Saturday, September 22, 2012

ruby sparks

In a plotline that feeds into the fantasies of 90% of people who work in cafes, an author defeats writer’s block by writing about a woman he dreams of, who then comes to life and is able to be controlled by said author’s typing. I mean, this guy—Calvin, nearing thirty, played by Paul Dano—had already written a bestseller at age 19, and lives off his writing. This is more unrealistic than bringing a girl to life with your mind, but is strangely not the topic of the movie. 

Calvin is moping about, friendless, dateless, and not writing but being harassed about it, when he dreams of a girl and they have a nice conversation without any usual weird dream things like it being in your old bedroom but actually on Mars or anything. Inspired by that and his therapist Dr Rosenthal (Elliot Gould), he writes about her, and thus Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan, also the writer and one of the producers) springs to life one morning as Calvin runs about panicking about being late. Reacting perfectly to the presence of a strange woman in his house by hiding from her and freaking out, it takes a while for him to comprehend that she is real, really real and wonderful and fun and just the girl for him. Which is grand, until their relationship hits a few minor speed bumps and Calvin, in a panic, gets back onto his typewriter and changes her course. 

What are the ethics of controlling someone, even when they’re not entirely real? What about if you think it’s for their own good, to make them happy? What would you do in the same situation? (We discussed it while we were watching: write them a huge trust fund and a bright red convertible Cadillac.) What is behind Calvin’s need for control over those in his life? Ruby Sparks is thrown around as a lightweight comedy but has a lot of depth and seriousness; you won’t always be laughing, and everyone is not perfect. While it outright discusses (without the name) Manic Pixie Dream Girls and how they are not practical as human beings, it raises other questions, for me anyway: why are men compelled to write women with sexually turbulent pasts? Did it not pass the Bechdel Test on purpose to make a point about women being idealised? 

Well now that serious contemplation is out of the way, I will say that it’s a great movie: the acting is sincere, the characters bounce off each other well—Calvin’s much more normal brother Harry (Chris Messina) is a good straight logical man without coming across as boring because of it; Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas (sigh) as Calvin’s mother and stepfather are an interesting look into Calvin’s psyche; Calvin’s dog Scotty is suitably fuzzy—and make it a believable situation in a believable world. When Calvin tries to alter Ruby’s personality and finds things inevitable screw up, it makes for both humorous and slightly-to-very depressing situations. It’s an interesting idea and it’s been done well. As a bookseller, one of my favourite things about it was that the book covers in the movie were actually great instead of the crap they usually put out in films—mostly, the author’s name IN VERY BIG LETTERS in case you weren’t sure the book they were signing was their own. If these books turned up in my store, I would buy them. Kudos to their art department then, and to their set designers for Calvin’s stepfather’s forest-like house, which is the most divine place you’d ever want to live in armed with lots of bug spray. 

Ruby Sparks is quirky and delightful while avoiding cliché and never straying into comedy for the sake of it. You could do a lot worse than this film next time you’re out and about. I give it four out of five houses with swimming pools.

Monday, September 17, 2012

kath & kimderella

Have you heard of the sandwich way of criticism? It’s when you need to say something bad about someone who you’re trying to encourage, or who you like, or who will roll up their manuscript/screenplay/comic and beat you about the head with it if you are mean. (I am this person.) You sandwich the bad criticism between good criticism. 

Like, for instance, Kath & Kimderella. I enjoyed the first season of Kath & Kim (I bought it on VHS, in case you were curious about how long ago it started). Kath & Kimderella is possibly the worst movie to ever grace the big screen. But Woodley was very funny. 

See? A nice gentle criticism sandwich. 

Kath (Jane Turner) and Kim (Gina Riley) are both angsting about the missing sparkle (or “vajazzle”, as Kath would and does say) in their relationships when plot encouragement occurs for them as Kath wins a competition at her local chemist for a trip to the Spanish outpost of Pampilloma, located in the south of Italy. Upon their arrival they discover that the whole place has gone bankrupt and their hotel has shut down, but after a tour of the local castle the king (Rob Sitch with luscious hair) misinterprets their knockoff label clothes as the real thing, assumes they’re rich and attempts to seduce Kath for her apparent wealth. His son, hiding his features behind a mask, falls for Kim after seeing her with a t-shirt that says PRINCESS on it in sparkles. Hijinks ensue. Sigh. 

The central conceit isn’t really a problem—give me enough jokes and any plot is fine. But crucially, Kath & Kimderella is not funny. It’s not funny when Kath, Kim and Sharon (Magda Szubanski, along for the ride) go outlet shopping and the girls run around sped up like a Benny Hill skit. The same sped-up schtick is also not funny when Kath uses what she thinks is the castle’s gym but is in fact their dungeon (LOL HAHA except that it is actually totally a gym). It’s not funny when Kath and King Javier go for a ride on their Vespa against some green screen so obvious that it could almost be a joke, but just looks bizarrely cheap against the rest of the movie’s actually decent backdrops. It’s not funny when the plot stagnates halfway through, and it’s not funny that all the twists are completely obvious from the moment the characters appear on the screen. 

It’s also confusing when the poor men, left at home to watch telly in their Snuggies, decide to go fight the royals for their women. Kath’s husband Kel (Glenn Robbins) commits an act on an airplane that would surely get him banished from all flights forever, but then turns up mysteriously in Europe five minutes later to save the day. And, even more mysteriously, arrives before Kim’s own husband Brett (Peter Rowsthorn), who was on either the same flight or an earlier one. Uh, spoiler alert. Also, Gina Riley looks amazing and while I certainly can’t rock a midriff top, I’m a bit over the whole “ugh, look at her in an outfit that’s too small lulz” thing. Wear what you want and get over it. 

Oh hey, It wasn’t entirely awful. Kim’s cutting little digs were occasionally funny, and the cinema popcorn was nice, and the bit where the king and Kath address a crowd and Frank Woodley signs for the hearing impaired made me shake with laughter. This hasn’t made me dislike Turner and Riley, whom I admire greatly for making me laugh numerous times over the years, but I really did not enjoy this. Though I did just see a review on IMDb by summerblink that stated “To everyone who didn't find it amusing - there's so much of Australian culture you do understand. If you call yourself an Aussie, you should be ashamed.” And I’m glad people like it, honestly, but here I am in shame, saying I give it 9 out of 86 minutes.