Saturday, October 15, 2005


There are some things I just don't get about Hollywood.

Kingdom of Heaven opened at number one with $20 million and was considered a massive failure. It was, of course, a very expensive film to make and took a couple of years to do it.

Last weekend, Wallace and Gromit opened at number one with $16 million and was considered a massive success. Despite having taken 5 years and extremely intensive, backbreaking work to make.

Scarlett Johannsen is clearly from the don't-move-your-your-face-so-you-don't-get-wrinkles school of acting. She is the same person in every film I've ever seen her in, but she gets nominated for an Oscar and lauded in every mention of her work.

But Orlando Bloom, who has as subtly expressive a face as a chocolate lab puppy, is called passive and weak.

There are some great actors who melt into every role they play. Brendan Gleeson is a master, and one of the few true talents out there. Many other great actors convey emotion and present their lines sincerely, yet no matter how ugly or odd you make them look, they are never not themselves. Mel Gibson is a perfect example of this.

It's not really Hollywood I'm annoyed with. It's the critical media. I never used to read reviews of movies. I saw a trailer, and if it looked good, I went. But the deeper I got into being a writer, the more fascinated I also became with how movies are made. The more I identified with the creative and collaborative process by the screenwriter, director, actors, and editor. I subscribe to People and Entertainment Weekly now, mainly because of this interest. I also subscribe to Time, which often does movie reviews. And the Internet gives us access to reviewers all over the country, most of whom used to have a miniscule fraction of their current potential audience.

So, I used to watch a movie, like or dislike it, and be happy. Now, I have added this anger-filled relationship with the critics. If it watch a movie they loved, 99% of the time I don't even kind of like it. If I liked a movie they hated, I am annoyed at all the reasons they're wrong.

Which, of course, they're not. It's all opinion. Amanda loving my book doesn't invalidate Rachel being bored by it. So my loving Elizabethtown doesn't invalidate Leah Rozen hating it. But it's not going to stop me from being annoyed.

The reviews of this movie have been mixed. A good number of people have liked Orlando Bloom's performance, and mostly liked the movie, too. But things even they didn't like are the same things the haters didn't like, too. And they're the same things I loved.

Many comments have said the film lacked focus. That it dealt with the career loss and the father loss and the falling in love and the reconnecting with family and the discovery of the country all in the same film, and it shouldn't have.

I thought all of that just made the movie REAL. How many of us have to deal with one thing at a time? For example, this week I had a major bad situation at work combined with a difficult task at work, but also had some other things successfully resolve. During all this, on Monday I spent some time feeling like a bad mom because a particular decision feels wrong no matter which way I go, and a proud mom because of the progress my kids are making and their successes on the soccer field. I got a rejection of a book I love, but also had a really exciting moment about the book I'm currently working on. Love doesn't find us when nothing else is happening. And when the big stuff is taking priority (Drew Baylor mediating the disposal of his father's remains), the small stuff doesn't stop (his cousin having trouble with his son).

I admit I may have identified with the character and what he faced more than many people do. A little over two years ago, my mother died. I was just a little older than Drew Baylor (in the film). The oldest child. Conflicted about our relationship and all the ways it couldn't change now. When he approached his father in the coffin, I inevitably recalled how my mother's mouth had been sewn crooked, how she looked fretful even in a complete absence of expression, how hard her skull was when I kissed her forehead. I sobbed heavily at that part of the movie, and when Drew had his catharsis on the way home.

Some reviewers found Susan Sarandon's tribute and the trip across the country dull. I found them both incredibly emotional, and it makes me wonder how well those reviewers connect with anything but their own words.

The part I thought would be the worst, Kirsten Dunst, was. But even "worst" is relative. Her accent was totally inconsistent (while Orlando's never sounded British). I liked her better without the fake accent--Paula Deen's rich, loving tones made Dunst's sound strident and harsh. But she conveyed a painful need without crossing into desperation, and her best moments were quiet ones. She definitely had chemistry with Orlando, which is also obvious in their promo opps.

The movie is definitely worth seeing, for anyone who has faced failure or dealt with loss or who knows they will, someday, and doesn't do their damndest to avoid those feelings. There's a lot of humor, but mostly a big feeling of comfort and satisfaction that accompany most Cameron Crowe films. All who worked on the movie should feel proud of their end result.

No matter what the critics think.


Anonymous said...

Hi Natalie,

I have not seen Elizabethtown yet but I did see a sort of making of on the Food Network. Since Paula Deen is in the movie they did a behind the scenes during filming of the movie it looks like a movie I might enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I also forgot to sign my name and tell you you left you that oh so wonderful comments.


Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Hey, Rose! Yes, I did see that special myself. It was really well done and made me want to meet Paula Deen. :) Unfortunately, the bits they showed on the special were about all we saw of her directly. I was a little disappointed.

Let me know what you think of Elizabethtown when you do see it!