Drive Me Crazy

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

If a sitcom episode from the TGIF line-up was crossed with a commercial from MTV, you’d get this movie, a genial half-hour story stretched out to movie length through the insertion of lots and lots of music for the 11- 16 crowd, who will line up to buy the soundtrack album. It is no coincidence that the name of the movie was changed to the name of Britney Spears’ current hit song.

The plot would fit into an old episode of “Gidget.” High school seniors Nicole (Melissa Joan Hart) and her next-door-neighbor and childhood pal Chase (Adrian Grenier) are now barely speaking. They travel in different crowds. She is filled with team spirit, loves to cheer on the school basketball team, and is working hard to make the school’s 100th anniversary dance a big success. Chase is a rebel, protesting the mindless conformity of his classmates, too cool to support anything at school. When Nicole is unsuccessful in getting basketball star Brian to the big dance, and Chase is dumped by his girlfriend Dulcie for not being as cool as a college boy who is busy protesting the use of animals in lab tests, they agree to pretend to be dating, to see if they can make their respective heartthrobs jealous.

Nicole gives Chase a makeover at Gap, and then they each visit the other’s turf. They are surprised to find themselves enjoying each others’ environments and friends, and enjoying each other. It turns out that they are the ones who get jealous, when Brian and Dulcie take the bait. And their friends, too, learn to judge by appearances.

There is no particular subtlety or insight in the movie, but it is undeniably fun to watch. Grenier, in particular, has real charm (though I preferred his tousled curls to the post-makeover hairstyle). And the movie addresses real issues about the tendency of high school kids to categorize themselves according to clearly defined extremes and to stick with friends who reinforce their interests, attitudes, and appearance.

Parents should know that there is a good deal of drinking by teens in the movie. Both Nicole and Chase react to setbacks by getting drunk at parties. The attitude of the kids in the movie seems to be that as long as they have a designated driver, there is no reason kids should not drink. Nicole is also betrayed by a friend, who tells Brian that he should be interested in her because she is willing to have sex with him. Later, Nicole insults her by calling her “easy.” A drunken boy attempts to force his intentions on a girl, and, when she refuses, he is abusive and insulting. While there are other sexual references, the behavior of the kids is limited to some romantic kissing. Parents may want to discuss the issue of cliques and snobbery in school, the importance of feeling liked for what one considers most important about oneself, the dangers of trying to manipulate others, and the difficulty of living with a single parent. Parents should also warn kids not to follow the example of one character, who arranges a real-life encounter with a cyber-date. It might not turn out as well as the one in the movie.

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High School

Mansfield Park

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Bodices may not be ripped, but they are certainly loosened in this very liberal adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. This is not your mother’s “Mansfield Park.” Fans of the book are warned early on that there will be some significant departures when the credits read that the screenplay, by director Patricia Rozema, is adapted not just from the novel, but also from the letters and journals of its author, Jane Austen. And indeed, Rozema has effectively removed the book’s frail and mousy — if resolutely honorable — heroine, and replaced her with some amalgam of Austen’s feistier characters plus a dash of Austen herself. Then she threw in a little bit of Jo March, Susan B. Anthony, and even Scarlet O’Hara for good measure.

And, for those who are not literary purists, it is good measure indeed. The movie version’s heroine is far more cinematic than the Fanny Price of the book, and the adaptation works remarkably well. Less successful is the attempt to import 20th century sensibility on issues like slavery (Fanny’s wealthy relatives own slaves in the West Indies) and some wild anachronisms (Fanny lies casually on her bed while she talks to her male cousin; neighbor Mary Crawford even more casually smokes a small cigar). And there is even that most unforgivable sin of movies set in the past – a character who says, “After all, it’s 1806!”

In the movie, as in the book, Fanny Price is from a large and very poor family. When she is a young girl, she is invited to stay with rich relatives as something between a servant and a companion. She is befriended by her cousin Edmund, but ignored by his dissolute older brother Tom and his selfish sisters, neglected by their parents, and bullied by her aunt, also a poor relative under their care. She grows up reading everything she can and doing her best to get along with everyone.

Henry Crawford and his sister Mary, both wealthy and attractive, come to stay nearby. Omni-seductive, they are both weak-willed and manipulative. They charm everyone but Fanny, creating many crises of honor and reputation.

The movie is sumptuously produced. Australian actress Frances O’Connor is terrific as Fanny. To use one of Austen’s favorite words, she is “lively,” but she is also able to show us Fanny’s unshakeable honor and dignity. Playwright Harold Pinter is outstanding as Lord Bertram.

Families should talk about some of the issues raised by the movie, including the family’s dependence on slaves in the West Indies to maintain their luxurious lifestyle, and the limited options available to women that led Fanny’s cousin Maria to insist on marrying a foolish – but wealthy – man. They should also discuss the Crawfords, two of Austen’s most intriguing characters. With wealth and charm of their own, why was manipulating others so important to them? One of the great moral crises of the book is whether the young people should put on a play (answer: they should not because it would create too great an intimacy). But Austen never shied away from having characters make ineradicable moral and social mistakes, and most of her books feature at least one couple who run off together without getting married and suffer some serious consequences. Perhaps in frustration over the difficulty of making those actions seem real to today’s audiences, or perhaps just as a way of making a classic work seem unstuffy, this movie has more implicit and explicit sexuality than we have seen in other movies based on Austen’s books (except maybe for “Clueless”). Parents should know that there is one scene with an implied lesbian interest and a brief inexplicit scene of an adulterous couple. Fanny finds drawings depicting abuse of slaves, including rape. Fanny’s aunt takes opium, her cousin is often drunk, and Fanny gets tipsy at a party.

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Based on a book Drama Epic/Historical Family Issues

Price of Glory

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

In the 1940’s, this movie would have starred John Garfield and been on the lower half of a double feature. In 2000, it stars Jimmy Smits as the father who pushes his three boys to be championship boxers, because his own dreams of being a champion were dashed. Despite the attractive performances, the movie is k-o’d in the first round by a cliche-filled script with dialogue that has a higher specific gravity than a heavyweight contender.

Come on, recite along with me as papa Jimmy Smits argues with mama Maria del Mar: “Do colleges give scholarships for boxing?” “I’m just thinking about their future.” “So am I, damnit!” “I’m their manager!” “No, Arturo, you’re their father!” “It’s not about the money — it’s about being the best!”

Smits plays Arturo Ortega, scion of “The Fighting Ortegas,” each of whom faces his own challenges. Sonny, the oldest, wants to marry his girlfriend and make some of his own decisions. Jimmy struggles to gain his father’s approval, and, when he feels that is impossible, becomes involved with drugs. Johnny, the youngest and most talented, wants to be his father’s “avenging angel” and make up to him not only for the disappointment of his own career, but also for his disappointment in the older two boys.

Arturo lives in a border town. He tells a fight promoter, “Every day, I see people cross that line looking for something better.” Arturo has a clearly established line in his own mind that he wants to cross — his way, in a Cadillac, as the father of champions. And he wants to manage his sons all the way to the title.

But Arturo knows more about teaching boxing than he does about managing a boxing career. And he knows more about both than he does about being a father. Someone has to be killed before he can admit that though he tried to give his sons more, “maybe less would have been better, less of me.”

Parents should know that in addition to very rough boxing matches, there is some gun violence and drug use, and that the language is strong for a PG-13, really on the edge of R. Families who see this movie should talk about how parents find a way to balance their dreams for their kids with the kids dreams for themselves.

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Drama Family Issues Sports

The Green Mile

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

It’s pretty easy to make a movie where the hero saves the Earth from asteroids or blasts the bad guys into smithereens, because those kinds of battles give us lots of very cool stuff to look at. It’s a lot harder to make a movie like this one, holding our attention with heroism in small moments and unlikely places. Teens, who often feel that the problems of the world are too overwhelming to address, can learn from this movie that a small courtesy can have an enormous impact.

Paul Edgecombe (Tom Hanks) is a Depression-era Louisiana prison guard. His responsibility is the prisoners on Death Row, called “The Green Mile” because of the color of the floor between the cells and the electric chair. New prisoner John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is a huge black man convicted of raping and murdering two little girls. He is a gentle man with a mysterious power to heal.

Edgecombe treats the prisoners with kindness, partly because it is the best way to maintain order, but also because he is a fair and compassionate man. In sharp contrast, another guard is petty and cruel, and a far more evil man than any of the prisoners. The plot veers into melodrama at times, with at least one coincidence that is overly convenient, but the humanity of the guards keeps the movie on track most of the time.

Talk to teens about the circumstances and views of the world that lead people to these different approaches and the way that the movie helps us to understand each of them. What do we learn from the way each character sees the mouse? What does Coffey’s character symbolize? (Note his initials.) Edgecombe is confronted with a real dilemma because he believes that Coffey is innocent, but is unable to save him. What facts led to his decision? What else could he have done? Does he become a sort of prisoner, too?

This is a thoughtful, intelligent movie with outstanding direction. Hanks is, as always, the American ideal, just, kind, capable, decent. Bonnie Hunt, for once is relieved of her usual Eve Arden-style role, and her performance as Edgecombe’s loyal, wise, patient, and very loving wife is a pleasure to watch. Doug Hutchison is terrific as Percy, the nephew of the governor’s wife who is assigned to work for Edgecome, and whose combined arrogance and insecurity lead to disaster. And Michael Clarke Duncan, one of the highlights of “Armageddon,” is deeply moving, showing us both Coffey’s innocence and his dignity.

Families will want to talk about the idea that a person might have an extraordinary talent to heal, where that power might come from, and what the responsibilities and burdens might be. Must that ability be accompanied, as it is in John Coffey, with the agonizing experience of “feeling the pain of the world?” Can a person be a healer without experiencing the pain he relieves in others? Must a person whose entire existence is about healing be willing to destroy? What can be healed, and what can not? And why set this story on Death Row? The characters tell us that “What happens on the Mile stays on the Mile. Always has.” What rules are different in these direst of circumstances, and why?

Parents should know that the movie has a horrifyingly graphic execution scene, when the wicked guard has his revenge on a prisoner who taunted him. And they should talk to teens who see the movie about Coffey’s wish to be put out of his misery, which could be seen by sensitive kids as an argument in favor of suicide.

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Crime Drama

The Waterboy

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

If you’ve seen the coming attraction and you still want to see this movie, then you are probably between the ages of 12 and 16 and will probably recognize all of the “played by themselves” sports stars who make cameos. Adam Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a 31 year old man who lives with his mother and cares only about providing the freshest, most delicious water for the football team. Fired by the coach (Jerry Reed), he volunteers to be the unpaid waterboy for a team that hasn’t won a game in four years. Although his mother has raised him to avoid all relationships and he hates confrontation, it turns out that when he gets angry he can tackle a Mack truck. So, he becomes a football star, gets the girl (Fairuza Balk as a tatooed felon, but a loveable one), and teaches his mother and himself that he can be more independent. Sandler uses an especially annoying voice throughout and there isn’t much energy in the script or performances. I cannot recommend it, but recognize that many adolescents will enjoy it, if only to be able to trade the punchlines with their friends. Parents should know that the movie has locker-room style bad language and mild sexual references.

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Comedy Sports
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