Tag Archives: rom com

Failure to Land; ‘Baggage Claim’ (2013).

15 Oct

Baggage Claim posterWatching Baggage Claim is kind of like being slapped in the face with an insultingly wet fish. First off, it expects you to buy the carved-out-of-marble-gorgeous Paula Patton as a hopelessly single spinster. Secondly, it offers a selection of such innocuous jokes, only a toddler might mistake them as comedy. But it’s the film’s odious and distasteful ridiculing of its predominantly female audience that brings Baggage Claim’s crashing out of the sky, not even thirty seconds into flight time.

Montana Moore (Patton) is an incredibly beautiful flight attendant who finds it impossible to get a date. And, to compound Montana’s fuckless life, her younger sister is getting married in a month’s time, thereby beating her to the altar of heteronormative happiness! So, using her airline connections, our drop-dead gorgeous heroine ‘accidentally’ runs into all her past boyfriends in a last-ditch effort to track down the elusive ‘Mr. Right’ and get hitched before her little blister.

If the premise of a thirty-day time limit sounds ridiculously arbitrary, that’s because it is. Nonsensical and dripping with conceit, the self-imposed challenge is so artificially contrived, it’s doesn’t even tick the Looney Tunes comedy box. Why is it thirty days? Dreadful writing, that’s why, complete with unfortunately, frivolous and clunky plot devices that are merely the tip of the iceberg of wrongness that haunts this film.

Baggage Claim compounds all its silliness with an air of childish innocence. Take the character names, for instance: Jill Scott plays Montana’s sexually liberated bestie, Gail (because every black woman’s best friend is named ‘Gail’), whose surname is none other than ‘Best’; while the calm and collected neighbour (Derek Luke) is known as… wait for it… Mr. Right. It was genuine surprise to this writer that the obligatory male flight attendant was called ‘Sam Gay’.

While we’re on the subject, Sam (Adam Brody) is the sole believable character of the whole affair, which speaks volumes because he’s a walking (nay, mincing) stereotype. He remains eminently watchable, which is an achievement in itself given that everyone else, down to the extras, is a cartoon character. When Patton’s not convulsively twitching her face or gesticulating weirdly, she’s running to catch a flight, swinging her roller-bag in the air; just as air hostesses really do. Don’t they?

All of the goofiness would be fine if Baggage Claim was in any way funny. However, the only laughs stem from Taye Diggs’ would-be congressman character. Trying and failing to be the quintessential politician’s wife, before storming out Patton yells: “I don’t trust black Republicans!” A lump of satire floating in a sea of doltish buffoonery, it’s a welcome deviation from the gag-inducing gags that abound in this misfiring comedy.

At best, Baggage Claim is a moronic, profoundly dumb exercise in how to bore an audience for 96 minutes. At worst, it’s an offensive dose of misogyny, hammering home every archaic, outdated and plain ole bad cliché about single women Hollywood ever trotted out. Rest assured, total racial equality in making pointless, terrible romantic comedies has been achieved.

Simon says: Baggage Shame.

[Written for GCN]

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‘Populaire’ (2013) will give you a toothache.

6 Jun

Populaire posterRose Pamphyle (Déborah François) is a typical 1950’s girl; though living in rural-ish France, she seeks the exciting American Dream of becoming a secretary for some big-shot man in the city. So she travels to bustling Normandy, and her new boss Louis Echard (Romain Duris) notices her incredible typing ability. Their employer-employee relationship soon turns to coach-athlete as they work together to improve her chances at winning the French typewriting championships. Drama ensues along the way, however, as their professional relationship morphs into something altogether more personal.

European romance films are a different beast to their Hollywood counterparts. Whereas American love stories tend to focus on the happily-ever-after, French films in particular are concerned with the journey itself, the quest to romantic fulfilment. The actual conclusion to the story is fairly obvious, and Populaire is guilty of this particular anomaly. As a result, the film is unashamedly predictable and formulaic, but along the way we’re treated to some really funny lines, great costumes and tense drama which all fuse together into an enjoyable, if unmemorable movie.

From the bright, vivid colours to the unflinching glee typical of French cinema, Populaire teeters on the brink of being too sweet and jolly. The small number of dramatically tense scenes is vastly outweighed by an almost overbearing exuberance that could really irk certain audiences, especially those unfamiliar with French film. Rose is basically a large child whose happy-go-lucky demeanour fades maybe twice, Louis is more layered but still generally upbeat, and together they are surrounded by a cast of friendly faces, one of which has this incredibly annoying tendency to burst into some random American slang term or movie quote.

Set as it is in a conservative period of history, there is a helluva lot of misogyny in Populaire. But before any feminists get all riled up, the film avoids the ‘offensive’ tag for two reasons. First of all, the sexism is contextual, while simultaneously satirical; much like Mad Men, the various ways in which women are subjugated are all teased and called out for their inherent ridiculousness. Secondly, without giving anything away, the female characters wind up in the best light by being portrayed as having far fewer flaws than their male counterparts.

This unflinching positivity gets a bit old after a while, but in the end Populaire remains a charming enough, entertaining if very predictable slice of French cinema. There is nothing new, innovative or even particularly creative here, but everything is handled so gracefully that Populaire’s lack of originality is totally forgivable.

Simon says: if Mad Men had a baby with Amélie… And Cool Runnings was watching.

The Sparks is back! ‘Safe Haven’ (2013).

22 Feb

Safe Haven posterAnother week, another film based on a best-selling novel; this time, the filmic adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven rears its rather pretty if empty head. Safe Haven follows the plot of the book to a tee: it presents a young woman, Katie (Julianne Hough) who escapes her old, troubled life in the city of Boston for a fresh start in a sleepy coastal town. However, remnants of her former life cannot be shaken, and elements of the new and the old collide in rather unspectacular ways.

Directed by Lasse Hallström, this film feels so much like an advertisement to come stay in Southport, North Carolina, where it was shot. Serene, and with consistently wonderful weather and unreasonably attractive people, if Safe Haven is at hit then bachelorettes will descend upon the small port town in their droves. While the drama is pleasant and the characters have a relative depth to them uncharacteristic of such romantic films, it is so formulaic you could probably look it up in a geometry book; pretty characters, awful dialogue, impossibly great weather and a fairly predictable antagonist. Hough and her fellow lead Josh Duhamel both play their parts well, but some incredibly hammy one-liners and dreadfully edited action scenes attempt to jeopardise their efforts.

Similar to Chocolat in terms of plot though could perhaps be more accurately labelled as the ‘anti-Notebook’, this movie works for the most part. Completely passable, watchable if unoriginal, this film would have been fine if underwhelming, if not for the ending. Once the climactic inferno has reached its height, Sparks throws this ridiculous, completely silly twist into the mix which is not only extremely out of place, but only serves to undermine all which has come before. It seems desperate in its unfeasibility, as if the director couldn’t fathom a reasonable way to pull the plug. Ultimately cheapening of the movie as a whole, it really is a terrible ending and one which for many, me included, will ruin the entire film.

Props must be given for staying true to the spirit of the novel: the movie version refuses to deviate from its source material, which could be seen as either its greatest strength or its Achilles’ heel, depending on the type of movie-goer you are. If you are a casual, undemanding fan of romance films based on airport fiction, then you are certainly the intended audience. However, on a technical level, Safe Haven fails. The aforementioned problems combined with really obvious colour coding (Boston is uniformly blue and dank, whereas Southport is brightly orange, even at night) will test the nerves of many. Safe Haven is set apart from Sparks’ other movies by having one of the most idiotic endings in movie history, though will doubtless still appeal to many.

Simon says: just go on holiday instead. Less bullshit twists!

[Written for The Student Standard]

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