Wednesday, 1 April 2009

It's being so cheerful keeps us going.........

I'm too easy to please. Plonk me in a darkened cinema and I'm anybody's. I know this because I usually come out of a film full of whatever emotions the director intended, to be greeted by fellow moviegoers looking earnest, disengaged and saying things like 'well, that could have done with an edit'. It happened with Milk, which I thought was just right at 2hrs 20mins. Others were firmly in the 90mins camp. I'll compromise on 2hrs - but no less.

, being a straight-forward biog, was unsurprisingly predictable, and rightly so as surprises in the story line would require the rewriting of history. But what about predictability in pure fiction? Should we expect an element of surprise? Or is the comfort and security of a well worn formula sufficient to keep us happy?

A Bunch of Amateurs is a broad comedy with fabulous over acting from Imelda Staunton and Derek Jacobi and under acting (or not much acting at all) from Burt Reynolds, who happily sends himself up a treat. The audience liked it, as did I. But ten minutes in, the entire narrative structure of the film would have been obvious to an eight year old. Prima Donna star, muddy field, clash of cultures, jealousy, tantrums, walk outs, it's off, it's on, it's a triumph! And, right on cue, the heartwarming reconciliation of BR with estranged daughter. It was charming, professional, and with an ambition to entertain. But, is this enough?

El Nido Vacio (The Empty Nest) had what might have been a predictable plot (middle aged male writer with block has mid-life crisis over children leaving home and daughter becoming sexually active). A wonderfully nuanced performance from Oscar Martinez ensured that even the (apparently) predictable developments raised smiles of recognition from the parents in the audience of a certain age. There were, in retrospect, some clues that all was not as it seemed, but the final twist was completely unexpected. It was imaginative and insightful, and I suppose that if you had read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse in the last couple of weeks you might have seen it coming. But I hadn't and I didn't. I won't reveal the ending, so as this was the only scheduled UK showing (shame!), you may never know (but try MovieMail later in the year).

Comedy is at its best when you don't see it coming. Deliberate and laboured quirkiness can be tiresome, but A Bunch of Amateurs had no quirk at all. I came out of both films with a smile on my face, but, as I say, I'm easy to please............


BLURT said...

I was trying to think of my favourite comedy moments. The one I never tire of is the scene in Some Like it Hot where Jerry/Daphne is lying in bed, ecstatically wielding a pair of maracas, as he relives his tango-filled night of romance with aged millionaire, Osgood. I can think of others, some of them also featuring Jack Lemmon ("Is it something I said or something I did?....Is it the cooking or the cleaning? The crying?" scene from The Odd Couple).

You're right, what they have in common is a strong streak of incongruity. Familiar things in unfamiliar situations. Or vice versa. O'Horten, the Norwegian film shown on Thursday night about the punctilious train driver for whom lots of things go awry the minute he retires, had that wonderfully refreshing element of unpredictability that marks out the best comedy. Absurd and yet contained. Maybe it's no coincidence that those masters of surprise and shock, the Surrealists grounded their activity in the everyday - "What is admirable about the fantastic is that there is no longer anything fantastic: there is only the real>." (First Surrealist Manifesto).

RinkyDinks said...

Blurt speaks the truth. O'Horten was a joy - absurd and surreal, but never crossing the line into the unreal. My partner has a thing about Scandinavian films where seldom is heard the sound of dialogue, but even she was bowled over. As many characters were in the scene with the frozen rain. A large salmon had a bit part in this, which reminded me of one of my favourite comedy moments, also involving fish - and appropriately, not in a comedy. It's the scene in the definitive version of 'The Thirty-nine Steps' where Robert Donat has taken the mysterious woman spy back to his flat. Observing that she is faint for lack of nourishment, he takes out a large frying pan and produces what can only be described as the sort of enormous flat fish only ever seen in the pages of 'The Beano'. In the clearly enunciated upper class accent of the time he turns to her with the single word 'Heddock?'. Well, I never tire of it, and I don't think that Daniel Craig could pull it off.