I caught writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give (Sony Pictures Classics, April 23) last night, and while not perfect it’s a really pleasant, enjoyable thing — a quiet, deceptively simple New York movie that nestles you up against its bosom, and leaves you feeling like you could just trip along wherever with her characters. Like her previous films (Walking and Talking, Lovely & Amazing, Friends with Money), it’s a humanistic/realistic relationship ensemble that evidences a great touch with actors. Not starving for paychecks, Holofcener works plenty in television (Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, et al), but at some point it would likely behoove her to dig into a single-character work, something with a more singular, subjective point-of-view. (And if she did that with frequent collaborator Catherine Keener, look out.) Studios, meanwhile, would be wise to team Holofcener with some of their best drama scribes; it would be a good match.
Over at the Los Angeles Times‘ The Envelope section, Glenn Whipp has a chat with James Cameron in which the writer-director talks frankly about pissing off conservative pundits with Avatar (some of whom, like The Weekly Standard, have lambasted the movie as a “deep expression of anti-Americanism”), and 20th Century Fox’s desire to suppress some of the movie’s environmental themes. Their reaction, from the piece and according to the filmmaker, was: “We really like the story. It’s great. But, well, is there a way to not have so much of this tree-hugging, Ferngully stuff in it? I said, ‘Not with me making it.’ Because that was my purpose in making the film. I wanted to make an environmentally conscious mainstream movie. And to be fair to 20th Century Fox, any of the other studios would have said the same thing. Fox ended up being enormously supportive and wrote this huge check. But they would have been much more comfortable if I had eliminated what they called the ‘tree-hugging’ elements.”
Also, in unrelated linkage, Todd Gilchrist has up a nice wrap/overview of the eighth annual Oxford Film Festival, over at Cinematical.
It’s a happy 30th birthday to Margarita Levieva, who it seems might have shown more in the Ashton-Kutcher-as-gigolo flick Spread than originally intended.
As far as mockumentaries go, Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney has a great set-up, or hook — one that would in theory allow for an exploration of the navel-gazing boomer generation, and how a kissed, chance moment of celebrity interaction can turn one’s world into a hermetically sealed diorama. Unfortunately, however, it never really coalesces in a meaningful way that elevates the movie into something more than a fleeting curio for Beatles-obsessed completists.
The background here is rooted in fact. Ruth Anson, a fresh-faced reporter for ABC television covering teen issues and the entertainment beat in the 1960s, got a chance in August of 1965 to stick a microphone in the face of Beatle Paul McCartney, who jokingly responded to her question about marriage plans by saying he intended to wed only if she would get hitched with him, “right now.” The film replays footage of this moment over and over (and over), but uses it as a launching point for the sunny Anson’s journey of self-discovery. Claiming she’s looking for “closure,” Anson attends a Hollywood pitch session where she talks up a possible film project built around her suddenly awakened desire to track down McCartney and ask him whether or not he was serious — a quixotic quest flick loosely in the vein of Brian Herzlinger’s My Date with Drew, in other words. Director Marc Cushman (who also appears onscreen, playing himself) takes to Anson’s idea, but finds that he and his production team keep hitting brick walls as they try to track McCartney down. Desperate to keep moving forward, he re-contextualizes Anson’s yearning, positioning her at the center of a reality show in which even her friends and family start to think maybe she’s a bit of a nutter.
There’s potential here, and by Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney by and large plays things fairly dry and tongue-in-cheek. Gratefully, it doesn’t tip over into histrionics (even though Anson gets all teary when she’s goaded into visiting a therapist, at Cushman’s insistence), but instead just follows around Cushman’s production team as they try to go about constructing embarrassing and/or air-quote dramatic scenarios for their unaware star. The chief problem is that the viewer gets out in front of the movie. It’s too slow-moving; its conflicts and jokes take too long to develop and then tend to drag on, and certain bits (like a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy-style makeover for Anson, as she preps to try to crash the Grammys with a set of phony IDs cooked up by Cushman) fall flat entirely. There isn’t enough rangy shock value or psychological insight to match the topic, so when the whole thing ends with an interview with porn star Ron Jeremy (since he was putatively able to gain access to the Grammys, and Anson wasn’t), well… one just has to shrug.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Desperately Seeking Paul McCartney comes to DVD presented in 1.33:1 full frame, with English language 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound and 2.0 stereo audio mixes. Bonus features consist of some touted “Beatles-type songs,” which is almost precisely as painful as that sounds. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) C- (Disc)