Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Life Less Ordinary


Dir: Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave; Trainspotting; 28 Days Later)

Dark, dark romantic comedy. Half Tarantino and half Nora Ephron. Ewan McGregor happens into a kidnapping of Cameron Diaz, the daughter of the brutal capitalist who has just fired him. As it so happens, the encouter is prearranged by a pair of cupids/angels who are tasked with bringing the odd couple to love by God. Otherwise, the angels are sentenced to eternity on Earth, and our lovers live out their lives in sorrow.

The plot is not nearly as muddy as its synopsis seems. But the film is both richly symbolic and highly stylized, both elements being hard to make gel into a coherent story. At times the very talented Boyle threatens to tip over into silliness or music video parody. But for the most part, the direction remains frenetic but tasteful and the focus remains, as it should, on the love story.

The movie is essentially a rumination on contemporary relationships, one that I found myself ambivalent on. The abiding atmosphere is cynicism; Diaz shoots people with a gun, for fun. Love is something rendered superfluous by impotent men and cold, jaded women. The high divorce rate is what drives the angels' quest. Pop psychology, sex without attachment, and disconnection pervade the worldview of the whole film.

And then, Boyle rehabilitates his characters and his narrative by returning to an older view of romance. The pivotal scene, one that rewards the price of admission, is a fantastical one where a karaoke excursion into Bobby Darin ends up in an old fashioned production number. The story wants to reclaim the older, less cyncial romance. It yearns for when people fell in love and dance the rest of their lives and no one gets shot.

But, oddly enough, lots more people get shot in the movie after that scene. Even the angels shoot people. It's like Boyle won't let the supposed hyper-cynicism of modern romance aside, even at the same time as he critiques it. The remainder is a thought provoking film, but one that I have trouble reckoning with. Are we that cold and postmodern? No, I think not. Is love that doomed? I know for a fact that it is not. So, is Boyle just being fashionably dark? Perhaps. But his take on the world is worth a careful consideration.

Fifteen years ago, Sharon Stone would have played the Diaz character and Harrison Ford the McGregor. And the former would have been an improvement, the latter a fair trade. What we have here is a visually interesting, probably too bleak account of the search for love in the modern world.

Worth your time. But plow through the classics before this; you will understand the critique all the more.



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 12/30/2005 01:02:00 AM that...

Only saw it once, but it really struck me as a movie more lofty in its expectations than its execution. Liked it nonetheless.