Is Hollywood more likely to take on half-baked ideas, or publishers? Let’s examine.
Young Adult is a film that received good reviews–praised by the New York Times when it came out last year and received 4 stars from Rotten Tomatoes. So last night when I finally got around to seeing the movie, I was expecting it to be pretty good; and I had long forgiven Charlize Theron for appearing in the rotten Snow White and the Huntsman. (That was my bad, really. I mean, read the title, woman!)
(Warning: may contain spoiler alerts if you’re a Johnny come lately like me.)
I know, I know. I’m really late on this — five dollar bin in Walmart late. But having your TV high-jacked daily by lovely, little knuckleheads will do that.
So, I put my youngest to bed after watching Tangled for the umpteenth time. My husband had taken our older kids to see Iron Man III (cuz Mama don’t roll that way), and I sat on the couch giddy with the idea I could select any movie I wanted without consulting someone else. Oh, goody! Glass of wine, check. Feet up, check. Snuggie, check. Vanity, out the damn door, check and mate!
It starts out slow, but interesting. Full of character development. We see the main character, Mavis, is a self absorbed alcoholic that doesn’t take care of herself, struggling to keep even her dog alive. She is the ghost writer of a young adult book series, stuck in her youthful past. This is creatively shown by filming the inner workings of a cassette tape, made by a former flame who is now married with a baby; a flame in which she intends to win back (read: delusional). She is big city, big dreams, and a classic, grade-A narcissist. Shockingly unsympathetic and cruel. A perfect example of how relying on good looks can make you feel entitled. Unless, of course, you don’t rely on your looks. Imagine that! And in this society!
But this movie was like a first draft of a manuscript. Undercooked. No publisher would have taken this. They would have said:
Now picture Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada meets Angela Lansbury….
“Go back! The ending stinks! The character never transforms. She’s static. Unsympathetic. She never grows or develops. Yes, there is a glimmer of it. When she seeks the comfort of a dork she ignored in high school. But it’s very unsatisfying. She’s a raging alcoholic. Yet this is never addressed. We get one line in which she declares to her parents, ‘I think I’m an alcoholic.’ Period. They don’t even respond. It just cuts to the next scene. Are you kidding me? Look, you’ve got something here. But for the love of God, go back.”
So why does Hollywood make a film, receive praise for it no less, with a script that I believe would be rejected in the book world? Less discriminating audience? Throw a pretty blond on screen and hope people don’t notice? Even with no arc to the story? No transformation? With a deplorable main character? She’s close to a transformation until it gets quickly extinguished by the dorky guy’s sister who worships her. In five minutes she’s managed to talk Mavis out of all the progress she had made towards her self-discovery. Maybe this is realistic. Maybe she hadn’t hit her rock bottom… But then what is the point? I don’t need a Hollywood ending, but why waste an hour and half watching a cruel narcissist?
There are many examples of movies with abandoned themes. There’s a fabulous line in Crazy, Stupid, Love in which Julianne Moore says, “I think I’m having a mid-life crisis. Do women even have those?” That’s interesting! And a good question! Actually, you can do a whole movie on that one line. But we never see her character develop beyond that. And believe me, I wasn’t complaining too much because of the eye candy thrown my way. Oh, Ryan. You’re so dreamy. Show me that Dirty Dancing move again… Sorry. Had a flashback there…. I meant to say, we’re an easily distracted audience. An easily distracted society. It’s a shame, too. Because life is interesting in the cracks. Real, gritty and worth the examination.
The last good movie I saw was Flight with Danzel Washington. Finally a movie that examines alcoholism and the immense struggle with the disease. There is a scene, so powerfully executed, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. One, tiny bottle of vodka on top of the mini bar, towards the end. No spoiler alerts. But it was beautiful. Poetic even. It was soul-crushing struggle defined in two seconds flat. That’s what film has the power to do. Go places where even words can’t take us. Those gaps in life seen in angles and imagery. That’s what I look for in a good movie, along with a character’s journey towards self-discovery. Such missed opportunities in film these days. I should have shut the TV off after Tangled and ended on a good note. Now, that was a clever movie!