Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Smart and Stupid

I did a movie night this week and saw two very different films: Smart People and Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay. I liked both films, but for very different reasons.

First, H&K. Well, what can I say about a film that includes some seriously base toilet humor even before the opening credits, but then goes on to have tons of smart political satire. I suppose the clearest thing I can say is: I laughed embarrassingly loudly a few times. Hard to argue with that. I feel like I can't say much about this film without spoilers... but just wait until George Bush comes onto the scene. Killed me. And Neil Patrick Harris on the unicorn. Too funny.

Smart People I liked, too, but didn't work quite as well, even though it's probably the "better" film. It's a story of a decidedly dysfunctional family and a woman who comes into their lives, and in spite of some occasional dark humor, it was so not a comedy. Not at all. Once again, I think the ads and trailers for this film have been misleading. They were hoping, I'll bet, to get some of the audience from Juno to come out, just because Ellen Page is in it.

And Ellen Page was fabulous. And in a character very different from Juno, but just as believable. Thomas Hayden Church was great, too, and well cast. And I think the film was well written. There were four distinct character arcs and an overall storyline linking them (the lead character's arc), and it fit well, together. My problem was in the casting of the two other main characters. And I'd be willing to guess the filmmaker had pressure to cast "names" in these parts whether or not they were right for the parts. (Anyone watch Project Greenlight?)

Sarah Jessica Parker was fine, but too old for her part. Something didn't make sense about that and it kept bugging me. She was supposed to be 10 years past her undergrad days... no, ten years past being a freshman. And sorry, Jessica, it's more like 20.

But the bigger problem for me was Dennis Quaid. And I LOVE Dennis Quaid. But I just couldn't believe him playing an intellectual.

Some actors can pull off portraying characters who regularly use words the actor doesn't know the meaning of... but Dennis isn't one of them. He was supposed to be pompous and highly intelligent. And he flipped between sloppy and lethargic, to channeling his performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire. Maybe that's the only pompous he can do. Talented pompous. He sure didn't pull off academic pompous.

This would have been an entirely different film if Jeff Daniels had been cast in that role. At least he's the first actor who popped into my mind, probably because of his role in The Squid and the Whale, which you should see if you haven't. Rent it. Or perhaps even if the two males were reversed. Yes, sure, Hayden Church does an amazing slacker. We know that. And he was good in this film. But I expect he could have played the professor, too, and lord knows Quaid would have done a good slacker. But the professor part was the "lead" so they cast Quaid and I think that's what made this film less than stellar. Oh, now that I wrote that, I am CONVINCED that reversing the male casting would have made a better film. I don't want to post a huge spoiler... warning... but the Ellen Page character hits on her uncle (played by Hayden Church) and this, too, would've been even more believable if it had been Quaid playing the part. What girl (even a seventeen year old) could resist his devilish (even in his fifties) grin.

Plus, as I said... Sarah Jessica Parker was supposed to be way too young for Quaid and, yes, she's at least 10 years younger than him in real life, but I expect the screenwriter wrote a film intending there to be more like 20 years between those two characters. Casting just didn't work.

At least not for me. Your mileage may vary. But I sound like I didn't enjoy it. I did, mostly.


Barrie said...

Hey Maureen! So, was Thomas Hayden Church's character likable? I think he's a great actor, but never like the characters he plays.

Also, I FINALLY did a meme I think you tagged me for.

Maureen McGowan said...

Likable? Hmmmm... Overall, I'd say yes. Certainly compared to his character in Sideways. Now you've got me thinking about it... His character is "on paper" the least together of all of the characters, but ends up behaving the best and really kind of helping to pull everyone together.

L.A. Mitchell said...

I'm always one step behind you in the recommendations, which is a good thing. All movie critics should be writers :)

Wylie Kinson said...

I like your re-casting. I do that alot -- watch a role and think, "Why didn't they get so-and-so? He/She'd be PERFECT!" But you're right of course; in Hollywood, names = money.
Too bad.

Hey - I finally saw Baby Mama, and perhaps it was my low expectations, but I REALLY enjoyed it. It was fluff, had a few sweet moments and many laughs. And the fact that I saw it on Cheap Tuesday ($4.95 admission!!) helped :)
I'd recommend as a future DVD rental.

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