A Lot Like Love

Posted on April 7, 2005 at 12:01 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: A lot of drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense scenes
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

Somebody decided to remake When Harry Met Sally but they left out the charm, the wit, the detail, the sincerity, the endearing characters, the romance, the scene in the deli, and the great soundtrack. Unsurprisingly, it does not work. This movie is not “A Lot Like Love.” It should be called “Nothing Whatsoever Like Love and By the Way, Nothing Whatsoever Like a Good Movie, Either.”

Amanda Peet, surely a contender for the title of most talented and appealing actress to appear in a string of movies that range from not very good to truly terrible, plays Emily, a free-spirited type we meet as she gets dumped by her boyfriend at the airport and then has anonymous sex with someone on the airplane. That someone is Oliver, played by Ashton Kutcher, and it is not much of a compliment to say that he is above this material. He actually shows some flickers of acting ability from time to time, but they are no match for the stranglehold of the script’s limitations. The situations are dull and worse, artificial, especially not one but two tiresomely obvious fake-outs.

There is not one moment of believeable connection, tenderness, insight, or intimacy between them. The point of When Harry Met Sally was that they were friends first who talked about everything in their lives. They had dialogue that was charming and touching. These two barely manage a dozen syllables.

Emily and Oliver run into each other on and off over a seven-year period, changing hairstyles, jobs, and significant others, but somehow coming back together. The movie expects us to believe that they find each other interesting without giving us a reason to find them interesting or giving them anything interesting to do or say. We are supposed to find it adorable that they stick things up their noses and spit water at each other. The brief scenes showing Oliver’s relationship with his brother are vastly more vivid and intriguing than the entire romance with Emily. His relationship with his sister, however, is instantly tiresome and goes downhill from there. But the big romance does not have a single moment of genuine connection between the characters or with the audience.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong material for a PG-13 including sexual references and situations, including casual sex with strangers, portrayed as charming and romantic, and non-explicit nudity. Characters drink and smoke a great deal and use strong language.

Families who see this movie should talk about what drew Oliver and Emily to each other at the different stages of their relationship and what kept them apart.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy When Harry Met Sally or Same Time Next Year and the wonderful French film, And Now My Love, all with some mature material.

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Fever Pitch

Posted on April 4, 2005 at 2:16 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, brief smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense scenes
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2005

The only thing surprising about this completely conventional big studio date movie is that it comes from the joyfully outrageous Farrelly brothers (There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal) and the literary but widely-read Nick Hornby. The Hollywood studio de-flavorizing machine has toned them down and flattened them out and the result is perfectly enjoyable but perfectly forgettable.

Hornby’s autobiographical novel is about a guy who crossed the line from fan to fanatic back in childhood. The book and the original movie of the same name are about a teacher in England who is passionately committed to a soccer team with a heartbreaking record. In this version, Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) — note meaningful last name — is a high school teacher who happily explains his priorities on ESPN: The Red Sox, sex, and breathing.

But Lindsay Meeks (Drew Barrymore) — no idea what that last name is supposed to signify — doesn’t meet that guy. She meets “winter guy,” a sweetheart of a beau who takes tender care of her when she has food poisoning and reminds her that there’s more to life than her job. By the time he has to explain why he can’t go to her parents’ party because he has to be at spring training, she already likes him enough to ask herself whether she can live with “summer guy” for half the year.

This is not a HA-HA movie. It is a chuckle/awww/chuckle/awwwwwww movie. Fallon and Barrymore are adorable and seem to get a genuine kick out of each other. We know where this will all end up. The only surprise in the movie is the one everyone already found out about when the Sox won the World Series (thus requiring the original script to be rewritten with an even happier happy ending). On the way there are some distractions — some are pretty funny, like the brief scene where Ben decides which of his friends get to use his sensational seats in Fenway Park, but most are a complete waste of time like the scenes with Lindsay’s friends and family. This gives it a dragged-out feeling, like the movie has gone into extra innings.

Parents should know that the movie includes some strong and crude language, including at least three jokes about male sexual organs. There are sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations including (spoiler alert) a pregnancy scare. Characters drink (Ben tells Lindsay one thing he likes about her is that she drinks) and (briefly) smoke.

Families who see this movie should talk about the fine line between being a fan and being a fanatic. They should discuss the ways that caring deeply about a team, a star, a movie, or a video game, can make people feel like they are part of something, especially when they share those feelings with friends. How were Lindsay’s feelings about her job like Ben’s feelings about the Red Sox? Why is it important to care about something you can’t control?

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy some baseball movie classics like Field of Dreams and It Happens Every Spring. They will also enjoy comparing it to the original Fever Pitch, based on Nick Hornby’s autobiographical novel about his obsession with soccer, as well as Hornby’s other books and the movies based on them, About a Boy and High Fidelity. And they will enjoy Woman of the Year, in which sportswriter Spencer Tracy teaches political columnist Katharine Hepburn the joys of baseball in the first of their nine films together.

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Sullivan’s Travels

Posted on April 3, 2005 at 6:39 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Mild
Violence/ Scariness: Fighting, hobo killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1941

“Sully” Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a successful director of silly comedies, including Ants in Your Pants and Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. The studio wants him to make more, but he wants to make a movie with a serious message about The Depression and man’s inhumanity to man. He plans on calling it “0 Brother, Where Art Thou?”

When he lists all the things that are wrong with the world, the studio executive replies, “Maybe they’d like to forget that.” His own butler advises him that “the subject is not an interesting one. The poor know all about poverty, and only the morbid rich find the subject glamorous…. It is to be stayed away from, even for the purpose of study. It is to be shunned.” But Sullivan is determined.

Before he can make the movie, he has to see what life is like as a “bum.” His first efforts fail, as the luxurious studio trailer follows him around. He meets “the Girl” (Veronica Lake), a would-be actress, and she persuades him to let her go with him, dressed as a boy, and they start over again.

This time he discovers the sadness and lack of dignity among the homeless. But before he can go back home, he and the Girl are separated, and he is hit on the head, becomes disoriented, and loses his memory. He punches a railroad guard and is sentenced to six years on a chain gang. Meanwhile, the hobo who has stolen his shoes is killed and, through the studio identification card sewn into the shoes, is identified as Sullivan. One night, the prisoners are taken to a small church, where they see a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Sullivan realizes the joy laughter gives to these men who have nothing else.

When Sullivan regains his memory, he gets out of jail by “confessing” to his own murder so he can contact his lawyer and be properly identified. He goes home to find that his wife has remarried, leaving him free to marry the Girl. And he resolves to make more funny movies, because he realizes that is the best contribution he can make, concluding, “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that’s all that some people have? It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cock-eyed caravan.”

Sensitive teenagers often make the mistake of thinking they cannot care deeply and still find things funny, or that those around them cannot appreciate their pain and still find anything funny, even something that has no relation to the situation they are struggling with. This movie makes it clear that laughter and insight go together, that humor is never an insult to a serious situation, indeed that humor can be the highest form of awareness and perception, and that making people laugh can be a good way to help them.

Sullivan himself is funny, with his pretensions and his misguided attempts to find out what poverty is like.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Sullivan wants to make a different kind of movie? Why don’t the studio executives want him to? How do they try to persuade him? What is the difference between the ways that the two servants try to find out how Sullivan can board the train? Why does the second one work? What does the Girl mean when she says, “The nice thing about buying food for a man is that you don’t have to laugh at his jokes”? What does Sullivan learn from the Mickey Mouse cartoon? Do you think this is the kind of movie Sullivan would make when he gets back to the studio?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy other movies by Sturges, especially The Lady Eve. The title of the Cohen brothers’ movie, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou was a tribute to Sturges.

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