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Whatever It Takes (2000)
A Farce trying to be a Comedy
Whatever It Takes is mislabeled as being a Teen Comedy. In actuality it's a Teen Farce that tries to be a Teen Comedy. It fails as a Comedy as the majority of the characters are unabashedly selfish individuals in pursuit of their own selfish desires with close to no redeemable qualities. That's the territory of Farce. Other examples of Teen Farces include the American Pie movies and Not Another Teen Movie. Where Whatever it Takes fails is that it tries to be a Teen Comedy only in the romance between our two "unpopular" characters, when the rest of the characters and situations fit the genre of a Farce. It's like the two leads got picked up out of a Comic world and were left trapped in a Farcical one. And the fight between the two genres of humor gets this film nowhere-fast.
If it were a Comedy it would be more celebratory of the community and interested in bringing members who don't "fit in" the community into it as full fledged members with a place, a purpose, and a partner. What this film is interested in saying is that the community is too selfish and deserving of "punishment" to bother joining--which is typically the stuff of Satire or Farce.
In a farce there's little to no concern for other people, and body humor frequently goes for grossing people out. Which is what this movie nearly goes out of its way to portray. The entire high school community is composed of a group of selfish individuals, the reason for their being so the movie silently postulates is due to the fact that they have very little care or respect for themselves as individuals--a realization which would work in a Comedy if that realization wasn't being completely undercut with only the minimal in character development and the most ridiculous of gross-out humor. I mean what school teaches safe sex with a giant penis and a giant condom?
I almost felt sorry for Ashley, the popular girl, whose character is revealed to have a neurotic mind completely entangled around her low self-esteem, but this realization is coupled in the same moment by her eating a chocolate cake and opening her mouth to reveal the cake's blacked out her teeth. Or that she begs all night on Ryan's lawn to ask to go to prom, only to tear away her dress and reveal the skimpy bikini underneath. That kind of humor belongs in a Farce, but is out of place in a Comedy, and it completely undercuts any sympathy the character might otherwise have developed. Had she not blacked out her teeth or revealed her hidden bikini we could have seen under the veneer of her popularity and seen the scared child who desperately wants to fit in and will put herself into near-emotional abusive situations in order to get negative attention and thus feel gratified. If the movie had actually done that it could have given some more weight to the conflict between Ryan realizing his feelings for Ashley, and now feeling obligated to show Ashley how to stand up for herself and be confident in being her own person (in a John Hughes manner recalling Some Kind of Wonderful). However the opportunity is missed as the film would rather make jokes about how hot the actress is and how horny her character is--that she doesn't even notice that Ryan is replaced with another boy and still has sex with him.
The soulful parts such as Ryan realizing that he actually likes Maggie as he tells Chris how to woo her in the theater, are lifted from its source material of Cyrano D'Bergerac. The rest of the movie and its sense of humor is more appropriate for a farce, which if you watch the special features seems to be the kind of humor the director is entertained by the most and pushed the actors towards in his direction.
In the end the script should have seen a few more revisions to either take out the farcical humor and add some redeeming heartfelt qualities to the high school community and its most popular students, or fully embraced the farcical nature of its humor and dehumanized its pair of "unpopular" kids and thus be the precursor to Not Another Teen Movie.
Either would have been better than this awkward film that can't make up its mind about what genre it is.
Drive Me Crazy (1999)
A lovely traditional Comedy with a few weaknesses
To be fair, this film is listed under the Teen Comedy genre so if you generally don't find Teen Comedies tasteful then do yourself a favor and move along.
Now as I say it is a Teen Comedy, I should also say that this is a Comedy in the traditional definition of the genre, meaning that it is a Comedy that explores some thoughtful and deep themes before the Act III obligatory turn away. This is what a traditional Comedy looks like: it's life affirming, completely aware of the human body and its limits, the community is reformed where it needs to be, the society merely exists in the earthly space that creates the community (ignoring Heaven and Hell), and it turns away in Act III informed by but not obsessed by some rather ponderous thoughts on what it means to be human in its society. It's not Satire like Scream, nor is it Farce like American Pie or Not Another Teen Movie, so don't come in expecting that you're going to be laughing every few seconds.
If you're familiar with the genre you know the story. Nicole (Hart) is a preppy girl in High School, aiming for the handsome jock, Brad (Carpenter), to ask her to a community dance that she's helped organize. Brad falls in love with a cheerleader from another school, leaving Nicole to make a deal with her former childhood best friend and "rebel without a cause" boy next door, Chase (Grenier), to make Brad and Chase's recent ex-girlfriend jealous. From here the plot begins to resemble a gender-swapped Pygmalion (aka. My Fair Lady) slightly as Nicole "cleans up" Chase to make the deal seem realistic. And here is where the "ponderous thoughts" begin to crop up--mostly having to deal with the social masks people wear throughout life in order to maintain some kind of status in their society.
Lovely performances are given by Keri Lynn Pratt, Kris Park, and Mark Webber, who play small but well fleshed out character parts that come across as refreshingly new looks at old archetypes (the pretty girl who used to be ugly, the quietly rebellious underdog, & the geeky outcast who both wants to and doesn't want to fit in) that are truthful and never exaggerated.
The film's largest weakness is with its antagonists: Alicia and Eddie, who are played by Susan May Pratt & Jordan Bridges. Jordan's Eddie is simply a jerk for the sake of being a jerk--and is hardly developed at all. Susan's performance is well nuanced, but there seems to be a deeper inner life to her character that we are never allowed to see. I feel that this is because Alicia as well as Eddie, are developed poorly compared to other more minor characters. All the characters that you are supposed to care for are developed in quite humane ways, while the two main antagonists (S.M. Pratt and Bridges) are left by the script as nearly two-dimensional stereotypes and the film never bothers to explore how or why they came to be who they are or provide motivations for what they do throughout the course of the film.
Overall, the film is a simple and lovely Teen Comedy that is worth watching if you enjoy Teen Comedies and want to see a fairly decent one. It's not the best Teen Comedy of the bunch, but it is quite far from the worst one every made. I'd give it a B/B-.
Nitpick if you want to, but it doesn't change the story...
I picked up the film when I found it on sale in a Blockbuster that was having a "going out of business" sale. I was not dissatisfied with what I bought in the least. It was both a cathartic and feel-good film all at once. Through watching it, you can be transported back to that time when you had your own first crush and were that guy or girl with a crush. It also did a beautiful job of showing the maturation which occurs from the initial crush to the actual budding of love. I felt the challenges set forth in testing the character strengths of both protagonists and pushing them to become better individuals and partners for one another. Rob Reiner did a wonderful job in direction and casting prodding the actors to grow and develop in a realistic manner over the course of the film. The supporting adult cast was well cast and artfully played, giving subtleties that made me appreciate them & their handiwork. They also developed their characters in a manner that didn't distract from the main protagonists. I wish the same could be said about the other young teenage actors who almost all came out as cardboard cut-out stereotypes that have been rehashed from young teenage movie to young teenage movie.
Now for my nitpicks: An interesting thing I noticed was that Rob Reiner takes the novel out of the time period it was originally set in: 1994 - 2000 and puts it instead in the ever nostalgic 1957 - 1963 time period (when he himself was the age of the protagonists). After discovering this directorial choice: the two issues I had with the film were immediately explained and made sense.
First, the critique of government run facilities that exists in the film wasn't as vocal at the time. I'm sure it existed, but overall there was a general trust of the government & its facilities--the expansion of which through the New Deal had just helped the nation get through the Great Depression & WWII--or at least that's what the commonly held belief was at the time. It isn't until the fallout from Carter's presidency & the emergence of the Reagan Revolution that this trend would be reversed--and a distrust of government facilities would begin to appear and become more popular. So the 1994 - 2000 setting of the book makes the existence of this critique make complete sense in a way that a 1957 - 1963 setting of the film does not.
My second nitpick was with the incongruity of names with the generations. Grandpa Chet would work out to be in the book part of the same cohort as Lynetta, Skylar (a name that according to most name graphs indicates wasn't used in the US until the 1980s--when the original character in the book would've been born), Matt, & Mark have been "aged back" to--i.e. he was born in the book during the early - mid 1940s as his name suggests. It also wasn't just Chet & Skylar but nearly all of the other characters who had names that were less popular during the time period the film was recast in (for their specific generations) than in the original time period of the book. However I doubt most people would notice such minute details or even care about them, not when presented with such a heart-warming coming of age story set to some of the best music Doo Wop has given us.
Overall, I'd say that you really have to nitpick (like I did) to find fault with Flipped--or be a confirmed cynic.
A version that grows upon further acquaintance
This version I admit I did not particularly like upon first viewing. Doran Godwin seems to be too old for her part, as does John Carson. I will admit that Debbie Bowen, who portrays Harriet, does have the annoying tendency to overact. However the character is almost written as such in Jane Austen's novel, so it's not completely her fault. Also the obviousness of being confined to the studio annoyed me as well. However a look at the year of it's production brings many explanations. It after all was the style of filming, especially for television, in the 1970s. If you doubt me take a look at "The Six Wives of Henry the VIII" with Keith Mitchell that was made for television (not the film version). In that one for all the different palaces they use only one plain set, and only on a handful of occasions show outdoor scenes. Yet the brilliant writing and acting counterbalances these deficiencies quite well. I also would like to blame that we as modern audiences have become spoiled on "life-like" movies, like some posters obviously have, that this style of filming has become under appreciated.
However upon a second or third viewing this version grows on you. I like the way Doran explores the complications, paradoxes and perplexities of Emma's character much more than Gwenyth Paltrow's quick shallow one faced version. Although I will say that Gwenyth has much more of Emma's charm than Doran ever does.
The nice slow pace reminds me quite well of the style of Jane Austen's novels. They are slow paced, like a country stroll, but still they have their many entertainingly wry jewels along the course of the movie as it explores the less hectic and more relaxing early 19th century life. This style of filming also allows for character development and exploration to occur much better than modern films tend to accomplish.
Modern films are more concerned about either action, romance, or special effects so much that proper character development seems to end up on the cutting room floor. So in modern films we are given stereotypical characters that everyone can relate to in substitution to proper character development and exploration. This gives the film makers more time to give you long sweeping kisses, sexual tension, explosions, CGI effects, and unnecessarily long action sequences featuring the gun slinging hero. However we as a people have grown to have such short attention spans that these changes in film making seem almost a necessary thing. For proper character development to occur, one almost has to sit through watching actual real life occur, which no one wants to do anymore, because there isn't enough "time in the day" to have the patience for it. But enough rambling.
Jane Austen's books are not so much about romance (as modern film interpretations seem to think) as they are about the self-discoveries and journeys each heroine and hero undergoes into learning more about life, the person they come to love, themselves, and the world/community around them. With Emma it is learning to not put her nose where it doesn't belong (for it causes more grief than joy), and that marrying a man she can truly respect is more like growing up instead of her childish proclamations of staying a single rich matchmaker for the rest of her life. The Doran Godwin version especially explores this, and after you get used to the style of filming one can take away from it the lesson that Jane Austen intended in her writing, that nosy gossiping and idle busy bodying cause more grief, harm, and drama than there needs to be. And that marriage should not be looked upon as a restriction or need based form of improving a woman, but a way of joining two people into a happy state of being where respect, trust, friendship, and love can be explored upon a more intimate playing field. After all that's what Jane Austen's books are all about, a celebration of marriage, virtues, and middle class English country living.
I also like how Jane's character is explored and I find Ania Marson to be the best cast Jane Fairfax of the three versions. She explores Jane's weariness at having to conceal almost everything in her life and her suppressed frustration at the interferences of other more vocal characters (Miss Bates and Mrs. Elton), quite well. I also think that Robert East who portrays Frank Churchill is the best of the three versions as well, capturing his similar sly Emma-like nature as well as his gentlemanly manners quite well.
So if you have nothing to do for a night or an afternoon, this version is a nice way to appreciate Jane Austen's most well written book.