Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ficarra/Requa & Will Gluck: State of the Studio Romantic-Comedy (Crazy Stupid Love & Friends with Benefits)

Kevin Bacon, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Stupid Crazy Love, Warner Bros., 2011

The studio romantic-comedy is in a state of siege, besieged by spoon-fed audience expectation and the influx of cash it incurs. Once upon a time, the studios were not only state of the art, but mavens of style and taste. We find romance micro-brewed, character subjugated to the modern era of state of the dollar.

Cliche is inborn, contrivance apart of the DNA as well. Clever rom-coms comment on their own inclusion in the feeble-minded genre while the red-headed stepchildren just are what they are. Whatever became of the spirit of Capra, McCarey, Hawks and Sturges? Pleasure and depth took a back seat to a graying middle which is ruining it all. Movies don't have to be like this; it is a funk dying for a different drum beat to dance to.

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have proven themselves two of the best satirists at work in present Babylon; their script for Terry Zwigoff's Bad Santa showed a delightful tendency towards the whimsy of character as well as the darkest edge of humor. Their directorial debut I Love You, Phillip Morris was masterful in its surrealist slant on gay prison love, with a true beating heart at its core.

Crazy Stupid Love, from a semi-inspired script by Dan Fogelman, is a let-down, a sophomore slump if ever there was a definition for the term. What starts out as genuine and funny crashes into the sad circumstances of its imprisoning genre. The brilliant directors salvage what they can, but the picture misses its mark, devolving into sap and stagnancy. Despite great performances from Steve Carell (who's never been better), Julianne Moore and Ryan Gosling, the screenplay is a booby-trap laying in wait to stifle any imagination or intelligence. What truth in human desire the directors do delineate only makes us more aware of what could have been.

Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Friends with Benefits, Screen Gems, 2011.

Simultaneously, Will Gluck's Friends with Benefits mines similar paralyzing fields of pleasure and pain. A traditional rom-com set-up is given kick by a cleverly barbed script written by a roomful of writers, and at times the humanity peeks through the hip pop culture references and posturing. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are as always likable and show adeptness at screwball delivery, yet ultimately what joy can be had from a film which only affords glimpses of fun, when lorded over by the ridiculous demands of its dead-end genre?

Gluck is a talented young helmer, as witnessed by his intelligent design of this misfire and the smart if similarly structurally subdued teen-comedy Easy A. His vision is bright and breaks through in bolts, yet once again the script and its asinine structure are the culprits. Patricia Clarkson contributed her sublime presence to both of Gluck's projects, kicking them up a notch.

What we need is more original screenwriters, or screenwriters not afraid to make audiences laugh and think at the same time. The current school of script structure is wretchedly wrong, and continues to waste what could be good films, relying on plot contrivances that never should have been there in the first place.

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