Tag: lisa kudrow

Paper Man


Paper Man (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Temporarily moving to Montauk was supposed to help Richard (Jeff Daniels), a writer working on his second novel, overcome writer’s block. Instead, he ends up not doing much and is interminably stuck on the first sentence that will shape the rest of his book. His wife, Claire (Lisa Kudrow), visits on the weekends and when she is away, a high school student named Abby (Emma Stone) comes over to babysit Richard and Claire’s non-existent child.

There is an effective drama about loss and loneliness in “Paper Man,” written and directed by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, but they are buried underneath lame and awkward attempts at humor. Though it wishes to embody a bittersweet comedy-drama about two people with a significant age gap, it fails to reach a balance and a proper rhythm necessary to convince us that whatever is unfolding is consistently genuine.

The comedic elements prevent the picture from reaching great heights. I felt embarrassed for Daniels, a very good actor, because his character is often the joke. He rides a bike that is too small for him. The camera lingers on how he struggles to make the bicycle move. He throws a party for teenagers and decorates the entire place as if he were hosting a child’s birthday celebration. The camera scans the house for flashy ornaments. The screenplay is desperate for a laugh.

One quirk that works is Richard, almost fifty years of age, still having an imaginary friend. Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds) is a superhero, cape and all, and he is there whenever Richard requires a boost of morale. Though Reynolds’ exaggeration tends to hit some bad notes, I was interested in the idea that our protagonist is so lonely and struggles so much with relating to people his age that he is willing to hold onto Captain Excellent even if the latter has hinted that maybe it is time to let go.

The central relationship is between Richard and Abby. Though separated by age and gender, they are alike in many ways. The picture dares to walk the line between a friendship and a sort of romance. For the most part, it is effective: Stone and Daniels have a way of playing upon their charm and using it almost as a defense mechanism when their respective characters are hurt by circumstances. However, I was disappointed that the screenplay takes a predictable avenue in that what Richard and Abby have is discovered by Claire—seeing them in an awkward position, no less.

“Paper Man” has great trouble remaining fresh. Though a person experiencing writer’s block and finding inspiration from a source he least expected is not new, there are moments here that ring true. It just does not seem to be aware of when to let go of a template. I liked the way Abby’s story involving a tragic loss is handled. Before she and the published author met, Abby confided with Christopher (Kieran Culkin) who eventually tells her that she is his life. Though the line may sound silly, just about anyone can tell he means it with every fiber of his being, that maybe she should be Christopher instead of Bryce (Hunter Parrish), the latter having a nasty habit of treating his girlfriend like a plaything.

Powder Blue


Powder Blue (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Timothy Linh Bui, “Powder Blue” tells the stories of an exotic dancer, a suicidal man, an ex-con, and a mortician and how their lives are connected to one another days before Christmas Eve. While the picture aims to communicate the sadness in the paradox of living in a hugely populated city yet no one seems to really care, most the scenes, I must admit, made me laugh when it is supposed to be very serious.

For instance, as Charlie (Forest Whitaker) lures strangers to shoot a bullet through his heart for $50,000, the execution of the character’s request lacks a proper build-up that comes across effortless and commanding genuine tension. Although Whitaker’s performance might have been convincing given a proper direction coupled with a script that offers a backbone and supporting substance, it feels very awkward here. The rare glimmers of intensity is a testament to how good Whitaker can be as a raw performer.

Another weak strand involves Jack (Ray Liotta), recently released from jail, frequenting a strip club because there is something about the sight of Johnny (Jessica Biel) that piques his curiosity. While inside the strip club, each time he is shown standing about or sitting down staring into nothing, he always looks sad. It is emotionally manipulative because not enough time is invested toward honing in on the character’s sadness and communicating it to us that does not come across preachy.

The convenient flashbacks do nothing to make us more sympathetic and sensitive to the characters’ struggles. If there is one shining moment in the film, it is found in the waitress that Charlie meets in a diner that stands in as his second home. While Sally (Lisa Kudrow) has her own share of problems and sadness, the light within her resonated with me. I enjoyed the way Kudrow allows her character to reach out and help Charlie and yet she isn’t quite sure if she is ready to take on a friend or a potential romantic interest.

Sally and Charlie share several gauche conversations but the way in which they mirror each other’s energy made me want to know more about their relationship and consider ways that could help them to move on from their current problems. What they have is about hope and it is critical to the picture because everything about it is so depressing: the cinematography, the subject matter, and the characters being convinced that there is no escaping their fates.

The storyline that shows potential but ultimately does not deliver involves Qwerty (Eddie Redmayne) and his reclusive existence. We are given information about his life like the fact that his father, also a mortician, recently passed away and that their family business is about to go under due to unpaid bills. Unfortunately, there are not enough scenes of his struggles designed to show rather than tell. What is executed nicely is his interactions with a dog he accidentally had ran over and later taken home. It shows that he is capable of giving love but recent events in his life almost prevents him from going out there in the world and living his life as a young person.

Because “Powder Blue” is so intent on showcasing the seedy environs of Los Angeles, it neglects to paint its characters as real people. It also feels overlong. The problems of the protagonists defines them and the screenplay is unwilling to explore other potentially more interesting avenues.

Clockwatchers


Clockwatchers (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

On her first day as a temp in the Global Credit Association, Iris (Toni Collette) was asked to wait in a chair until someone came and assigned her what to do. She waited for two hours, not once speaking up that she was there and ready to work. While typing some letters, stentorian and hilarious Margaret (Parker Posey) introduced herself, showed the new girl around, and gave her some tips on how to appear working while on the clock. Iris was later introduced to sarcastic Paula (Lisa Kudrow) and quiet Jane (Alanna Ubach) during lunch. Despite the four having different and polarizing personalities, they got along. That is, until personal items started go missing in the office and the four became the prime suspects. Written by Jill Sprecher and Karen Sprecher, “Clockwatchers” was an effective workplace comedy because it wasn’t afraid to wrestle with details about boredom, apathy, even jealousy and paranoia. We watched the ladies form an unlikely bond which was later challenged and inevitably unspooled because of the pressures they were put under. Some pressures were light-hearted and silly but others were quite serious. It got to the point where cameras had to be installed in their floor because the perpetrator was very elusive. Although it must be kept in mind that just because Iris, Margaret, Paula, and Jane were under suspicion, it didn’t mean that one of them was the petty thief. I’ve never been a temp, but I imagined it might’ve been fun to be in their little group, from their inside jokes, the way they couldn’t help but laugh whenever they were in each other’s vicinity, and the sassy comments they whispered to one another about someone else, especially the new girl (Helen FitzGerald) hired as a permanent personal assistant. At the same time, if I wasn’t in their clique, especially if I were their superior, I probably would’ve been annoyed because it seemed like they played more than they got things done. While I enjoyed the scenes which established that the four women were able to support each other in and out of work, the script eventually focused in the fact in most jobs, essentially everyone was out for herself, especially if one was as disposable as a temp. The four women, whether they could readily admit it or not, knew their place. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have behaved as they did. And who could blame them? As the picture went on, it began to get interesting tonally. While amusing bits still transpired, a dour feeling began to seep through and threatened to take over. The director, Jill Sprecher, was skillful in allowing us to feel just like the characters. It is certainly true that an uncomfortable and unwelcoming workplace, whether the source was the environment itself or the co-workers, is so much worse than a boring one. This I’ve had experience with and I could relate to how energy-sucking it was to come in and immediately not want to be there. On the outside, you create an illusion that everything is all right. In reality, you just feel like screaming and craving for a private session with a punching bag. In my case, I continued to come in because of the money, the protagonists’ seemingly only source of motivation, and I felt that I had a responsibility for the young minds I was in charge of. The four women did not have the latter, or something of that sort, and I could only imagine how unrewarding it must’ve felt for them.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits


Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Emilia (Natalie Portman) had a massive crush on Jack (Scott Cohen), her married boss. Their relationship was kept secret until she became pregnant. The two got married and had a child, but the infant passed away after only three days. It was especially difficult for Emilia. For reasons initially unknown to us, she couldn’t seem to move on from grieving. Her relationship with Jack’s precocious eight-year-old son, William (Charlie Tahan), was rocky at best and Jack’s ex-wife (Lisa Kudrow) had no problem expressing her hatred toward Emilia. Based on a novel by Ayelet Waldman, “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits,” had patches interesting perspectives about a mother’s grief toward losing her child but the way it unfolded left a burning question mark in my mind. In its desperate attempt for us to identity with Emilia, the filmmakers knowingly made her a scapegoat. I got the impression that the director, Don Ross, didn’t have the confidence to show Emilia as she was despite the fact that, yes, she was initially the other woman who broke up a family. People claimed she was very unlikable. But I disagree. I thought she had the right to be sad and get angry once in a while. The majority of the film’s tension was generated from Emilia and William’s interactions. For instance, early in the film, William suggested that Emilia should sell the baby’s stuff on eBay because there was no baby. He kept repeating the fact that there was no baby and it was crazy it keep things that were not being used. Naturally, Emilia got upset at the child. Later, there was a scene in which Jack, in an underhanded way, tried to get Emilia to apologize to her stepson for being upset. Much later in the film, Emilia was accused of being cold toward William. The director ignored the obvious: the kid was a brat. I’ve had prior experience working with children around William’s age and I can say that no matter how beyond their age they seem to be, they know when they’re being hurtful. Children, as early as infancy, are trained to respond to body languages and facial expressions. Ignoring William’s transgressions seemed like it was done for the sake of convenience–to make it seem like it was Emilia versus the world. We didn’t need to feel sorry for her to identify with her. What I enjoyed most about the film was Portman and Kudrow’s performances. Portman had a good handle in terms of changing from warm to detached, vice-versa and everything in between, which often occurred in one scene and Kudrow had fun portraying a Type A mom who seemed to lash out on everyone she encountered. Unfortunately known as “The Other Woman,” which unfairly judged our protagonist, “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits” engaged me and it made me think about the dynamics between the characters. However, it could have been something deeper in the hands of a more confident direction.