Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

20 February 2006

The 40 Year Old Virgin / Nine Lives

I finally saw Judd Apatow's The 40 Year Old Virgin, and I suppose that my reaction to it doesn't matter too much since everyone else has already seen this film (which, inexplicably, has won numerous awards and been on myriad top ten lists). Ergo, I will keep my response to this movie brief.

The virgin, er, version I saw was the "Unrated" DVD version being released by Universal. This, hopefully, explains why the movie I saw was full of unfunny scenes and why some of the funny scenes go on too long (i.e. until they're not funny anymore.) I trust that the theatrical version was funnier, tighter, cleaner machine, because in reality The 40 Year Old Virgin is a very funny movie, full of ludicrously hilarious gags and clever non sequitors. The problem for me is that everything just goes on too long and there is so much unnecessary filler. It felt to me as though much of the film was improvised and perhaps this is true, but improvisation without very clear character choices can be a very bad thing and I think a lot of the choices are unclear.

My favorite parts of the movie focus on Andy's friends (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogan) and their hilarious byplay with one another and with Andy. Also hilarious is Gerry Bednob as their co-worker Mooj. All of that stuff about "You know how I know you're gay?" was hilarious to me, and I loved the Hair sequence at the end of the film even though I think it makes no fucking sense and is totally unrelated to the rest of the movie.

*

Rodrigo García's Nine Lives is now one of my favorite movies of 2005. Like Tony Takitani, I know it's late, but I have to add Nine Lives to my Top Twenty-Five of 2005 list. It's the story of nine women, or more specifically, a part of the story of nine women. The film is done in nine short segments, each about fifteen minutes long and each of which is a single steadicam shot with no editing. It's a fascinating experiment that leaves very little room for moments that feel staged or untrue. Instead, the film feels blazingly original and wonderfully honest. Each of the stories has a single female as its focus and charts her emotional experience over the course of only about a quarter of an hour. And this is the thing: each of these stories is totally fascinating and emotionally raw. It's never boring. Nine Lives doesn't suffer from the problems of most ensemble dramas: some characters are usually more interesting than others and when the boring ones are on, the audience is willing the filmmaker to get back to the interesting characters. All of García's characters are interesting. These women are phenomenal creations of will and strength and beauty and the film paints nine unique and intriguing portraits.

In addition, the acting is absolutely incredible. Best in show are Robin Wright Penn, Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek, Amy Brenneman, Lisa Gay Hamilton and Glenn Close, but the film is positively filled to the brim with superb, emotionally raw performances from the likes of Kathy Baker, Jason Isaacs, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Dillane, Joe Mantegna, Mary Kay Place, William Fichtner, Molly Parker, Ian McShane, Elpidia Carrillo and Dakota Fanning. I loved the score, by Ed Shearmur: it's quiet, poetic and haunting, just like the film.

The real master at work here, though, is Rodrigo García himself. He has displayed with Nine Lives that his understanding of human nature is profound and his ability to write dialogue that sounds organic and honest is positively uncanny. The films themes run deeply and quietly into the audience's heart and with almost no showmanship at all, Mr. García packs up his tale and leaves the audience to itself. He doesn't talk down to the audience and he isn't interested in explaining everything to us. Knowing everything there is to know about these characters is not necessary. What he really wants us to do is see these women and love them for what we do know about them. This film is superb: highly recommended.