Category Archives: Comedy

Intouchables (2011)

There are movies that challenge the mind, and there are those that nourish the heart. Of the latter, we have no dearth, but it is the rare nugget that manages to outshine all other dregs that exit film studios by the bulk. This is not to say that a film can’t be both heartwarming and intellectually stimulating (as Hugo proves), but only that we have come to expect certain things from certain films. Reading TIME’s piece on Intouchables, I expected a poignant story of an inspiring friendship, of working-class racial prejudice, and how a genuine bond can overcome such differences—which is exactly what I got, except realer and a lot more fun.

It can feel too contrived: a poor black man enters into a wealthy tetraplegic’s service and changes both their lives. But it’s true—at least up until that part. Based on a real-life story, Intouchables stars Omar Sy as the brash, loud-mouthed Driss and François Cluzet as the disabled and lovelorn Philippe. Both of them are “untouchable” in the sense that one is a social outcast and the other is detached from normal life. But it is not merely this similarity that binds them together. Beneath the bets and gags, you can see that there’s something genuine there, that the two have formed a bond that—incomprehensible as it may seem—remains wholly palpable. The paragliding scene encapsulates all this splendidly. Thousands of meters above ground, neither Driss nor François are impeded by any limitation. Up there, they experience momentary freedom—from societal expectations, bitter histories, physical restrictions. Up there, they are simply two friends gliding in the wind.

Cluzet plays his part capably, but the spotlight undoubtedly falls on Sy. Exuding natural charm, he delivers in all his scenes and shines where it matters. It’s a pleasure to watch him because he enjoys himself tremendously. It’s hard not to get caught up in that energy. Despite its obvious potential for melodrama, Intouchables chooses a different direction: fun. Not the good, clean Marley & Me kind (of which we have seen enough, but always fall for anyway). Driss and François are regularly seen sharing marijuana joints, hiring Asian hookers, and exchanging borderline offensive jokes. In between, they take time to venture into each other’s worlds. Driss listens to classical music and Philippe lip-syncs to groovy hits from Earth, Wind & Fire. It’s an astonishing friendship.

While Driss and Philippe’s relationship strays from the usual, banlieue residents apparently earn a more stereotypical approach. As far as we know, Driss’ family includes a breadwinner, a delinquent, a good daughter, and several younger children. It bothers me that the setup is too formulaic, but at the same time I acknowledge that real life offers many such situations. Either way, Intouchables possesses enough merits to attract a wide audience, and that it has. Buoyed by a wave of good humor, it became the highest-grossing film in a non-English language, breaking the previous record set by Spirited Away (my favorite Miyazaki). Although I’m skeptical about its success, I understand the movie’s appeal. Along with its feel-good quality, I appreciate Intouchables for taking a much-abused subgenre and spinning it into a success. At the very least, that’s much more than we can say for other contenders.

‘Tell me Driss, why do you think people are interested in art?’ ‘I don’t know. It’s a business?’ ‘No. It’s because it’s the only thing one leaves behind.’

‘Listen to this. Where can you find a tetraplegic?’ ‘Where can you… I don’t know.’ ‘Where you left him.’

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Love Me If You Dare (2003)

It’s not exactly cabin fever (we had only been there a week!), but something was definitely in the air that night we watched Love Me If You Dare at the Writers Village. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but Gio, Vida, Karlo, TJ, Debbie, and I ended up watching this movie after dinner—probably as a last attempt to cling to our productive city habits. Valencia’s charms won us over anyway, but at least for that night we managed to drown out the cicadas.

Romantic movies seem to be my thing lately (Titanic, One More Chance). Despite the obvious love story, it doesn’t seem quite right to lump Love Me If You Dare in the group. It’s far from being a category of its own, but it definitely doesn’t belong in such a conventional, realistic set either. Real-life couple Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard star as childhood playmates Julien and Sophie, whose friendship revolves around a ceaseless game of dares. At first merely innocent and playful, their challenges escalate as they grow older, becoming more vindictive and dangerous at every turn—until eventually the game becomes their all-consuming obsession.

Julien and Sophie give up many things for love—a parent, marriages, children—but what they hold on to most fervently, what they never let go of, is the game. In establishing the rules of their relationship, it both binds and breaks them. One haunting question reverberates throughout the film: “Cap ou pas cap?” It’s a query posed as much to the characters as to the audience: Are you game? In asking this, Love Me If You Dare highlights its own absurdity, flaunting it, daring viewers to believe the incredible. Each scene adds to this growing sense of disbelief, finally culminating in two alternate endings—one charming, the other disturbing, neither seemingly real.

Even as I was sitting through this film, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d already seen this somewhere before. The camera tricks, the fast-paced narration, the witty repartees—the movie reminded me so much of Amélie—and it pales in comparison. Love Me If You Dare has some things going for it, and it might have worked with a more original framework (and a better lead-up to the ending, or a different ending); but as it is, the similarities are much too striking to be ignored, and it ends up falling short of its cinematic vision.

‘Cover your ears, cover them well. Do you hear how I love you? That’s all that matters.’

Big Fish (2003)

“In telling the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth.” Thus William (Billy Crudup) introduces his father Edward Bloom (Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor), and thus we come to know him. But although William’s voice ushers us into the narrative, it is through Edward’s eyes that we see his life story unfold. Amid the last stages of cancer, the old man remains unable to forsake the storyteller in him; and, to his son’s consternation, regales William’s wife (Marion Cotillard) with gallant adventures of his youth—when time literally stopped as he first glimpsed his wife Sandra (Jessica Lange/Alison Lohman) and when as a boy he divined his death in a witch’s glass eye. Frustrated by his father’s fictionalizations, William resolves to uncover the facts through Jenny (Helena Bonham Carter) and for the first time recognizes the man behind the tales.

I don’t believe enough people realize the importance of having a good movie trailer—and the repercussions of releasing a bad one. Conventional blunders include either selling the film too short, as in Hugo, or revealing too much, as in Big Fish. While undeniably appealing, the difficulty with promotions that promise “an adventure as big as life itself” is that it places a heavy burden on the movie, raising expectations and robbing it of the chance to captivate audiences unawares. Had I not previously seen the trailer, I might have been more fascinated by Big Fish, but as it stands, the movie only fulfilled my expectations, without exceeding it—which is a sad thing to say about a film that grants so much import to the imagination.

Although its trailer cheated me out of (what seemed like) an incredible visual experience, the film did have other merits. The last scene between father and son is strikingly poignant. At that moment, William finally, finally comes to an understanding of Edward—why he embellished his stories, why he told them again and again, why he resolutely insisted on the impossible. At its core, Big Fish tells of the necessity of fiction to overcome the banality of life. Despite its annoying faithfulness to family drama tropes, it is overall a moving chronicle of one man’s desire to be bigger than life, something that mere biographical existence fails to offer.

We were like strangers who knew each other very well.

His birth would set the pace for his unlikely life, no longer than most men, but larger.

‘You don’t even know me.’ ‘I have the rest of my life to find out.’

Midnight in Paris (2011)

A peculiar fate binds love and Paris—and apparently, romance movies. From Maurice Pialat’s depressingly sober À Nos Amours to the more buoyant Paris, Je T’Aime, directors have shown a penchant for charting out love affairs in Paris. Woody Allen’s latest film is no exception. The opening scenes of Midnight in Paris showcase picturesque views of the city: a boat crossing the Seine, the iconic Moulin Rouge windmill, café sidewalks in the rain. The montage runs too long for my taste, but it does establish the city’s grandeur—curiously, not as a city of attractions (although there’s that), but as an everyday residence, where one can gladly brave occasional showers without an umbrella. But in case three full minutes of postcard pictures isn’t enough to hammer home the idea, Woody Allen further underscores the point with an actual line in the movie: “That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.”

Indeed, Paris has held firm to its reputation as a magical place, where—at least for those “temporarily passing through”—logic takes a back seat and anything can happen. In this enchanted realm, inhibitions are relinquished by the mere mention of the city’s name. Following this tradition, the film sets at its center the nostalgic malaise of urbanites, the longing to transport oneself to a different era: “That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.” But although Midnight in Paris indicates disconnection and discontent, watching it made me feel fulfilled, in no small part because of the fantastic vicarious experience it provides. Maki and I easily identified with Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), an aspiring novelist whose literary career is built on Hollywood screenplays. Visiting Paris with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams), he feels inexplicably drawn to the city, where on a midnight stroll he discovers an anachronistic world and a girl named Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, but I also understand that it’s not for everyone. For one thing, not all would appreciate its myriad references, which are what make the movie so gratifying. In one scene, we meet T.S. Eliot. In another, we hear Salvador Dali exclaiming, “I see a rhinoceros!” It’s both absurd and exciting. Although selective in its viewership, Midnight in Paris promises an amusing ride, filled with surprises that make you hungry for the next adventure.

‘No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.’

‘If it’s bad, I’ll hate it. If it’s good, then I’ll be envious and hate it even more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.’

‘I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face…it is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds, until the return that it does to all men.’

‘The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.’

‘You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city? You can’t.’

The Artist (2011)

As this year’s Oscars Best Picture, The Artist seemed like a logical (and somewhat necessary) follow-up to Hugo. It opens with silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin)—proud, confident, and self-possessed, a performer clearly at the top of his game. A chance incident allows him to meet aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), whom he marks with a beauty spot to help boost her career. Two years later, Kinograph Studios decides to work exclusively on talkies, signing Peppy on as a fresh face. Soon, Peppy’s burgeoning career overshadows George, obliterating silent films and plunging him into despair as a new, talking world pushes its way to invade his private silence.

Michel Hazanavicius stakes a gutsy gamble with The Artist, but it’s a wager the director unmistakably wins. His film flaunts clichés that contemporary moviemakers go through great lengths to avoid. The characters are flat, simple, one-dimensional; the plot is predictable; and the comedy is of the slapstick variety, complete with charming stunt dog. But even with this, the film offers an endearing sincerity that’s become a rare commodity nowadays. On another level, it pulls off its flagrant use of conventions because that’s precisely the point.

Despite its seeming transparency, The Artist succeeds as a project of imaginative proportions. Here we have a black-and-white movie depicting the decline of silent films alongside the invention of talkies. What’s laudable about the work—and what belies its outward simplicity—is how it replicates this same tension both in form and elsewhere within the narrative. The movie’s central issue involves a man’s inability to reconcile his silence with the world’s celebration of sound and dialogue. “Why do you refuse to talk?” his wife asks. Eventually, even the act of talking becomes hostile for George, and he covers his ears in futile defense.

A product of magnificent filmmaking, this movie indeed surpasses Hugo (hampered as it is by family drama ambitions) but, between the two, The Artist holds less emotional resonance. This might not constitute valid criticism—since it’s a byproduct of the film’s aforementioned simplicity—but it’s an observation nonetheless. Hazanavicius’ ode to cinema is beautiful in the same way that distant scenery is beautiful. Maki and I watched Midnight in Paris that same day, and although we both concede that The Artist is definitely more accomplished, we also agree that—literary biases avowed—the former, like Hugo, hits closer to the heart.

‘I’m unhappy, George.’ ‘So are millions of us.’

Bridesmaids (2011)

Comedic wedding disasters must already form a movie sub-sub-genre. We have enough of them, that’s for sure. Still smarting from You Again (the tail end of which I caught on TV), I wasn’t exactly psyched for this movie, but I felt low that day and thought a comedy would do the trick.

As the maid of honor, Annie (Kristen Wiig) strives to help her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) plan her upcoming wedding. However, things go awry when she faces competition in the form of another bridesmaid, the rich and fabulous Helen (Rose Byrne). Confronted with this challenge, Annie finds an unlikely confidant in Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd). But as abysmally bad luck continues to shower her life, she comes dangerously close to ruining both her life and her best friend’s wedding.

No regular moviegoer is a stranger to female leads with messed up lives, but Annie takes the cake for this award. Raised by a non-alcoholic mother who attends AA meetings, she goes through life encountering people who do not get much farther towards the spectrum of what’s considered normal. Lillian’s bridesmaids are prime examples. They seem so ridiculously unreal that, in the strange way of movies, they appear all the more alive onscreen. Individual Bridesmaids posters show the five women sporting nifty labels like “Little Miss Perfect,” but those who have watched the film know better than to confine them to such descriptions. Everyone is extreme, and that’s exactly what this movie has going for it. Aware of what’s already out there, Bridesmaids makes no attempt to veer clear of formulas and instead jumps straight to the stereotypes, taking them to levels we’ve never seen before. Familiar scenes like catfights and falling-outs take on an entirely new dimension here, aided by the occasional slow-motion effect and cynical dialogue.

Bridesmaids is also incredibly gross, something you never expect from an all-female comedy, even an R-rated one. No lighthearted melodrama here—in this movie, life is one tough bitch. “Fuck” is thrown around as the new “OMG,” and women lose their sanity in more literal ways than what we’re used to. “Wasn’t it my turn to be crazy?” Lillian asks. “You kind of stole all the crazy.” Fresh, inventive, and absurdly funny, Bridesmaids owes its success to a spectacular cast and a daring script. I was feeling sad when I started this movie, but damn, I laughed and laughed.

‘I’m life, Annie, and I’m biting you in the ass!’

‘You’re your problem, Annie, and you’re your solution.’

Paris Je T’Aime (2006)

Paris has been called many things. A little fiddling with Google search yields three immediate results: city of lights, city of art, city of love. The last is the most tenuous. Michael Schürmann (author of the travel guide Paris Movie Walks) says, “First of all, it is important that we agree on the sheer absurdity of the notion. Love is not something to which any city could or should stake an exclusive claim. There can be a ‘city of love’ as much as there can be a ‘city of indigestion’ or a ‘city of nosebleed’…” Indeed, Google “city of love” plus any beautiful city, and the search results are bound to be staggering (although you won’t find anything to top Paris’ 192,000,000 results). But no logic can ever stop international romantics from imagining that perfect Eiffel Tower picture with their beau. I imagine this sentiment is probably what sparked the concept behind Paris Je T’Aime.

I first encountered this movie in Under the Stars 2008. Wide fields and a black sky constitute a romantic evening, but scattered sound does not encourage an attentive audience, so I only really watched it this week with Maki. Paris Je T’Aime consists of eighteen short films set in the various arrondissements of Paris. Alongside an international ensemble cast (that I will not attempt to list here), the film also throws in entire sequences with mimes, vampires, and even the ghost of Oscar Wilde. I wanted to ask the directors: What were you smoking? (Incidentally, hashish also features prominently in one the shorts.)

This is not the kind of film you can extract a clear synopsis from. The lives we see here are very diverse, yet at the same time it feels as if we’re just watching one stream of activity—representative pulses of Parisian life. Paris Je T’Aime offers a lightheartedness not often found in other romantic dramas. It also contains drama, but somehow even that feels light. Here, everything is simpler than we make it out to be: people go through everything with a smile or tears and in the end it’s all the same—we are merely passing through. Not flippant, but open to the endless possibilities of life. In the face of such levity, nothing is too heavy a burden—not even loneliness, divorce, death, falling in and out of love. In the end all we have is nostalgia.

‘Sitting there, alone in a foreign country, far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came over me. It was like remembering something I’d never known before or had always been waiting for, but I didn’t know what. Maybe it was something I’d forgotten or something I’ve been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive. That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me.’