Insomnia File #33: The Comedian (dir by Taylor Hackford)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep around two in the morning last night, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 2016 film, The Comedian.

It probably wouldn’t have helped.  It’s not that The Comedian is a particularly interesting movie or anything like that.  Abysmally paced and full of dull dialogue, The Comedian would be the perfect cure for insomnia if it just wasn’t so damn loud.  Robert De Niro plays an aging comedian named Jackie Burke and, in this movie, being an aging comedian means that you shout out your punch lines with such force that you almost seem to be threatening anyone who doesn’t laugh.  However, the threats aren’t necessary because everyone laughs at everything Jackie says.

Actually, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that everyone laughs.  In The Comedian, Jackie is such a force of pure, unstoppable hilarity that all he has to do is tell someone that they’re fat and literally the entire world will shriek with unbridled joy.  The thing with laughter is that, in the real world, everyone laughs in a different way.  Not everyone reacts to a funny joke with an explosive guffaw.  Some people chuckle.  Some people merely smile.  But, in the world of The Comedian, everyone not only laughs the same way but they also all laugh at the same time.  There’s never anyone who doesn’t immediately get the joke and, by that same token, there’s never anyone who can’t stop laughing once everyone else has fallen silent.  The Comedian takes individuality out of laughter, which is a shame because the ability to laugh is one of the unique things that makes us human.

Anyway, The Comedian is about a formerly famous comedian who is now obscure.  He used to have a hit TV show but now he’s nearly forgotten.  Why he’s forgotten is never made clear because nearly everyone in the movie still seems to think that he’s the funniest guy in the world.  Jackie’s an insult comic and people love it when he tells them that they’re overweight or when he makes fun of their sexual preferences.  This would probably be more believable if Jackie was played by an actor who was a bit less intense than Robert De Niro.  When De Niro starts to make aggressive jokes, you’re natural instinct is not so much to laugh as it is to run before he starts bashing in someone’s head with a lead pipe.

Anyway, the plot of the film is that Jackie gets into a fight with a heckler.  The video of the fight is uploaded to YouTube, which leads to a scene where his manager (Edie Falco) stares at her laptop and announces, “It’s going viral!”  Later on, in the movie, Jackie forces a bunch of old people to sing an obnoxious song with him and he goes viral a second time.  I kept waiting for a shot of a computer screen with “VIRAL” blinking on-and-off but sadly, the movie never provided this much-needed insert.

In between beating up the heckler, ruining his niece’s wedding, and hijacking a retirement home, Jackie finds the time to fall in love with Harmony Schlitz (Leslie Mann), a character whose name alone is enough to The Comedian one of the most annoying films of all time.  Harmony’s father is a retired gangster (Harvey Keitel) and you can’t help but wish that Keitel and De Niro could have switched roles.  It wouldn’t have made the movie any better but at least there would have been a chance of Keitel going batshit insane whenever he took the stage to deliver jokes.

I’m not sure why anyone thought it would be a good idea to cast an actor like Robert De Niro as a successful comedian.  It’s true that De Niro was brilliant playing a comedian in The King of Comedy but Rupert Pupkin was supposed to be awkward, off-putting, and not very funny.  I’m not an expert on insult comics but, from what I’ve seen, it appears that the successful ones largely succeed by suggesting that they’re just having fun with the insults, that no one should take it personally, and that they appreciate any member of the audience who is willing to be a good sport.  Jackie just comes across like a cranky old misogynist.  Watching Jackie is like listening to your bitter uncle play Vegas.  I guess it would help if Jackie actually said something funny every once in a while.  A typical Jackie joke is to refer to his lesbian niece as being a “prince.”  Speaking for myself, when it comes to Robert De Niro being funny, I continue to prefer the scene in Casino where he hosts the Ace Rothstein Show.

Perhaps the funniest thing about The Comedian is that, when it originally released into theaters, it was advertised as being “The Comedian, a Taylor Hackford film,” as if Taylor Hackford is some type of Scorsese-style auteur.  Taylor Hackford has been making films for longer than I’ve been alive and he has yet to actually come up with any sort of signature style beyond point and shoot.  The second funniest thing is that The Comedian was billed as a potential Oscar contender, up until people actually saw the damn thing.

Though it may have failed at the box office, The Comedian seems to show up on Starz quite frequently.  They always seem to air it very late at night, as if they’re hoping people won’t notice.  

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Five Easy Pieces (dir by Bob Rafelson)


First released in 1970, Five Easy Pieces tells the story of a lost man named Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson).

When we first meet Bobby, he’s working at a California oil field.  He likes to go bowling.  He has a girlfriend named Rayette (Karen Black), who is a country music-obsessed waitress.  His best friend is Elton (Billy “Green” Bush), a friendly redneck with a memorable laugh.  Bobby may have a girlfriend and Elton may be married but that doesn’t stop either one of them from going out at night, getting drunk, and trying to pick up women.

Bobby seems to be just another blue-collar guy with a grudge against the bosses but it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s something different about him.  Bobby may be friends with Elton but it’s obvious that the two of them come from very different background.  No matter how much he tries to hide it, Bobby is smarter than everyone else around him.  When he and Elton get stuck in a traffic jam, Bobby spots a piano sitting on the back of a pickup truck.  Getting out of his car, Bobby yells at everyone who is honking and then climbs up to the piano.  He sits down, he puts his fingers to the keys and he starts to play.  Knowing Bobby, you’re expecting him to just bang the keys and make noise.  Instead, he plays beautiful music.

Later, Bobby steps into a recording studio.  Paritia (Lois Smith), a neurotic woman, is playing the piano.  The recording engineers joke about her lack of talent.  Bobby glares at them, annoyed.  It quickly becomes apparent why Bobby is so protective.  Paritia is Bobby’s sister.

Bobby, it turns out, comes from a wealthy family of musicians.  Everyone in the family has dealt with the pressure to succeed differently.  Paritia continues to play, despite not having much talent.  Bobby’s older brother, the buffoonish Carl (Ralph Waite), plays violin and has staid home with their father (William Challee).  Bobby, on the other hand, ran away from home.  He’s spent his entire life trying to escape from both his talent and his family.  However, when Paritia explains that their father has suffered from two strokes and might not live much longer, Bobby reluctantly decides to return home and try to make some sort of peace with his father.

It’s not as easy a journey as Bobby would have liked.  For one thing, Rayette demands to go with him.  On the drive up to Washington, they pick up two hitchhikers (Helena Kallionetes and Toni Basil), one of whom is obsessed with filth.  In the film’s most famous scene, an attempt to get a simple lunch order modified leads to Bobby losing control.

See, that’s the thing with Bobby.  In many ways, he’s a jerk.  He treats Rayette terribly.  While his family is hardly perfect, the film doesn’t hide from the fact that Bobby isn’t always the easiest person to deal with.  And yet, you can’t help but sympathize with Bobby.  If he seems permanently annoyed with the world … well, that’s because the world’s annoying.  And, to Bobby’s credit, he’s a bit more self-aware than the typical rebel without a cause.  When one of the hitchhikers praises his temper tantrum at the diner, Bobby points out that, after all of that, he still didn’t get the order that he wanted.

In Washington, Bobby tells Rayette to stay at a motel and then goes to see his family.  Bobby seems as out-of-place among his wealthy family as he did hanging out in the oil fields with Elton.  He ends up cheating on Rayette with Carl’s fiancee, a pianist named Catherine van Oost (Susan Anspach).

And then Rayette shows up for dinner…

Five Easy Pieces is a sometimes funny and often poignant character study of a man who seems to be destined to always feel lost in the world.  Bobby spends the whole movie trying to find a place where he can find happiness and every time, reality interferes with his plans.  Nicholson gives a brilliant performance, playing Bobby as a talented guy who doesn’t really like himself that much.  Bobby’s search for happiness leads to a rather haunting ending, one that suggests that some people are just meant to spend their entire life wandering.

Five Easy Pieces was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Patton.

The Las Vegas Film Critics Society Announces Their Picks For The Best of 2017!


The Las Vegas Film Critics Society has announced their picks for the best of 2017!

And what did they choose?

Look below to find out!

Best Picture
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actor
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out

Best Actress
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actor
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Supporting Actress
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

Best Director
Guillermo Del toro – The Shape of Water

Best Screenplay (Original)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Screenplay (Adapted)
Call Me By Your Name

Best Cinematography
Blade Runner 2049

Best Film Editing
Baby Driver

Best Score
The Shape of Water

Best Song
“Remember Me” – Coco

Best Action Film
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Animated Film
Coco

Best Foreign Film
First They Killed My Father

Best Costume Design
Blade Runner 2049

Best Art Direction
Blade Runner 2049

Best Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049

Best Comedy
The Big Sick

Best Horror / Sci-Fi
Get Out

Best Family Film
Coco

Best Ensemble
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Documentary
Jane

Breakout Filmaker
Jordan Peele – Get Out

Youth in Film
Brooklyn Prince – The Florida Project

William Holden Lifetime Achievement Award
Lois Smith

Here Are The 2017 IFP Gotham Award Nominees!


Hi, everyone!

Well, today is officially the start of Oscar season.  This morning, the Independent Filmmakers Project announced this year’s nominees for the Gotham Awards!  While the Gotham Awards may not be as well-known as some of the other precursors, their importance has grown over the past few years.  Though most of the major studio contenders are typically not eligible, a Gotham nomination can provide a definite boost for an independent film.

This year, Get Out received the most nominations.  Get Out has been mentioned as an outside possibility for an Oscar nomination.  It’s generally considered to be the best reviewed film of the year but horror is a genre that has traditionally struggled with the Academy.  For Get Out to receive a nomination, it’s going to need some help from the precursors (much as how Mad Max: Fury Road was legitimized by the critic groups in 2015).  With the announcement of the Gotham nominations, Get Out is off to a good start.

I’m also happy to see that James Franco received a nomination for playing Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist.

Here are the nominees:

Best Feature

Call Me by Your Name
Luca Guadagnino, director; Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges, Rodrigo Teixeira, Marco Morabito, James Ivory, Howard Rosenman, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Florida Project
Sean Baker, director; Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestri, Shih-Ching Tsou, producers (A24)

Get Out
Jordan Peele, director; Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jr., Jordan Peele, producers (Universal Pictures)

Good Time

Josh and Benny Safdie, directors; Paris Kasidokostas-Latsis, Terry Dougas, Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, producers (A24)

I, Tonya
Craig Gillespie, director; Bryan Unkeless, Steven Rogers, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, producers (NEON)

Best Documentary

Ex Libris – The New York Public Library
Frederick Wiseman, director and producer (Zipporah Films)

Rat Film
Theo Anthony, director; Riel Roch-Decter, Sebastian Pardo, producers (MEMORY and Cinema Guild)

Strong Island
Yance Ford, director; Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes, producers (Netflix)

The Work 
Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis, directors; Sabaah Folayan, Damon Davis, Jennifer MacArthur, Flannery Miller, producers (Magnolia Pictures)

Whose Streets?

Jairus McLeary, director;  Alice Henty, Eon McLeary, Jairus McLeary, Miles McLeary, producers (The Orchard and First Look Media)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Maggie Betts for Novitiate (Sony Pictures Classics)
Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird (A24)
Kogonada for Columbus (Superlative Films/Depth of Field)
Jordan Peele for Get Out (Universal Pictures)
Joshua Z Weinstein for Menashe (A24)

Best Screenplay

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (Amazon Studios)
Brad’s Status, Mike White (Amazon Studios)
Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory (Sony Pictures Classics)
Columbus, Kogonada (Superlative Films/Depth of Field)
Get Out, Jordan Peele (Universal Pictures)
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig (A24)


*
Best Actor*

Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project (A24)
James Franco in The Disaster Artist (A24)
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out (Universal Pictures)
Robert Pattinson in Good Time (A24)
Adam Sandler in The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Netflix)
Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky (Magnolia Pictures)

Best Actress

Melanie Lynskey in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Netflix)
Haley Lu Richardson in Columbus (Superlative Films/Depth of Field)
Margot Robbie in I, Tonya (NEON)
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird (A24)
Lois Smith in Marjorie Prime (FilmRise)

Breakthrough Actor

Mary J. Blige in Mudbound (Netflix)
Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics)
Harris Dickinson in Beach Rats (NEON)
Kelvin Harrison, Jr. in It Comes at Night (A24)
Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project (A24)

* The 2017 Best Actor/Best Actress nominating committee also voted to award a special Gotham Jury Award for ensemble performance to Mudbound, The award will go to actors Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, and Jonathan Banks.

 

Lisa’s Too Early Oscar Predictions For February


Oscars

Well, it’s that time again!

Every month this year, I am updating my predictions for which films and performers will be nominated for Oscars in 2018.  At this point in the year, this is largely an academic exercise.  The nominees below are a mix of wild guesses, instinctual feeling, and wishful thinking.  Usually, a clear picture of the Oscar race doesn’t start to form until October at the earliest.  (Last year, at this time, nobody had even heard of Moonlight or Hell or High Water.)  In other words, take these predictions with a grain of salt.

This update is heavily influenced by what happened at the Sundance Film Festival last month.  In fact, it’s probably a bit too influenced by Sundance.  If these predictions turned out to be 100% correct, the 2018 Oscars would be the Sundance Oscars.  That said, it seems that there’s always a few successful Oscar campaigns that start during Sundance.  (And then there’s always a few Sundance sensations that totally fizzle during awards season.  Birth of a Nation, anyone?  Or perhaps The End of the Tour.)  But, as of right now, Sundance is pretty much the only thing that we have to go on, as far as future Oscar contenders are concerned.

Again, take all of this with a grain of salt.  Just because I may brag about knowing what I’m talking about, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I do.

Check out January’s predictions here! 

And without further ado…

Mudbound

Mudbound

Best Picture

Battle of the Sexes

The Beguiled

The Big Sick

Blade Runner 2047

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Downsizing

Dunkirk

Mudbound

The big additions here are Mudbound, The Big Sick, and Call Me By Your Name, all three of which got a lot of attention and acclaim at Sundance.  Both Mudbound and Call Me By Your Name are already being mentioned, by some Oscar bloggers, as possible winners for best picture.  The Big Sick may seem like more of a dark horse but, from what I’ve read, it sounds like the sort of movie that could emerge as a surprise contender.  With its Muslim protagonist and its mix of comedy and drama, it sounds like it could catch the cultural zeitgeist.

Dropping from the list: T2, All Eyez On Me, and War Machine.  T2 has gotten good but not great reviews in the UK.  As for All Eyez on Me and War Machine — well, it’s just a feeling I have.  Both of them could be good but it’s easier to imagine a scenario in which they’re both disappointments.

Best Director

Luca Guadagnino for Call Me By Your Name

Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk

Alexander Payne for Downsizing

Dee Rees for Mudbound

Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2047

Guadagnino and Rees are new contenders.  Rees would be the first black woman ever nominated for best director.

Best Actor

Chadwick Boseman in Marshall

Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name

Tom Cruise in American Made

Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour

I’m a little bit iffy on Chadwick Boseman.  In Marshall, he will be playing Thurgood Marshall, which sounds like a good, Oscar baity role.  But Marshall itself sounds like a rather standard biopic.  Timothee Chalamet and, especially, Kumail Nanjiani received a lot of Sundance acclaim.  The fact that Nanjiani has been outspoken in his opposition to Trump’s travel ban will probably help his chances.

Sundance was also responsible for Logan Lerman falling off this list.  Sidney Hall got terrible reviews.

Best Actress

Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul

Danielle MacDonald in Patti Cake$

Carey Mulligan in Mudbound

Lois Smith in Marjorie Prime

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes

Among the new additions, Danielle MacDonald was one of the break-out stars at Sundance.  Carey Mulligan is due to get another nomination (and Mudbound is expected to be a major Oscar contender).  As for Lois Smith, she’s a respected veteran actress who gets to play a rare lead role in Marjorie Prime.  So, why not a nomination?

Best Supporting Actor

James Franco in The Masterpiece

Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name

Jason Mitchell in Mudbound

Bill Skarsgard in It

Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name

I’m continuing to predict a nomination for James Franco and yes, it probably is just wishful thinking on my part.  But dammit, I just like the idea of Franco getting a nomination for playing Tommy Wiseau.

Skarsgard is probably wishful thinking as well.  If It works, it will be because of Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise.

Finally, Hammer, Mitchell, and Stuhlbarg are our Sundance nominees.  Many people think that all three are overdue for some Academy recognition.  (There’s some debate over whether Hammer should go supporting or lead for Call Me By Your Name.  I’m going to assume that he’s going to pull a Viola Davis and go supporting.)

Best Supporting Actress

Mary J. Blige in Mudbound

Holly Hunter in The Big Sick

Melissa Leo in Novitiate 

Kristin Scott Thomas in Darkest Hour

Tilda Swinton in War Machine

As always, this is the most difficult category to predict.  Blige, Hunter, and Leo are all Sundance nominees.  (Hunter is especially said to be award-worthy in her Big Sick role.)  For the second month in a row, Scott Thomas and Swinton are listed more because of who they are than any other reason.

The Big Sick

The Big Sick

Playing Catch-Up: The Nice Guys (dir by Shane Black)


the-nice-guys

Last night, along with seeing Trainspotting at the Alamo Drafthouse and watching The BFG at home, I also rewatched The Nice Guys.

Now, I saw The Nice Guys when it was first released last May and I absolutely loved it.  However, before I started rewatching it, I was a little worried .  I remembered that The Nice Guys was a stylish and often hilarious action film, one that featured a great comedic turn from Ryan Gosling and a performance from Russell Crowe that showed why he deserves to make a comeback as a leading man.  I also remembered that, for all of its graphic violence and often profane dialogue, The Nice Guys was also an unexpectedly sweet-natured movie.  I loved not only the rapport shared between Gosling and Crowe but also the relationship between Gosling and Angourie Rice, the actress playing his daughter.  In fact, I remembered enjoying The Nice Guys so much that I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up to a second viewing.

It often happens when you love a film the first time that you see it.  On a second viewing, you start to notice all the little flaws that you didn’t notice the first time.  Lines that you remembered as being brilliant are no longer impressive, largely because you know they’re coming.  All too often, the films that blow you away fail to hold up over time.

(Anyone tried to rewatch Inherent Vice lately?)

But you know what?

The Nice Guys is not one of those films.  I watched the film for a second time and I loved it even more than the first time.

The Nice Guys takes place in Los Angeles in 1977.  It’s a time of wide lapels, leisure suits, tacky interior design, porno chic, and concerns that the L.A. air is so full of smog that not even bumble bees are willing to fly around in it.  Ryan Gosling is Holland March, a well-meaning if somewhat sleazy private investigator who has been hired to track down a porn star named Misty Mountains.  Of course, Holland know that Misty is dead.  Everyone knows that she’s dead.  She died in a car crash, one that made all the headlines.  But Misty’s aunt swears that she saw Misty after Misty’s supposed death.

Holland thinks that Misty’s aunt may have mistaken her niece for Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), the daughter of Judith Kutner (Kim Basinger, whose presence is meant to remind audiences of L.A. Confidential), an official at the Justice Department who has been leading a crusade against pornography.  Holland starts to search for Amelia which leads to Amelia paying Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to intimidate Holland.

Who is Jackson Healy?  Well, he’s not a licensed private investigator, though he’d certainly like to be.  Instead, he’s a professional enforcer.  If you pay him enough money, he’ll beat people up for you.  Usually, he beats up stalkers and ex-boyfriends.  When he discovers that Holland is a private investigator, Jackson is intrigued.  Jackson would like to be a private investigator.  Of course, that doesn’t stop Jackson from breaking Holland’s arm.  Jackson’s a professional, after all.  As Jackson leaves Holland’s house, he runs into Holly (Angourie Rice), Holland’s twelve year-old daughter.  She gives him a bottle of Yoohoo.

Later, Jackson is confronted by two men.  Keith David plays Older Guy and he’s intimidating because he’s Keith David.  His partner is a giggly sociopath played by Beau Knapp.  For reasons that are too much fun for me to spoil, he is known as Blue Face.  The two men demand to know where Amelia is.  After Jackson manages to chase them off with a shotgun, he teams up with Holland to try to track down Amelia and find out what’s going on…

Got all that?

The mystery — which eventually expands to involve everything from porn to political protest to the Detroit auto industry — is deliberately and overly complex but at the same time, it’s actually rather clever.  And, as I can now say after rewatching the film, it actually holds up quite well.  But, to be honest, the mystery is not as important as the whip smart dialogue, the frequently over the top action, and the chemistry between Gosling, Crowe, and Rice.  As good as the action may be, the film’s best scenes are simply the ones that feature the three leads talking to each other.

(Upon discovering that Jackson both broke her father’s arm and that he beats people up for a living, Holly immediately asks how much it would cost to have one of her friends beat up.)

And you know what?  As played by Gosling and Crowe, they really are the nice guys.  Holland tries to be cynical but, for the most part, he’s just an overprotective father.  Jackson may beat people up for a living but he’s not a sadist.  He’s a lot like the film, violent but with a good heart.

The Nice Guys is full of wonderful set pieces, like when Gosling, Crowe, and Rice infiltrate a sleazy 70s party or the film’s explosive finale.  For me though, I love the little details and the quieter moments.  I love the fact that even one of the worst people in the movie responds postively to having someone innocently hold his hand.

(I also love that Matt Bomer shows up, playing a totally terrifying hitman.  It’s a small role but Bomer does so much with it.)

It’s a shame that The Nice Guys came out as early in the year as it did.  It’s also a shame that it didn’t do better at the box office.  The Oscars could use a little action and a little comedy this year, don’t you think?

Embracing the Melodrama #36: Fatal Attraction (dir by Adrian Lyne)


fatal-attraction

(This review has spoilers because I felt like it and I’ll do whatever the Hell I want.)

Today, we continue embracing the melodrama by taking a look at the 1987 best picture nominee, Fatal Attraction.

Fatal Attraction opens on a scene of domestic bliss, with lawyer Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) and his wife Beth (Anne Archer) in their luxurious Manhattan apartment, getting ready to go out for the night and waiting for the babysitter to arrive.  Dan would appear to have it all: a successful career, a fat best friend, and a beautiful wife.  However, when Beth and their daughter go out of town for the weekend, Dan ends up having an affair with Alex (Glenn Close).  Dan assumes that it was just a weekend thing but Alex is soon stalking Dan.  Trying to escape her, Dan moves his family out to the suburbs but Alex follows them.  Soon, pet rabbits are being killed, Alex is breaking into the house with a knife, and it’s up to Beth to step up and reclaim her man.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about Fatal Attraction.  On the one hand, it’s an undeniably well-made film.  It’s well-acted and director Adrian Lyne pushes all of the right emotional buttons and keeps the action moving quickly.  That the film is predictable doesn’t make it any the less effective.  As a lover of horror movies, I appreciated the skill with which Lyne crafted the film’s scare scenes.  Watching the movie, it was easy to see why Fatal Attraction was a huge box office success and why it continues to influence our culture to this very day.

fa05

And yet, at the same time, Fatal Attraction really annoys me.

The film is so well-made and so manipulative that it’s easy to miss the fact that Dan Gallagher is not only never punished for betraying his wife but he’s actually not held responsible for his actions in any way.  Instead, the only person who is truly punished for their transgression is Alex.  The film, after all, makes clear that Alex is the one pursuing Dan.  In fact, it could be argued that when it comes to Dan and Alex, the traditional gender roles have been reversed.  Alex (who, as opposed to the idealized Beth, has a name that is both masculine and feminine) is the aggressive one while Dan is the passive one who gives into temptation and, afterwards, feels guilty.  After admitting his transgression, Dan is allowed to reclaim his manhood and continue on with his perfect life.  However, Alex has no place in conventional society and therefore, she must be destroyed.

And so much the better if she’s destroyed by Beth, a woman who has no problem with accepting a traditionally domestic role.

Far too often, in the past, I know that my girl friends and I always assumed that men were simply incapable of resisting temptation.  Therefore, if your boyfriend cheated on you, it really was not his fault.  He was just being a guy.  Instead, it was the other woman’s fault because she was the one who tempted him.  (And, though we acknowledged this a lot less, it was also his girlfriend’s fault for allowing him to get into a position where he could be tempted in the first place.)  But it was never truly guy’s fault and, as long as you made him suffer for a bit, it was always expected that you would forgive him and take him back.

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That’s the same mentality that runs through Fatal Attraction (not to mention countless daytime talk shows where girlfriends and wives always beat up mistresses while their boyfriend or husband stands over to the side and watches, untouched).  Yes, Dan did cheat on his perfect wife and yes, he feels terrible about it.  But the real threat comes from the woman who pursued him despite knowing that he was married and then, afterwards, had the nerve to demand not to be ignored.  (If anything, the film seems to be suggesting that everything would have been okay if Dan had just fucked someone who works in his office, as opposed to someone who he can’t control through money or the threat of societal shaming.)  When, at the end of the film, Beth shoots Alex, it’s a crowd-pleasing moment but it’s also Beth’s way of reclaiming her man.  Since Dan — being male — can’t be expected to exercise any sort of self-control, it’s the responsibility of Beth to step up and destroy the temptation.

For not respecting the vows of marriage, Alex is a monster who must be destroyed.  Dan, on the other hand, is merely inconvenienced and ultimately, he ends up with a far stronger marriage as a result of having strayed.

In Fatal Attraction, the only thing more dangerous than sex with Alex is examining subtext.

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