The lives of two lovelorn spouses from separate marriages, a registered sex offender, and a disgraced ex-police officer intersect as they struggle to resist their vulnerabilities and temptations in suburban Connecticut.
A man coping with the institutionalization of his wife because of Alzheimer's disease faces an epiphany when she transfers her affections to another man, Aubrey, a wheelchair-bound mute who also is a patient at the nursing home.
A Mumbai teen who grew up in the slums, becomes a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" He is arrested under suspicion of cheating, and while being interrogated, events from his life history are shown which explain why he knows the answers.
Twenty-something native Vermonter Mirabelle Buttersfield, having recently graduated from college, is finding her new life in Los Angeles not quite what she was expecting or hoping. An aspiring artist, she is barely eking out a living working as a clerk at the women's evening gloves counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and thus she can barely make the payments on her massive student loans. She treats her job with a certain distance, often daydreaming as she watches the life of the rich as they shop at the store. She has made no friends, including from among her Saks colleagues, and thus lives a solitary existence, which does not assist in her dealing with her chronic clinical depression. So it is with some surprise that two men with a romantic interest in her enter her life almost simultaneously. The first is poor slacker Jeremy, who works as an amplifier salesman/font designer. Mirabelle continues dating Jeremy as only a relief to her solitary life, as Jeremy doesn't seem to ... Written by
It's no real secret that through his writing, Steve Martin has depth and sentimentality that Hollywood doesn't always let him show. He has shown signs of a longing to grow old gracefully (as his almost gimmick-free gigs as Oscar host have shown) and let his acerbic wit and insight drive projects more than the over-the-top slapstick antics of the 1970s Steve Martin.
It's also no real secret that many of his recent films have been far from great.
So, still having faith in the man, and having loved the novel on which this film is based, I went in to the cinema desperately wanting to like it, but expecting to be disappointed. Largely, I was pleasantly surprised that the novel did transfer well to the screen.
Some of the credit for this belongs to director Anand Tucker, who has created some powerful images of the hustle and bustle of the LA that Martin describes in the novel, and contrasts it well with the characters who lead shallow lives, trying to be something meaningful amongst all the chaos.
Credit also goes to the actors who show that longing that drives the situation: Claire Daines as Mirabelle clearly WANTS to be social, artistic, loved; Jason Schwartzman as Jeremy WANTS to be sensitive, witty, lovable; Martin as Ray Porter clearly WANTS to be suave and considerate. Without having many jokes in the script, audiences can still appreciate the humour by seeing these pathetic struggles. When I saw it there was plenty of laughter at all the right moments.
I will, however, hasten to add that there are parts of the book that never would have translated well to the Hollywood screen, and the praise that some give the movie for serving its purpose will contain the same reasons that others wish to knock it. The book's strength is that one can feel for the characters because they are portrayed as superficial people and their lives and conversations are so shallow in comparison to the narrative that sets them up. The reasons why it works so well as a book could well be the very things that cause it to not work on the screen. Then there's the matter of a book that's so rooted in "LA sux" sentiment being made into a Hollywood movie. So maybe the musical overkill reeked of "excuse me, we're trying to tell you something". Maybe the spots of narration felt out of place and indicated that Martin is not yet over his desire to spend his life as the 'star' of his projects (him getting top billing for the movie was also a bit much, in my opinion).
Ultimately, maybe the audience members who were longing for a film with more 'depth' and 'substance' were in actuality sharing the characters' longings for the same in their own lives. Maybe the 'criticisms' are in fact backhanded compliments that the film is largely doing just what it's meant to do.
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