Last month I mentioned a new movie-watching project with two of my co-workers, Beckie and Karen. We have successfully navigated the first phase of the project, each choosing a romantic comedy for the others to watch and discuss. The three of us allowed for some leniency in our definitions of what constitutes a “romantic comedy,” which will soon become evident.
Each of us chose at least three titles in this category for the others to choose from. If either of them had seen any of the titles, that film was out. We wanted these to be “new to you” films. My list of romantic comedies included Bringing Up Baby (1938), The Lady Eve (1941), The Apartment (1960), and The Sure Thing (1985). The only film that both Beckie and Karen hadn’t seen was The Apartment, so that was my contribution to this phase of the project. Karen’s pick: Ever After (1998), Beckie’s: I Love You, Man (2009).
The biggest problem with having three people in on the project is communication. In the past month since we began the project, the three of us have had almost no opportunity to discuss these films together, so most of our conversations are piecemeal between Beckie and me or Karen and me. (I can only assume that Beckie and Karen have had conversations between themselves.) So although this is not a perfect system, we’re plowing ahead anyway. Here’s what we’ve discovered so far.
I’ll start with the film I have the least to say about, Ever After. Beckie told me that she was watching the film at home when her husband came in from work, took one look at the screen and said, “Nope.” I got the impression that this was Beckie’s reaction as well; she had to watch the film in 20-minute chunks and grudgingly finished it. I was initially very excited to see Jeanne Moreau appear early in the film as the Grande Dame, but her entire onscreen time lasts only a few moments. For me, it quickly went downhill from there. Ever After, a retelling of the Cinderella story (minus supernatural elements) in 16th century France is well-made, reasonably well-acted, but simply not for me.
I Love You, Man was a completely different story. The set-up of the movie seemed very standard and familiar: Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) is about to get married to his girlfriend (Rashida Jones) when he realizes he has no male friends to act as groomsmen or even a best man. After a series of disastrous “dates” which might lead to groomsman or a best man, Peter meets the freewheeling Sydney (Jason Segel), and things are great… for awhile.
Not only was this “bro-mantic” comedy better than I’d expected, it also affected me on a personal level. Seriously. I shared with both Beckie and Karen that Peter’s situation somewhat resembles my own. My best friend was a guy I met in the mid-80s (when we were both single), but after I moved away and he got married, we never spent as much time together. I married rather late (in my mid-30s) and as my wife and I got older and didn’t have kids, our circle of friends was somewhat odd and often short-lived. We’re not weird people (well, I am), we just didn’t seem to fit in comfortably anywhere. Most newly married guys I knew were in their early 20s, not their mid-30s. Not being a dad, I had little in common with other married guys who were dads. I also felt awkward with single guys. Plus most of my best friends have always been (and continue to be) women, which is great, but I Love You, Man reminded me that I really do miss having that best guy friend. (Okay, that’s probably as much as you need to know about me personally!)
I knew going into the project that Beckie is not a huge fan of movies made before she was born in the 70s, but she gave The Apartment a chance. She acknowledged that the performances from Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine are stellar, but thought the movie a bit long (which is probably is). Yet her biggest complaint was in how the women in the film are treated. I told her that the film was fairly groundbreaking in that it openly portrayed men having affairs without a second thought. Yes, it’s played for laughs, but also with consequences; a comedy with bite. (Hey, it’s Billy Wilder.) I also mentioned to Beckie that The Apartment is very much a film of its time, a story that’s actually Mad Men during the actual era of that show. We really didn’t have time to get into the way Wilder shot the film, the great images of Lemmon in a sea of workers at the company, those wide-angle shots of a never-ending sea of desks and nameless/faceless people caught up in this rat-race with the corporate rats rising to the top, yet seeking to hide out in the apartment of a lower-level rat-in-training. Maybe we’ll get to that later.
Me telling Beckie all about the greatness of The Apartment
But talking to Beckie reminded me that the movies that have made her the maddest – The Apartment, Paris, Texas (1984), and Ace in the Hole (1951) – are all great films that she can’t get out of her mind. (Perhaps that’s one reason they’re great?) She thinks about these films and in many ways is still trying to come to grips with them. If I’ve made her – and Karen – think about these films in a deeper way, I’ve done my job.
When I think about it, this is exactly what I’m trying to do with our library movie series The Great Movies, just on a more personal level. I certainly learned a lot during this round and hope Beckie and Karen did as well. Maybe you’ll want to start a movie project with your friends or co-workers. If you do, let me know.
Next time we’re going to tackle three Drama movies. Stay tuned.
Photos: The Hunchblog of Notre Dame, A Good Movie to Watch, DVD Beaver