Friday, November 03, 2006

An Evening of Lumbering Melodramatics

Lots to report. So, as some of you may know, I'm thoroughly obsessed with Lifetime original movies. I use the term "emotional pornography" as frequently as Britney Spears drops her children, but the truth behind Lifetime programming is that it sorts all of its purposes into easily digestible bundles so that, when the always climactic and tearful finale arrives - and justice along with it - we know that, if we have missed the point along the way, it will be represented in a short monologue from our female protagonist as she a)confronts her rapist in court b)embraces her estranged daughter c)settles down in her house, while the sun sets, with her family (crowded around her) heaves a sigh of relief from the feature length storm they have just endured. Of course there are variations on these conclusions, but apparently someone thought they might mix it up and try to produce something edgy for the network.

That film is called Obsessed. It stars Jenna Elfman as the wronged mistress of a well-to-do doctor. Or is she? We are treated to her version of the story in golden, warm hued flashbacks. It's all passion and smoothe jazz (just one track, though, for the budget assuredly went to Elfman). When the other side of the story emerges - a decidedly less cuddly one - the world takes on ominous and urban blue tones, sterile. Is Elfman, as the doctor claims, making up a relationship which never occurred? Did she merely begin stalking him at a conference or did they have a few torrid years of extra-marital bliss? Do you dear reader care?

The odd thing about Obsessed is its distrust of all things feminine. Elfman is certainly insane (with a vocabulary, to boot!). Yet the doctor's wife is just as prodding and irritating. 'Is he lying?' is the question on everyone's mind, but the film eventually ignores that man-hating storyline for the calling-your-boyfriend-too-much-will-turn-you-into-a-crazy-stalker -bitch-who-talks-to-herself-and-makes-inappropriate-phone-calls-to-courtroom-judges one. So, for god's sake ladies, don't call him too much. Elfman is deliciously inept for any sort of dramatic performance. When her character is to change moods, her diction falters drastically and she stumbles about, unsure of her footing, even. The fact that her character endows exceptional intelligence is particularly prolific hightening the ineptitude of the performance. Eventually, you stop looking for the familiar guiding hand of your average Lifetime picture and give into the mess that is Obsessed. Oh, it's great fun, and by the time the final, flaccid surprise has been delivered, you are more than satisfied. And perplexed.

Then, I moved right along to a grander variation on the same genre, I watching Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves rekindle non-existent chemistry in their first onscreen union since the smash hit Speed. Not a single moment of The Lake House makes the slightest sense. Mere personal interaction - between brothers, say - becomes a narrative guessing game. When Keanu is reunited with his brother, the simple narrative understanding of what unfolds before us is denied. A guessing game begins: are they lovers (if only), strangers, school pals? Who is this older man(Christopher Plummer) who shuns them as he exits the building? The stranger is Keanu's brother, the man his father, though it takes entirely too many scenes for us to realize this.

Then, of course, there's the plot involving a mailbox which defies all laws of time. Keanu - and all of his lineage, for that matter - is an architect. His father designed the eponymous building. Keanu lived there in 2004. Bullock in 2006. When she leaves a note for the next tenant, it is transported into the past for Keanu to brood his pouty little mug over. What follows is romantic propaganda for the middleaged to try IMing. Never mind that, when Bullock uses Keanu's marked-up map for a walking tour of Chicago, they converse in rapid IM-like snippets of written dialogue. If the mailbox is that mystical object which enables them to communicate, where is it on this urban jaunt? How can they be talking if the box is nowhere in sight?

These are the sorts of inconsistencies which riddle the film and make it a bit of a mess/treat to behold. Its mediocrity is rather exceptional. This void of a narrative presents itself more as a mystery than the heap of romantic fluff it would prefer to be. I watched The Lake House because a friend and filmmaker whose opinion I greatly admire called its ineptitude cult-classic-worthy. I'm not certain I would go that far, but, as a silly accompaniment to a bottle of wine, it did more than fulfill its duty.

Finally, in my slew of maladroit, I watched Swimfan. Having recently watched Bring It On, I must admit a have a little bit of a thing for Jesse Bradford. Knowing full well it was a movie about swimming - swimming, Jesse Bradford: you draw the conclusions. Erika Christensen was the nice little surprise which the film had in store. Her campy version of Glenn Close's infamous Fatal Attraction role was a bit of a delight. In a movie which requires very little of its viewer - nearly nothing, really - to have someone on board like Christensen is a saving grace. Not much else to say here, uninspired, predictable. But I"m a convert for Christensen.


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