I recently resolved to get to movies more often. Which means sneaking out every now and then during the week. I’ve always loved sneaking out to daytime movies while the rest of the world is at school or at work or doing their pressing stuff.
Last week I went to see Slumdog Millionaire. Perhaps it was the Oscar hype, but I was expecting director Danny Boyle do play with a more challenging, edgy style, which he didn’t. But the vision of Mumbai – especially in the first half – filled me with the same heady mix of panic and fascination that I sense I’d get if I visited the place. And the film had the feel of a story well told – again, especially the first half, which had most of the interesting anecdote and character development stuff.
I got the feeling later in the film that we were being swept along by the imperative of classical Hollywood narrative; the screenwriting got a bit bare and the plot and characters thinned out to TV-soapie fodder. Even so, hugely watchable, and the big phat Bollywood ending was just cool with me.
This week Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I couldn’t make up my mind about this film. I mean, I enjoyed watching it; I laughed out loud in places. But I do not understand why it’s moved so many people I know to go for a second or third viewing.
I couldn’t shake a mental image of Woody Allen, sitting in a dressing gown in New York or Beverley Hills, trying to wangle a summer shooting in Barcelona with a some sexy starlets. (Yeah, who wouldn’t go for that, given half a chance.) I could see him getting all wired by the silly premise: what if two smart New York girls got propositioned by a sexy stranger in a foreign European city, for a weekend of Spanish food, wine, culture and sex?
Woody Allen writes a good line; he’s especially good at getting the audience to wince at his characters’ blind spots and sensitivities, and he knows how to structure a screenplay, but the whole thing felt a bit neat and two-dimensional to me. I half expected the stairs at Parc Guell to pop open and reveal that they were just a stage set. Vicky, the level-headed rationalist (Rebecca Hall) and Vicky, the aspirant bohemian (Scarlett Johannnsenn) never really filled out for me into much beyond character sketches. Ditto Juan the passionate painter (Javier Bardem). Penelope Cruz gave a kickass performance as Maria Elena the torrid genius, but the part still felt written to fictional stereotype. Pass the madwoman in the attic – and the salt.