Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is the kind of film I only watch occasionally as they take a lot out of me, but it’s an important, focused and purely distilled treatise on a relationship that is coming to an end that I greatly enjoyed. That’s not to say it’s a hopelessly bleak and hostile experience, there are many touching moments, humour breaks and passages of whimsy, but when it becomes all business we are flung headlong into both the emotionally oppressive and practically draining wheels of a divorce in motion and that is never a nice thing to witness. This is honest, dutiful work with a naturalistic feel for the way time passes, beautiful and affecting performances from the entire cast and deeply thought out direction from Baumbach, who I was impressed with considering this is his first film that I’ve seen.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannsson are Charlie and Nicole, a husband and wife who begin to sense the spark dimming. First they opt for a separation and we imagine them as two civil parents who can work this out easily, until we take a magnified look at their life and see that it’s more complicated than that, and then then the big guns come out. By big guns I mean two voracious divorce lawyers played by the always amazing Laura Dern and the ever intense Ray Liotta, chewing scenes like there’s no tomorrow but always giving the impression that these proceedings are believable, and sadly so. Also quite effective is Alan Alda as another attorney who comes across as more of a teddy bear when seated next to Dern and Liotta’s sharks. Julie Hagerty, Merritt Weaver, Wallace “inconceivable” and others all make vivid, hilarious impressions as well.
What I enjoyed most about this film is that it not only chooses to focus on the mammoth narrative beats and crucial cruxes of the story that are meant to and do make an impression. It also shines a light on the small talk, the spaces in between words, the benign and seemingly non important mundanities of human interaction that often end up speaking the loudest. There is one conversation between Charlie and Nicole (you’ll know as soon as it comes) that begins affably enough and in a few moments time has escalated into the kind of volcanic venom spewing that can only punch holes in the air and leave the room as silent as before they entered it. It’s an extraordinarily acted sequence but equally impressive are the small moments between the two and those around them, realistic depictions of awkward dialogue and behaviour that has you investing in this world for real. The big moments matter, but the small ones do too, I love and appreciate when a filmmaker realizes and implements this. Great film.
I will never not love Duplex, Danny Devito’s jet-black ode to neighbours from hell, a ninety minute domestic squabble of epic proportions and one of the funniest films of the last few decades. Devito knows how to do comedy at it’s meanest, lowest and most shamelessly un-PC, whenever he’s in the director’s chair you know you’ll get something that will either land squarely with those who have a deranged sense of humour (moi) or drive of the prudes in droves. Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore play a hapless NYC yupple (yuppie couple, just made that shit up) looking for their perfect little love nest to settle down in. They think they’ve found it in a gorgeous, spacious Brooklyn split-suite, but there’s just one problem: sweet, ninety year old Mrs. Connolly (Eileen Essell), who is the tenant equivalent of the plague. At first she’s a benign darling, but after a few weeks pass, she’s a harridan hellbent on making their lives into an extended nightmare of never ending chores, sleepless nights and maddening disruption. The solution? Well there’s many in the real world, but in Demented Devito realm it’s to kill her, of course, an eventual resolution they come to quicker than your average ruffled landlord. It’s all in good fun if you’ve got the wicked internal lens to angle at it, and I find it to be a consistent laugh riot with each repeated viewing. Essell is comic dynamite, pretty spry for an old gal and always game to make the dialogue sizzle, as the film sort of relies on her character to work. Stiller and Barrymore stir up a collective brew of exasperation and screeching hysterics, while the wicked good supporting cast includes Wallace Shawn, Robert Wisdom, Justin Theroux, Swoozie Kurtz, Maya Rudolph, Amber Valletta, Tracey Walter, Michelle Krusiec, James Remar as a shady hitman and Broadway’s beloved Harvey Fierstein as New York’s sleaziest real estate tycoon. Devito’s scripts almost always veer into a dark, bizarro cartoon style once the antics get feverishly out of hand, and bearing witness to the many varied and idiotic ways Stiller and Barrymore try to kill the old broad are a showcase of him at his nuttiest. Gross, unpleasant, cheerfully in bad taste, relentlessly raunchy and delightfully mean spirited, pretty much all the things a great comedy should be.
Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride is so beloved and intrinsically bedded into our collective cinematic psyche that it’s almost less of a film these days than it is a lifestyle or cultural flourish, something that comes up in conversations as a given, an immediately relatable phenomenon in any dinner table banter or house party scenario. It also happens to be a great film in itself, full of instantly iconic idiosyncrasies and sincere storytelling that harkens back to the days of Grimm’s brothers and such. Populated by a pithily eclectic cast, and more than a few cameos, it’s a film one can watch as a kid all starry eyed at the fairytale intrigue, then revisit again as an adult and treat oneself to the raunchy bits we missed as youngsters. We all know the story so I won’t rehash it except to say that it’s the classic storybook fantasy given a decidedly more modern twist, especially with the dialogue. I’ll also add that it’s one of the few Hollywood fairytales to retain the grim, often perversely violent and scary elements that fables of olden times were known for. That water torture thingy (how does that work anyways?) used to scare the shit out of me as a kid, and who could forget the gruesome rodents of unusual size? Cary Elwes and Robin Wright light up the screen as Princess Buttercup and Wesley (he’s a lot more fun as the Dread Pirate Zorro Roberts though, isn’t he), on the run from evil Prince Humperdinck (lol) played by a preening Chris Sarandon, and his nefarious six fingered henchman (Christopher Guest) who slew the father of ruthless Spaniard Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), as we’re reminded sixty million times throughout. Damn, I said I wasn’t going to go all into plot, didn’t I? There’s just such a delicious host of characters running about the place, it’s hard not too. Andre The Giant scores as, well, a giant of course, Wallace Shawn is a scheming little shit who gets his comeuppance (inconceivable!!), Billy Chrystal shows up as a sort of goblin, looking like a walnut with cotton candy taped to it, and all this hooplah is read to a youngster (Fred Savage) home sick from school by a snarky Peter Falk, a la Neverending Story. It takes a special kind of film to earn endless revisits from us, the viewer, and be ushered into the exclusive classics club. This one should be used as example of how to flawlessly achieve those things though, via an engaging, smartly written story with actual tangible stakes, just the perfect amounts of humour and silliness, some darker aspects to pluck away at the morbidness in all of us, and of course a romance right at it’s core. Timeless.