How do you deal with making a film about a daring rescue of a soldier from the enemy camp during the Vietnam War when your cast is a group of over-paid spoilt brat actors who are more interested in their own careers than the film they are working on? Chuck them in a jungle filled with landmines and hidden cameras and see what happens.
I hated this when I first saw it, and there are still several scenes that seriously shat me watching it again, but I can let go of these and enjoyed the rest – the way the characters are set up to be overly earnest, or taking themselves far too seriously beyond what is acceptable, and then to have them called out on this – it’s a film that surprises me by having a layer that I hadn’t really seen first time around. Provided you can get past the dumb bits.
Shaun (Colin Hanks) is a kid who has grown up in surf heaven Orange County. His parents are divorced and his ultra rich father, Bud (John Lithgow) lives with a young gold digger and their nightmare child. The mother has remarried and her husband is in a wheelchair and out of his mind. Then there is the brother, Lance (Jack Black), who is constantly high or recovering from partying. Shaun decides he wants to go to college and become a writer, and feels like everything in his life, his surfer buddies, his family, his incompetent school (with the wonderful Chevy Chase and Lily Tomlin), everything. Oh, no, his girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk) is on his side.
This is one of those films that I remember coming out and thinking it was a bit of a Porky’s or one of those other ridiculous stupid teen films. So, the other day I felt like watching a ridiculous stupid teen film and got this. And guess what? It’s not. But it’s not really good either. It’s really boring, quite predictable, and things just don’t quite gel. It’s like they have Shaun and Ashley as believable, normal characters and everyone else in the film is a parody, and it just doesn’t work. At all.
I recently have been very annoyed with the number of films that go for ninety-plus minutes and have very little happen. I felt as though this was a recent phenomenon, very much present at this year’s MIFF – until I saw Margot at the Wedding. There are a lot of quite big reveals in this film, but there is a sense of nothing much actually happening.
Margot (Nicole Kidman) takes her son, Claude(Zane Pais), to visit her estranged sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is about to get married. Meeting the fiancé, Malcolm (Jack Black) an unemployed musician/writer/artist, Margot feels that she cannot remain quiet about the huge mistake she believes is about to happen.
It’s one of those films where not only does it feel like only a little happens, but the characters are all incredibly annoying. They constantly say stuff to each other that is rude or overly personal or just plain cruel. No-one cares about each others’ feeling, and everyone is out for their own gain. I would be happy to reach the end of my life without ever spending time with people such as these. I think I’d also be happy enough not watching them.
There’s a small town in East Texas called Carthage where, in 1996, a local funeral director murdered a widow and covered up her death for nine-months. However, the funeral director was so loved in the community that, even when he confessed to the crime, citizens petitioned for his release. This much is true.
In the film, Bernie (the funeral director) is portrayed by the versatile Jack Black in a surprisingly understated performance. The character is quirky, but not unbelievably so, especially alongside the regular residents of the town. He’s joined by a handful of other actors including the marvelous Shirly MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, with the rest of the townsfolk playing themselves. And this is where I think the film fell down in quite a major way. It’s like it isn’t quite sure of what it is – is it a fiction based on truth or is it a documentary with reenactments? If it is a documentary, then it is not clear that the reenactments are just that – it would seem to be presenting it all as fact. Having the townspeople who have been vox popped throughout the film within reenactment scenes is confusing. On the other hand, if it is a fiction, it really didn’t need to have such reliance on the interviews.
I think it would have been fantastic either way, but as it is, it feels a bit like an amazing story that hasn’t been told as well as it could have.
Jack Black was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy of Musical.