Period detail could be dead, writes Donald Clarke
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.