Luketic’s 21, one of this week’s flashier re­leases (see re­view, page 12), at­tempts to turn an in­trigu­ing true story from the 1990s into a sexy com­edy for to­day’s eas­ily dis­tracted youth. The film deals with the at­tempt by young boffins at a pres­ti­gious Amer­i­can univer­sity to beat the odds at Las Ve­gas’s black­jack ta­bles.

“So, how do they han­dle the pe­riod de­tail?” you don’t re­ally ask me. “Have they cap­tured that mid-1990s zeit­geist ef­fec­tively?” you are un­likely to con­tinue.

Erm? As far as I can re­call, the pic­ture is, in fact, set in the present day. Let me think, now. Ev­ery­one was dressed in prep­pie clothes that might have emerged from Ba­nana Repub­lic or Gap at any time over the past two decades. I don’t re­mem­ber any­body pro­duc­ing a lar­gish mo­bile phone and, to my knowl­edge, none of the char­ac­ters dis­cussed their in­ten­tion to vote for Bill Clin­ton any time soon. Yes, I’m fairly cer­tain they moved the ac­tion to 2008.

Con­sider a very dif­fer­ent film from 10 years ago. No­body could have been in any doubt that The Wed­ding Singer took place in the 1980s. Frank Co­raci’s broad com­edy, an early fusil­lade in Adam San­dler’s con­tin­u­ing cam­paign of ter­ror, fea­tured mas­sively teased hair­dos, lots of cheesy synth-rock and plenty of jack­ets with their sleeves rolled up. The Wed­ding Singer was not the first film to in­dulge in nos­tal­gia for the Rea­gan years, but no pre­vi­ous pic­ture had aimed to be quite so com­pre­hen­sive in its pre­sen­ta­tion of 1980s iconog­ra­phy.

Now, here’s the thing. It is quite im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine how a con­tem­po­rary Frank Co­raci might, in 2008, set about com­pil­ing a sim­i­lar ad­ven­ture in nos­tal­gia for the pre­vi­ous decade.

At the close of the mil­len­nium, pub­lish­ers were keen to com­mis­sion big, fat books de­tail­ing the demise of some­thing-or-other. Var­i­ous pro­fes­sors duly an­nounced the End of His­tory, the End of Pol­i­tics, the End of So­ci­ol­ogy and the End of Sausages. Of course, all th­ese things stub­bornly re­fused to crawl into their grave, but, as the 1990s re­cede over the hori­zon, it be­comes clear that we may have just wit­nessed the End of Pe­riod De­tail.

Large sec­tions of the re­cent ro­man­tic com­edy Def­i­nitely Maybe were set in the 1990s but, if you walked in half­way through, you could be for­given for imag­in­ing the ac­tion was tak­ing place in the present day: same trousers, same hair, same furniture, same ver­nac­u­lar. Such is the cul­tural over­lap be­tween decades that it seems jar­ring when fe­male lead Rachel Weisz whips out a lap­top as thick as a phone book. The clos­est thing we get to a pe­riod-based joke re­volves around the in­ef­fi­ciency of the char­ac­ters’ dial-up mo­dem. Oh, very droll.

If any pub­lish­ers are read­ing this they might like to com­mis­sion Same Pants, Same Dreams: The De­cline of the Zeit­geist by Dr DC Screen­writer. Film rights for this bul­let- stop­per, which will ponder the neg­a­tive ef­fects of pro­longed pros­per­ity on pop­u­lar cul­ture, can be ob­tained by e-mail­ing the ad­dress be­low. I see Ge­orge Clooney in the lead role.

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