Short History of Decay, A (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Erika (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is tired of her boyfriend’s lack of forward momentum in life and so she decides to break up with him. It turns out her timing could not be any worse because the very next day, Nathan (Bryan Greenberg), a writer who put his first novel on hold to work on a play, receives news that his father (Harris Yulin), who lives in Florida with his wife (Linda Lavin), has had a stroke and is in the hospital. Nathan takes the next flight out of New York City and begs his girlfriend if they could put their relationship problems on pause.
Written and directed by Michael Maren, “A Short History of Decay” is a nice domestic comedy-drama—and instances when I am forced to describe that a movie is “nice” is almost always not a compliment. It is slightly amusing, even moving at times, but it is too relaxed, bordering on bland, with what it is attempting to communicate.
Look at the title and then consider whose perspective the story is being told. Already there is a disconnect. Is it supposed to be ironic? It may be. But is it effective? I was not convinced entirely. The reason is because Nathan’s problems with his girlfriend taken side-by-side with his struggles with being a writer who lacks focus and inspiration simply pale compared to topics like dealing with mortality. The picture attempts to excel at both but the screenplay does not function on a high enough level.
The word “decay” comes in many forms in this story. Most obvious are the feelings that our protagonist holds toward his parents—more specifically, slowly realizing that they will not be around forever. His father is beginning to have serious health problems. His mother, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, has started to exhibit middle phase characteristics of the condition. Decay: his father’s body, his mother’s mind. Nathan wonders if it would be better for him to stay indefinitely.
The deterioration of Nathan and Erika’s relationship is present but not dealt with fully. The early scenes in NYC are effective because we get the impression that Erika has a good reason to feel the way she does. One of the things I dislike in bad comedies is simply reducing one of the partners to a horrible human being. Here, though we are supposed to side with Nathan, Erika does not come off like the relationship she is walking away from holds no value to her. I would like to have known more about the couple.
Decay also applies to Nathan’s dream of being a writer. There is a key conversation in the latter half of the film when Nathan goes on a date. The woman tells him that men his age, thirty-five, should already have a career—or at the very least a stable job. The scene can be enjoyed because instead of the material taking a catty or defensive route, Nathan responds as though deep down inside he already knows this. And yet it is not entirely clear. At that moment in time, we get a taste of how lost he is with respect to what he really wants to do or become.
In the end, I think I know what the material is hoping to communicate—and that is the problem. Due to a lack of connective tissue among subplots compounded with a main character who is genuinely lost, we are left with an undefined point of view. In other words, it is up to the viewer to invest in the characters through his or her own experiences. For instance, I was able to relate to it on some level because I have known people with dementia. That aspect I found fascinating. Still, it is highly likely that young and/or people who have yet to experience life will not find anything particularly interesting or challenging in this benign comedy.
Good Guy, The (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Alexis Bledel once again plays an ambitious and smart young woman who was torn between two guys who worked on Wall Street. Tommy (Scott Porter) knew what he wanted, wasn’t afraid to act on his impulses, a sweet-talker and a womanizer. On the other hand, Daniel (Bryan Greenberg) was socially awkward, did not have much luck with the ladies, but his insight made it difficult for anyone to not fall head over heels with him. Due to some unforseen circumstances, Tommy enthusiastically took Daniel under his wing and tried to make Daniel be more like a cutthroat businessman than a poet who wore his heart on his sleeves. I enjoyed the movie because it was an observation of modern relationships set in an urban area but I felt like it did not take enough risks. I loved that Greenberg’s character highlighted the theme of the film in which he mentioned that his favorite book was “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen because it was about false first impressions. Although the lead characters had clear dominant personalities, I found subtleties in them and I was interested with what was about to happen among the relationship between the girl and the two guys. I wished that their strained relationship was explored more and that the picture had less scenes of Tommy and his friends (one of which was played by the amusing Aaron Yoo) teasing each other and trying to pick up women in bars. I was also interested in one of the guys who worked on Wall Street who said he valued his wife and children more than his job and money. Greenberg had one scene with him which I thought was handled well because they found similarities in each other but it ultimately felt superficial because it wasn’t further explored. Written and directed by Julio DePietro, “The Good Guy” had the right ingredients to make a solid movie about character studies because I came to understand the protagonists’ motivations. But there were far too many scenes that did not need to be in the final product and not enough scenes that should have made it in. It also needed a bit more edge because there were times when the picture reached an emotional plateau. I could easily relate to the characters because even though they were out in the real world, they were still young and trying to figure out who they really were when with friends, with a special someone, or when forced to look at themselves when they had nobody else to turn to.
Bride Wars (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
The trailers were more fun than the actual movie. Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson star as two best friends who, due to a clerical error, were scheduled to have their weddings on the same day. Since the two had their weddings all planned out since childhood, neither lets go of the day and they try to exact revenge on each other instead of dealing with the problem at hand like sane individuals. Having said that, I eventually saw the potential in this film when the two characters started to feel guilt for their actions. I wish the picture had focused more on that instead of the silly (and really ugly) pranks. Yes, the pranks were funny on the surface but there’s an inherent sadness and shame about the whole thing because the audiences are forced to see two best friends destroy each other’s lives. The pranks did not just impact the wedding but their careers and relationship with other people as well. In my opinion, the ending should have been more grim instead of the whole saying-“Sorry”-makes-everything-all-better approach. I doubt that Hathaway would want to be remembered in this wedding-themed movie because, although I love her in pretty much anything (including this one), the script was really weak and the message was way too obvious to fully engage an intelligent audience. While watching “Bride Wars,” I wished I was watching “Rachel Getting Married” instead because at least that one featured a character that was edgy, unlikeable and complex. In “Bride Wars,” everything felt so light and sugar-y to the point where it ended up getting kind of dull. I don’t consider it completely horrible because I like the cast. (Other than the leads, I also enjoyed watching Candice Bergen, Kristen Johnston, Bryan Greenberg, Steve Howey and Chris Pratt.) But it’s not something that I’ll recommend to people other than those who are specifically looking for something harmless and forgettable.