Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Love List

Over the weekend, I saw Public Enemies.

For the most part, it's a pretty dreadful film. It's dark, unimaginative, loud. I'm pretty good with knowing what characters are doing and when, but in this instance one 1930's suited thug was just as indistinguishable as another (It was obvious, though, that they relished the opportunity to wear a suit. Modern society, in its insistence on liberating attire, robs us of well dressed men. I get it. I know that a "Monkey Suit" is a holdover from a bygone era of oppressed working stiffs. But a guy who can wear a tie and jacket, quite frankly, looks dashing. You could tell Depp and Bale had caught glimpses of themselves, perhaps in a mirror or window reflection, and thought, Damn, I look good. This is probably one of the reasons I tend to costume men in suits on a regular basis...or why I wear them myself. But my not so latent transvestism is not what we're talking about here...move along, move along.).

By the end of the night, I was pretty exhausted and a little aggravated. Not even Bale's veiny eye socket or Depp's disarming charm could save this mess.

The script was terrible. On-the-nose dialogue. Pithy death bed pronouncements. Allusions to emotion were made, but none was actually experienced.

And worst of all, there was a Love List.

We've all seen this tired cinema trope. Whenever a writer feels the need to slash to the chase, he or she will force a character to give us an oral personal ad, a list, outlining just who they are to the target of their affections. Once this list is complete, the Intended will fall under his or her spell and follow them to the ends of the Earth.

The one in Public Enemies went something like this (below is a total paraphrase):

(After Dillinger smashes the face of a patron bugging Billie for his jacket - she was a coat check girl - he holds out her coat, beckoning her to leave with him.)

BILLIE: Why should I go with you? I don't know anything about you.

DILLINGER: I was born in Indiana, my mother died when I was a baby and my father beat me because he didn't know no better way to raise me, I like fast cars, thrills, good food and I want it all now. And you I want you.

(After a second's hesitation, she leaves with him.)

Great. Here -j-j- comes to crush romance.

No. No, I don't. I'm an emmer effing SUCKER for romance.

But hearing a list that, in some way, is meant to express the full breadth and scope of a person with the expectation that, once the list is heard, True Love will rain down from the heavens, is balderdash. I feel like I'm being directed to check out their Facebook page.

On top of all that, this is stuff we can divine from watching Dillinger's behavior anyway (with the exception of the abuse.) Isn't it obvious from his action that he likes fast cars, and good food, and thrills? Can't we SEE that he wants her?

It's lazy writing.

Watch out for this kind of thing. It usually starts with any of the following lines:

Who am I? Well, I'll tell you...
What do I know? I'll tell you what I know...
Why am I here? I'll tell you why I'm here...


I love the movie Bull Durham. I hate this speech.

To be clear, people do indeed talk about what they believe. We list stuff to one another (What are your favorite bands? What are your favorite movies? What do you think about this thing or that thing?), we try in big and small ways to outline who we are, our habits, what turns us on, off, around.

However, in movies the list becomes a tool to calcify a character. To reduce it to a formula that can be balanced. A caricature. Once we get this list, we KNOW how it's going to end - the list will either be subverted or corroborated. Why watch the rest of the movie after this?


Why not take a friggin' chance and tantalize us:

BILLIE: Why should I go with you? I don't know anything about you.

DILLINGER: Well, you certainly won't learn anything staying here.

(He smiles, even as behind him the patron limps off, bleeding. BILLIE stares at him. She reaches over to pull her coat away, but he steps back, out of reach.)

DILLINGER: This coat's mine now. You want it, you have to come with me. Otherwise, you gonna get cold.

(Another beat. She smiles, and lets him drape her in her own coat.)

A little arrogant of me, right? To try to "improve" upon it?


But why not have a little fun instead of being TOLD things we can already see?


joe g said...

Ah, Johnny, you had me at Dead Mother/Abusive Father.

Wait, you could hear the dialog well enough to know it was bad?

Nick Keenan told me he was calling it "The Blair Dillinger Project."

Interesting, but not at all surprising to see what we each focus on when ripping into this movie.

Thank you for reminding me to get my suit cleaned.

astagi: (n.) evil Romanian theatre spirit.

Jan Smelk said...

make a movie. i dare you. i really want to see it.

tinglist: a list of tings i want to see or do. also see bucket.

joe g said...

Have done, thanks.

joe g said...

Sorry, Jan, wasn't thinking. You were most likely not talking to me. It's late. I think jj would make a really awesome movie actually.

NotNits said...

-j-j- now you have to write the rest of the scenes.

oponthe (n): a truth serum/cough syrup.

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