Talking Movies

December 23, 2019

From the Archives: P.S. I Love You

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Merciful Zeus! Was the Cecilia Ahern novel really this bad?! Disregarding the fact that this film shows all the emotional maturity of a moody teenager, and an insulting approach to bereavement and grief that staggers the mind even by lobotomised Hollywood standards, this trash is disgracefully long. No romantic comedy should last more than 90 minutes. To hit 2 hours and 10 minutes with this diabolically unfunny enterprise shows an amazing lack of cop-on by all concerned. Director Richard LaGravenese has a track record though, having scripting painfully extended films like The Horse Whisperer and The Mirror has Two Faces. If I was going to be mean I would point out that Hilary Swank gets fired in the first 15 minutes and apparently lives on air for the next year, and make some reference to the surname of a writer and certain tribunals, but it’s Christmas time so there’ll be no savage political tangents.

Instead we’ll savage the stupidity of this film, beginning with the ‘acting’. Gerard Butler’s Irish accent as the late Gerry is a sociological essay waiting to happen. It’s accepted in Hollywood that a stage-Scottish accent is merely an amped-up stage-Irish accent with rolling r’s. Gerard Butler though IS Scottish, so what the hell was he thinking when he decided to reverse that procedure to do an Irish accent? He is nightmarishly confused here; swinging between a stage-Irish accent, his own Scottish brogue, and that bizarre Irish-American mobster accent that recent TV show The Black Donnellys quickly abandoned. The decision to move the story to America but keep Gerry Irish is baffling anyway and cringe-worthy as it necessitates a trip to the auld sod for some ‘hilarious hi-jinks’ by the American girls in the third act. Quite why so many capable actors opted to appear in this dreck is an enigma. The presence of Buffy star James Marsters is referenced by an in-joke about vampire slaying not being a profession for Swank’s heroine Holly. He is utterly wasted in a tiny role as Gerry’s business partner, his only notable contribution being a well deserved put-down of Lisa Kudrow’s disgustingly materialistic chat-up lines. As for the awful cameo by Grey’s Anatomy and Supernatural star Jeffrey Dean Morgan the less said the better…

There’s only so much you can hurt a film in a review. I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of how insultingly this film portrays grieving. Apparently all you need to work through grief is to sing along to Judy Garland films, eat take-out, not clean your house and hope your loved one is psychic enough to continue corresponding with you. P.S. I Love You is savagely life-wasting trash. Compared to The Jane Austen Book Club which was absurdly enjoyable and like drinking cappuccino this is unbearably dreadful and like drinking weed-killer.

1/5

December 3, 2011

The Movies Aren’t Dead, they just smell funny: Part II

Several months ago I criticised the opening of Mark Harris’ GQ article ‘The Day the Movies Died’. In this piece I praise his argument regarding branding, but contradict his valorisation of female cinema-goers by reference to his own telling conclusion.


Harris is brilliant in his analysis of how marketers have steered film-making away from the perils of originality. There never was any point in making a good film that no one would want to go see (Rabbit Hole) but the marketers we have today do seem to be exceptionally lazy in being unwilling to sell a good film unless it’s a brand i.e. someone else has already done all the hard work of creating and marketing something. Harris says no one would green-light an Inception but everyone would green-light an Inception 2, because that would be a brand. Intriguingly Mark Kermode has raised the idea that every blockbuster will eventually make a profit these days, no matter how catastrophic the reception of the film at the box-office, via DVD, games, merchandise and TV rights. Marketers can’t secure a film favourable reviews, but they can turn up the white noise to such an unbearable extent that you see the film just to get the unpleasant task over with it, and, more than likely, so that you can join ‘The Conversation’ criticising it. Mission Accomplished: you’ve just green-lit a sequel to a film you didn’t like, which you knew you wouldn’t like it, but paid into anyway.

I’m sick and tired of the condemnation teenage males receive for ‘destroying cinema’. Apparently they lack “taste and discernment”, which all women possess; which is what makes women such an exhausting proposition to sell to, although Harris puts his case in more grossly anatomical terms. A good exercise with statements like this is to reverse the gender and see if it then strikes you as sexist. It does. The assumption is not that a female audience offers a complementary or an equivalent but neglected taste, but a superior taste. (This also applies to every article claiming that women bankers would have avoided the credit crunch) This reverse sexism is absurd, because of Harris’ own telling conclusion – audiences get what they deserve. Female audiences are not composed entirely of Chekhovians interested only in human stories told well. Men don’t willingly shell out cash to see every bloody Jennifer Aniston or Sarah Jessica Parker atrocity film; they’re dragged to them by their girlfriends… Writing a screenplay, no matter how formulaic takes time and isn’t easy; it’s bloody hard work, even if like John Sayles you’ve got it down to relentlessly cranking out 10 pages a day of a pass when you’re working on formulaic mainstream rubbish for gas money. I think that an awful lot of what comes out in Hollywood these days in particular genres, especially romantic comedy, really is first draft material. Not the real first draft obviously, but the first draft you let people see, where the structure is sound as a bell but it’s lacking a bit of polish in the dialogue, a bit of pizzazz in the action. It’s solid, but you wouldn’t want to start shooting it. But here’s the thing, adding polish and pizzazz will take even more time and effort, and if it’s not necessary why bother? If the audience can’t tell the difference between His Girl Friday and The Bounty Hunter, then there’s no reason to go to the extra effort of writing His Girl Friday for them. Harris dismisses young men as, in studio thinking, idiots, who’ll watch “anything that’s put in front of them as long as it’s spiked with the proper set of stimulants.” Well that statement is equally devastating when applied to a female audience willing to watch romantic comedies that are neither romantic nor comedic nor original. Female audiences get the films they deserve – badly written formulaic crap.

Chick-flicks don’t have to be bad. Romantic comedy as a genre can boast some of the all-time classics, including a large chunk of Frank Capra’s back catalogue, as well as laugh-fests by Howard Hawks, and Woody Allen and Rob Reiner at their very best. But the logic of Harris’ conclusion is impeccable. As President Bartlett put it, “Decisions are made by those who show up”, and if you are happy to see The Accidental Husband or PS I Love You then there’s no point in going to the extra effort of writing Definitely Maybe or The Jane Austen Book Club for you. The problem here is one of writing-by-numbers. If the marketers see all the ingredients attached to a movie then they can sell it in their accustomed manner. It really doesn’t matter to them whether the combination of ingredients is producing on this occasion a cordon bleu or a takeaway meal. In this light the increasingly formulaic nature of Hollywood is easily explained but it’s becoming a terrible burden on audiences. At the moment we’re all like jaded restaurant critics reviewing the same bloody dish over and over again; the only things that spark our interest are new ingredients (wonderful supporting performances in a rom-com, two original touches in a comic-book movie), or a perfect rendition of the dish (so that you forget The Dark Knight has a solid three-act structure). Steve McQueen showed with Hunger that a loose sense of beginning, middle and end is really all you need to inject dramatic momentum into incredibly oblique material. Tarantino has repeatedly shown that ‘a beginning, middle and end but not necessarily in that order’, works fine with mainstream audiences. So why does every Hollywood film lately feel like it’s been written by a super-computer programmed with the Three-Act structure and every cliché in the book for bringing it to life, and with a default setting of regarding all cinemagoers as dribbling troglodytes? Every super-hero movie is an origin story. Did Philip Marlowe need an origin story for Bogie to play him in The Big Sleep? Harris asks what we can do about this when we’re to blame by watching films on DVDs rather than putting up with anti-social jerks by watching them in cinemas? Well, the answer is go see the movies that you actually want to see – a new movie by a writer or director whose work you like, a concept that sounds clever, a performance that looks good. Avoid everything that looks like reheated boil in the bag clichés, and never accept that you have to pay into an obnoxious film to somehow ‘earn’ the right to dismiss it. The dream factory can only make the product you want if you tell it exactly what you want…

Every time the lights go down in Savoy screen 1 and the curtains part, I think ‘Entertain me’. My fervent wish of late is that Hollywood would live up to my new request, ‘Surprise me’…

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