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I want my 90 minutes back
I have to admit up front that I saw this film ONLY because of the recent awards. I read some reviews first, and knew a little of what the story would include. But halfway through the movie I found myself looking at my watch wondering when the story will actually begin. Everything was prelude, and pretty boring prelude at that.
While some reviewers seem to find the dialog distracting, I did not. Nor did I find the story, as a whole, unreasonable for a movie; the story was told in a "thinking man's" format. Time moves forward, sometimes by months or years, simply because of a fade. The actors did a great job, as did the director. The problem is, this is simply a boring story about boring characters.
I will not dispute that each of the actors provides outstanding performances. Julia Roberts is cast against type, and this is one of the few movies I actually thought she acted. Natalie Portman has grown up from Mars Attacks and Star Wars, but is still cast as a one-dimensional "girl" taking the path of least resistance through life. This is clearly a character-driven movie, but none of the characters grows/changes/learns from their sometimes monumental mistakes. If one definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time, then these people are all crazy.
What could have been a great discourse on love versus sex is, instead, a lost opportunity. These characters have no sense of morality (or ethics, depending on how you define terms) as they live their lives with one partner, while sleeping with another from time to time, and never emotionally open up to anyone. Their arguments are all witty comebacks, with little true emotion. Portman cries, and Owen erupts, but the circumstances simply don't give them credibility. What happens when the smartest people in the world have to show us their emotion? They use fast, sharp dialog.
The most repeated adjective in all the favorable reviews I read was "honest," as in "this film is an honest portrayal of modern relationships." Only if the rest of the world is totally dysfunctional and amoral. Having been through "my share" of relationships, some of which ended badly and others simply ending, and being married (my first and only) for many years now, and also having been employed in a field where others' relationships are opened up to me regularly, I found nothing "honest," or "true to life," or even "remotely reasonable" about the characters in this movie. While they bemoan the lack of love in their lives, they do nothing to look for it, or even to earn it.
These characters are all "honest," in the sense that they don't actually lie when confronted with their "dishonest" conduct, but they are also all dishonest with themselves, in that they are all seeking sex while believing they are getting love. These are spoiled children, with enough education to engage in the sharp argument, but no wisdom to learn from their mistakes.
Mike Nichols, again, pulls a rabbit out of his hat. A truly talented director with a gift for seeing what is going to be on the screen, he and Roberts are the only shining stars of this movie. The rest is raw and, when all is said and done, a waste of time. (It's not that I mind raw, or even gratuitously raw. A character-driven movie should, at least, have interesting characters.) I can't say that I didn't like the movie -- I'm sure I wasn't supposed to "like" it -- it's that the story and characters were just plain boring.
Breast Men (1997)
A serious social and legal critique in a funny way
Breast men provides a decades long history of silicone breast implants in the United States, from development by a Texas team of reconstructive surgeons to their downfall at the hands of aggressive litigation. Now that science has established no link between silicone implants and connective tissue or other diseases, the film stands as a commentary on both women's social drive for larger breasts (Is it that men want larger breasts on their partners, or that women think men want them to have larger breasts?) and the devastating effect the legal system can have when driven by sympathy.
Mixed in with the storyline are comments from women, shown only in naked torso. They state why they want larger breasts, or how they feel about themselves with natural or enhanced physiques. Whether true or not, their comments have the ring of truth and give the film the air of authenticity; women dissatisfied with their appearance who long for "better" breasts. To their aid comes David Schwimmer, as a young doctor/inventor who devises an implant after seeing a neighbor trying out "bigger breast" creams and exercises. In partnership with Chris Cooper and Dow Corning, they develop the silicone breast implant and the procedure for installing it.
Their partnership appears foundering, until Schwimmer advertises (itself a medical no-no), which brings women in droves seeking a better look. Then the partnership angrily dissolves over money; Schwimmer ends up on the seamier side of breast enlargement, strippers and such. Cooper still works the richer clientele, until he is confronted at a medical convention by a woman with significant subcutaneous scarring and deformation. With lawyers blaming the doctors, and the Clinton-era FDA forcing withdrawal of the product, both doctors go down hard.
Emily Proctor provides a look from the female side. As a nurse her character is drawn to Schwimmer's dream of a "perfect body" for every woman, and at the same time slightly repulsed by talking openly about the subject.
What drives someone to plastic surgeons? More particularly, what drives a woman to want larger breasts? The film doesn't answer the questions, nor does it directly ask them, but when it's over the tragic consequences of wanting to look "perfect" lingers. The impact of lawyers on society, and in particular the medical malpractice profession, lingers as well. With a sympathetic clientele, and little good science on their side, a small group of lawyers literally brought down an industrial giant (Dow), and created panic among tens of thousands of women. Ten years later, science has clearly established they were wrong, but society has no mechanism for punishing the lawyers.