I caught up on some of my Oscars-prep viewing last night with Kim, so I'll throw together this She's A Lady edition of TicketStub:
* The Holiday - I am fed up with Nancy Myers. She's like one of those people who wins $100 million in the lottery, buys a big ugly house and then sordidly fritters away the money on plastic surgery, booze, and bad investments. She's one of the very few women with the studio backing to make big budget, glossy feature flicks, and they wind up dull, trite, and focus-grouped to death, diluted like cheap sangria. Apparently the only thing keeping Something's Gotta Give afloat was the chemistry between Dianne Keaton and Jack Nicholson, and despite heroic efforts by Kate Winslet and Jude Law (who actually share the screen for only the last 30 seconds of the film) this one sinks to the bottom. The premise is worn but serviceable: two single gals exchange homes for a holiday break, to try to wash that man right outta, etc. Winslet is a wallflower with a country cottage in Surrey, a sort of smarter, duller Bridget Jones, who's been mooning over arrogant slimeball Rufus Sewell for years. Cameron Diaz plays the neurotic, driven Hollywood go-getter with the aspirational, bougainvillea-draped mansion on whom Ed Burns is cheating. A few IM clicks (and Myers still seems to think that IM is so cutting edge that the actors must read each message aloud in its entirety as they type it or the audience will fall irretrievably behind) and voila, two fish out of water and without bicycles. Long story short, Diaz beds Law (who is Winslet's hunky brother) and proceeds to get over her "dead inside" career gal issues once she meets his adorable moppets (conveniently, he's a widower), and back in LA under the spell of the Santa Ana winds, Winslet befriends an elderly gent in the neighborhood, who used to be a famous screenwriter, who recommends she watch all these old black and white movies with spunky heroines, and he's played by Eli Wallach, and blah blah blah blah until you want to scream. Yes, Kate Winslet gets the half-assed "best friend" role while Cameron Diaz, who comports herself like a Weimaraner puppy onscreen, is the unlikeable lead. Kate gets a bizarrely truncated budding quasi-romance with Jack Black, who should sue the producers for editing him down to one good scene and forcing his hair into an mudflap over his forehead. All the zip and humor needed to sustain a light romantic farce was drained out of this movie like lamb's blood, and the result is a meager, tasteless sausage. The sheer wattage of wasted talent could power Disneyland for a day -- with the exception of Law and Wallach, nobody is allowed to shine. And what does it say when the two juiciest parts in a chick flick belong to men? Additional points off for music recycled from Garden State, gratuitous cute dog/children/old men, really bad fake snow, and for being at least 30 minutes too long. With great power comes great responsibility, Nancy. (C-)
* The Queen - What a difference (almost) ten years makes. Looking back on the death of Princess Di and the global media firestorm that followed is almost a pleasant diversion from today's headlines...were people really that torqued up? Actually, maybe that event was the kickoff to the decade that brought us Us Weekly, American Idol, and Paris Hilton. In any case, the titular character here is Elizabeth II, ably embodied by Helen Mirren...or wait, is it? One clip from the judiciously interspersed news footage is an interview with Diana where she claims to want only to be "queen in people's hearts," now that she's been booted out of the royal family. And the massive outpouring of grief at her death shows just how much that was true, to everyone but the royals themselves, of course. Mirren is not a mimic, but she plays the queen with certain little gestures that give a sense of her character: dutiful but exacting, watchful but not canny, more patient than iron-willed, sure that any obstacle in her path will eventually see the sense in doing as she wishes. But Diana's death upends that comfortable cushion, and she winds up following the lead of a green Tony Blair, who has a better PR department. The film covers the week of the accident and funeral, and flicks back and forth between Blair's bustling office, his toy-filled family-guy living room, the growing crowds outside Buckingham Palace, and the royal retreat at Balmoral, so far removed from modern London that it still has rotary telephones. The place is like a Ralph Lauren photo shoot, where the royal family don Wellies and tweed and go off tramping across the heather -- one wonderful tableau shows a picnic where the princes are fishing while QEII, Philip and the Queen Mum set up a grill for the fish. Philip has trouble lighting the grill, and the queen says not to worry, "I brought along some stew and we can always have it cold." That's the essence of her, willing to make do uncomplainingly, despite all the pomp and circumstance around her she hardly notices anymore. But the media frenzy and Blair's sure handling of it, as well as the overwhelming popular sentiment favoring her ne'er-do-well ex-daughter-in-law over herself, do make her take notice in the end. Delightful characterizations by James Cromwell and Michael Sheen flank a solid performance by Mirren, who wears the wig and age makeup lightly. It's sort of like a really good episode of The West Wing, with corgis! (A)
So here's my question -- why has the far more mediocre of these two movies made twice as much money? Sure, it's marketing (or the lack thereof), and that's sad. The demographics of the intended audience seem pretty similar (women 30+), and despite the fact that one is pitched as a date movie they are both character studies of strong yet flawed female archetypes. Maybe it's like Jason Kottke said, if only people realized The Queen is really about Princess Diana, they'd flock to it. Was that, ironically, too low-brow a selling point for Miramax to stomach?