Last weekend I watched some romantic comedies.
Well the comedy is a bit muted in a couple of them, and the romance is a side order in another, and there’s no sign of Jennifer Aniston in any of them, but…
Dish Dogs (2000)
Morgan and Jason are two young men with philosophical ambitions, travelling the country and making a living through washing dishes, which they have perfected to a fine art, so that there’s nothing heavy to distract them while they wait for some existential moment of epiphany. And, of course, such high minded young men are riding for a fall, which they get when true love comes a calling (in real life they’d probably get knocked senseless by the first person they got smartass with, but this is Hollywood). Jason abandons the quest for enlightenment to marry his old sweetheart, and while he can’t condone such behaviour Morgan also can’t deny his own feelings for a lap dancer who quotes Nietzsche (that would work for me too). And so happiness is declared after various trials in the lists of love and family values triumph over high falutin’ intellectual concerns. I sound dismissive, but all the same I rather enjoyed this film, which certainly had its moments. Matthew Lillard as Jason is agreeably goofy, almost reprising his Scooby-Doo role, and it’s hard not to like him, while Brian Dennehy puts in an admirable turn as the older, wiser sage these guys look up to. Sean Astin’s Morgan seemed a little too up himself, but I guess that was the point of it all, though I felt his behaviour deserved a tad more in the way of comeuppance – that could just be that I’m a nasty, judgemental sort (reading Nietzsche at an impressionable age will do that to you). Whatever.
Two Ninas (1999)
Marty is a loser, in love and literature – girls don’t take to him and nobody wants to publish his novel. Things have got so bad that he is considering leaving New York to go back home and work in the family business. Then he meets two women, both of them called Nina, and can’t decide which is the one for him, so starts carting on with both, as you do. And a stranger in a bar turns out to be a top literary agent who agrees to look at his novel. There are various complications, and of course everything falls apart romantically just as Marty discovers which Nina believes in him. Our hero wears sackcloth for a reel or two and does penance, after which the love of his life forgives him and they drive off into the sunset together. Personally I though Marty was a self-absorbed and self-pitying shit who didn’t deserve either woman, but we’ve already noted that I’m the nasty, judgemental sort. While I don’t really find the base situation all that amusing, there’s plenty of wit in the trimmings – the ways in which women react to Marty, the feisty character of Nina #1, the narration by Marty’s friend lawyer Dave, who believes in true love and happy endings even as he masquerades as a hardened womaniser of the love ’em and leave ’em school. Lots of nice touches. I just wish they’d been in a film centred on a character I could actually give a damn about instead of twerp Marty.
Okay, this is a masterpiece compared to the two previous films and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ellen Page is perfectly cast as sixteen year old Juno, who finds herself pregnant and then has to deal with giving the baby up to a good home and handling the adults in her life to bring about a satisfactory resolution. Despite her youth, she is played as somebody who knows exactly what she wants and will do whatever it takes to make that happen, as with winning the love of boyfriend Paulie. Diablo Cody’s script is witty but never trivialises or over sentimentalises the situation, so that you feel Juno’s desperation even as she takes control. The characters are well drawn, especially Juno and Paulie, an endearingly gawky and believable Romeo and Juliet, though the cynic in me expects they’ll grow up into Hollywood royalty and leave all the quirkiness behind. In many ways the anti-Juno, the husband of the adopting couple Mark is the embodiment of Peter Pan syndrome, a man who never has and probably never will grow up and take on adult responsibilities (and in parenthesis, that’s something I don’t necessarily disapprove of, except insofar as it screws things up for other people, as here). Jennifer Garner plays his wife and a woman whose destiny is to be a mother regardless of biological constraints, and even though I still can’t help thinking she has the face of somebody who looks like they just got slapped, Garner handles the role well and has the best line of the whole movie – ‘If we have to wait for you to turn into Kurt Cobain, I’m never going to have a baby’.
As an aside, creative types don’t get very good PR from these three films – the intellectual wannabes in Dogs, writer Marty in Ninas and composer/musician Mark here, all come under the label interesting but ultimately somewhat shallow, at least until they learn the error of their ways (a redemption denied to Mark).
That’s it then. This weekend I need to purge my psyche by feasting my eyes on some serious horror, or this romcom stuff might become the default setting and that would never do.