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The Family Stone (2005)
Just saw it, November 7th
I saw it as part of the Sunday morning 'First Look Film Forum' series at the Naro cinema in Norfolk, VA.
A friend of mine had seen it at an industry preview and really, really didn't like it. This film proves he and I have soooo different tastes in films.
'The Family Stone' is a wonderful treat. It's got laughs (titters and guffaws) it's got romance (after all, movies are often about celebrating possibilities in Life not whether things *are* possible) and it's also got its share of serious stuff.
I have no intention of giving anything away, not even by offering a 'Spoiler Alert' warning. I'll just say that if you appreciate a good grown-up cinematic experience, if you like to laugh and cry at the same sitting, and you like ensemble pieces, then this film shouldn't disappoint.
If I had to 'compare' it other films...not in quality or storyline, more the idea of people in confined 'relationship spaces over a short period of time...I'd offer up 'The Big Chill' and 'Home For the Holidays' (Jodie Foster's 1995 film.)
A stylish effort...
...but no cigar.
I go into all films with the highest of hopes...and the lowest of expectations. (For the record, I see about 200 films per year. At my own expense. I'm a screenwriter and this is part of my ongoing education.) Most times, I'm disappointed. (However, I've had three great film experiences in the past two weeks and I'm expecting to see two of the year's best over the next three days.)
'G' was a disappointment. I'm not going to go into particulars of plot and spoil it for anyone, but what I will say is that if there's any 'connection' between this film and the world of hip-hop, it's a reliance on style. That is, 'bombastic' gets the job done. Now, before anyone accuses me of dissin' hip-hop, I'm not. I wouldn't claim to know enough about the music to have a credible opinion. But certainly the music videos, the marketing, the press, the 'lifestyle' implies that -it would be easy to believe- having the bling does the thing. (Yes, I know the music transcends the attitude.) Here, basic storytelling precepts were thrown out the window and a reliance was placed on the arena of hip-hop with the parties and the cars and the jewellery. There was so little going on in this film...and when something did go on, it was either convoluted, lacking proper motivation, or was completely out of perspective.
For the record, the acting was fine. The production values were great. But the script... Yes, there were a couple of funny moments. But there was nothing to either grab onto, or to grab you. The story was not engaging at all. The characters -though all very, very beautiful and handsome- didn't pique your curiosity. You knew where everything was going to end up. And the screenwriter/director should be reminded of the fact that what people say doesn't define their personalities. What they *do* tells us who and what they're like. There was way too much posturing in this film; fine for hip-hop videos, where most everything these days seems to be a parody of itself, but not for a motion picture. The rules are completely different. What this film needed was more exploration of who the characters were, where they'd been and what really was at stake with the decisions that ended up being made, because in the end, it was 'a tempest in a teapot'. A 24 carat gold one, of course.
I'm sad that so much effort went into this production and so little passion ended up on the screen. I'm especially sad that this wasn't a better vehicle for Richard T Jones, someone that I think has a lot more potential than Jamie Foxx or Will Smith.
Oh, well. Onto the next film, eh?
An Unfinished Life (2005)
Wonderful, except for what has to be the worst screen misstep in recent memory
*SPOILERS AHEAD* Just got back from seeing this film after much anticipation. I won't reiterate what most positive voters have already said. Plainly and simply it's a wonderful little film that, for me, was successful on a few fronts.
Firstly, it's a redemption story that actually has a successful redemption. Most films that try to be, aren't. And it follows what I believe to be necessary 'rules' for redemption movies. Which immediately impressed me. This is *primarily* the story of a man -Redford- mired in mourning, who's let his life get away from him. The means for his redemption arrives in the form of his daughter-in-law and his grand-daughter. Nicely done without being heavy-handed.
Secondly, it's a small tale that sticks to the story. Yes, there are several threads that are being woven as we watch, but Hallström manages to create a final product that's both simple...and elegant. And it's not bombastic. It could easily have been; it deals with bombastic issues...wife abuse, the loss of a loved one, ongoing physical trauma, emotional rapprochement...but handles them with aplomb and grace.
Thirdly, Hallström remembered that this is a *visual* medium. I love my words ('I get 'em wholesale!') but the restraint shown here dialogue-wise is truly admirable.
As for the misstep... Jennifer Lopez's character wanting a quickie with the sheriff in his car was completely and totally incongruous and not at all in keeping with what an abused woman on the run for safety with her 11 year old daughter would engage in. Yes, she'd crave physical comfort, any kind of comfort due to her circumstances, but this dalliance was entirely unnecessary. Nothing was made of the relationship between her and the sheriff that made this scene necessary. In fact, it wasn't in the spirit of the movie and certainly made you question Lopez's character. If I had the chance to ask the director one question, it would be why he shot the scene this way and why, oh why he kept it. (I'm a screenwriter; I'd be more than happy to offer up suggestions as to how *I* think the relationship should have been portrayed.) In fact, what goes on between these two characters is perhaps the only shortcoming of the film.