Greatest, The (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
When Bennett Brewer (Aaron Johnson) died in a car accident, his girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) knocked on his grieving family’s (Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon, Johnny Simmons) door, told them that she was pregnant, and had nowhere else to go. The film focused on grief: the father internalized his anger and sadness so that the family would not collapse, the mother was obsessed with her son’s last seventeen minutes of life and held the belief that her son would still be alive if it was not for his girlfriend, while the son turned to drugs and grief counseling. The movie grabbed my attention because I thought it would be more about the unwed mother’s struggle in trying to cope with her situation. I was pleasantly surprised that she was generally happy with her situation and the only thing she craved was more information about the father of her baby. I was impressed with the way the picture balanced the four main characters and their styles of coping. Instead of going for the jugular and simply letting the audiences feel sorry for them, sometimes the characters said certain things that were hateful but we remind ourselves that they needed closure in order to feel right again. However, I found certain missteps especially toward the last fifteen minutes. When Brosnan’s character finally opened up, something did not feel quite right. That scene begged for a retake because it felt forced. Yes, he managed to internalize (with elegance) negative emotions throughout the film but I had a difficult time believing that he coincidentally opened up because the movie was coming to a close and his wife finally realized the truth. It felt contrived, almost too soap opera-like, and it stood out to me in a negative way because I thought the rest was consistently convincing. Another issue I had was the son’s connection with the girl (Zoë Kravitz) whose sister committed suicide. It fell flat because the latter’s performance felt too Disney Channel and I caught myself rolling my eyes when she was on screen. Maybe it would have worked if an actress that had been casted was used to playing with her character’s subtleties. Written and directed by Shana Feste, what I loved most about “The Greatest” was its earnest honesty despite some scenes that were not completely convincing. It had enough insight about people going through different stages of grief. I also loved it when Brosnan and Sarandon lashed out at each other in passive-aggressive ways just as much as I loved observing Mulligan’s elegance and Simmons’ potential to become a versatile actor. Ultimately, I wished it had more scenes of lingering camera work where the characters in frame did not say a word, such as the daring scene in the limousine after the burial.
Couples Retreat (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Peter Billingsley directs this comedy about four couples who decided to go on a tropical resort that, according to one of the characters, “looks like a screensaver.” Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell were having trouble with their marriage so they asked their friends (Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman, Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis, Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) to come along with them to an island for a relationship therapy because it was cheaper to come as a group. I enjoyed the first few minutes of this picture because it was fun and it clearly established the many dynamics of romantic relationships. Although boys will always be boys, there were enough subtleties to keep me interested and observe how it would all unwind. Unfortunately, with a running time of almost two hours, the movie ran a little too long so there were parts that lagged and definitely could have been cut to make the movie more focused. I like all of the actors in this project because I think they were all very funny in other movies but the script wasn’t strong enough to push through the typicality of marriage comedies. It really bothered me when the very same people who were having trouble with their own marriages gave (supposedly) insightful advice. If they were so wise, they wouldn’t have been so deep into a troubled relationship in the first place. However, there was one particular scene that stood out to me. When Vaughn and Akerman were talking to a marriage counselor, the counselor picked them apart; even though they seemed to be happy and content (and having the healthiest relationship in the film), there was still a certain level of resentment underneath it all. They got so used to their habits that they forgot to live life in such a way where hardwork should be met by rewards. During that scene, there was this great silence in the movie theater. It really made me think about where I am in life–that maybe I’m slowly turning into that kind of person. If “Couples Retreat” had more moments like that, I would’ve liked it a lot more. Either that or the comedy should have been consistent from beginning to end instead of most of the laughter being clumped in the first twenty minutes. In “Couples Retreat,” a hit was followed by two misses so I can’t quite give it a recommendation.