Tag Archives: romantic comedy

17. Away We Go

Smiley Rating:

Imagine you’re enjoying a hot cup of Joe at the trendiest, most eco-friendly coffee shop in town.  In one of the corners, an ultra hip hipster strums his acoustic guitar and sings Phillip Phillips’ “Home” in a soothing, laid back manner, which provides for a nice meditative atmosphere.  And as you sip at your brew for over an hour and a half, you overhear a spattering of very intimate conversations between a diversity of young adults.  Some of these conversations are bizarrely funny, some are deadly serious, and others are just outright strange.  This is how I’d describe the tone of Away We Go (Sam Mendes, 2009), a road-trip romantic comedy that tends to be more of a drama than a comedy, with subject matter that surrounds a young couple who are urgently trying to figure out the best way to raise their soon-to-be newborn child.  Luckily, these unorthodox characters have a great sense of humor and share an even better chemistry, which helps us navigate through this serious material.

The end result is a cozy, yet intimate movie that poses two universal questions.  The first is, what is home?  Is it simply a collection of things and people stuffed between four walls in a specific place?  Or is it something more?  If it is something more, what is it and how would you describe it?  The other question, which is perhaps more elusive, is what’s the best way to raise a child and start a family?  These basic, fundamental questions are what the main characters are exploring throughout, as they travel from place to place, with each new locale providing a different perspective on these inquiries.  Interestingly enough, what these characters reflect is a new, up-and-coming generation who are seemingly untethered from the traditions of the past, and who are searching for perhaps a newer, better way.

What they ultimately discover utilizing this open-minded approach is that on one hand “home” is not just a collection of stuff accumulated in a certain location, rather that STUFF is just the raw materials that creates a foundation.  What holds all of this together, what makes it a “home” regardless of where it is or what is actually in it— is love.  Home is where love is, and in theory, love can be anywhere, shared between anyone.  Now, regarding the other question (how to best raise a child and start a family), their discovery is two-fold.  On one level, Away We Go suggests that the traditions that have been laid before us are indeed the best way to raise a child and start a family.  They are tried and trued.  But on a contrasting level, it simultaneously claims that some of those traditions are demonstrably flawed.  “Bad parents still get to be bad parents.”  With this, the filmmakers seem to be suggesting that there is no answer.  Because, inevitably, the question becomes, “what is best?”  Define “best.”  And “best” is relative.  So, of course there is no answer because there is no one right way.  There is only your way.  You can only do the best you can.  You hope that you’re lucky.  You hope you know the answers.  You hope you teach the right lessons.  You hope that you’re not a fuck up.  And regardless of the methodology you employ and eventually pass on, at the end of the day there is but one thing you can consistently hope to bank on:  home.

Advertisements

14. Annie Hall

Smiley Rating:

This girl once asked me what my favorite movies were.  I wasn’t prepared at the time to give a substantial list of movies; so instead, I chose to rattle off a bunch of directors’ names that have influenced me.  Truffaut.  Kubrick.  Anderson.  Tarantino.  Lynch.  Jarmusch.  Linklater.  Apatow.  Bergman.  Godard.  Kieslowski.  I’m not sure exactly what names I spouted at the time or if they were impressive, but we ended up talking about Woody Allen.  And in particular, we started talking about Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977).  And I remember she asked me, in a very straightforward way: “why do you like it?”  I was completely taken aback by the pointedness of this question, and I hadn’t seen the movie in some time, so I struggled mightily to formulate a satisfying response.  If I were to be asked that same question now, on September 24, 2012, some thirty-five years after the initial release, I would say this:

I like Annie Hall because even after all of those years, and after all the rip offs and imitations, this romantic comedy still somehow comes across as surprisingly fresh, wickedly smart, and extremely experimental.  The disjointed structure and the breaking of the fourth wall, reflects all of those qualities, and more importantly, allows the story to stay fresh no matter how many viewings.  Speaking of fresh, the dialogue is witty almost beyond belief, resulting in too many one-liners to keep track of.  One-liners like, “Hey, don’t knock masturbation – it’s sex with someone I love!”  Or, “My grammy never gave gifts.  She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks.”  Or, “That sex was the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing.”

Adding to the brilliant script is the gritty cinematography offered by the master of darkness, Gordon Willis.  The simple rawness, and the graininess of the film print comments perfectly on the messiness of relationships as well as the setting in which the story takes place (New York).  And while the photography comes off as simple and straightforward, there is actually a lot of movement and some really beautiful, breathtaking compositions.  The fact that this does not intrude on the story or bring too much attention to itself, demonstrates exactly how great a director of photography Gordon Willis actually is.  I often wonder why more comedies don’t aspire to this kind of higher level, photographically speaking.  I’m sure there are many logistical reasons for this, including budgetary restraints, but I would be really interested to see a Judd Apatow-type movie shot by, say, Roger Deakins.

Another timeless, ever-lasting element of Annie Hall is the sizzling chemistry between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.  They seem perfect for each other.  This palpable energy creates the impression that these two characters are a real couple that has shared real memories.  This, in turn, compliments the way the story unfolds in its hyperactive disjointed manner, which conjures the tone of a casual conversation between two former lovers commiserating about the past.  And just like in real life, these conversations don’t unfold in chronological order, but in chunks of random memories, that remind you of other chunks of memories, that remind you still of other memories.  And despite this disjointedness, I never felt lost, and actually found it rather easy to follow along, which speaks almost entirely to the strength of the transitions between scenes.

But alas, this is a romantic comedy, and therefore it is about love.  In particular, it’s about an island of a character (Alvy Singer), a person who typically shuts himself off from others, but because of this amazing woman (Annie Hall), he is finally able to start to open up, and he even gets a glimpse of true love.  Problem is, it’s too late.  The feeling isn’t mutual.  In this way, I admire how Annie Hall is different from most other romantic comedies.  In most, the love is obvious.  It’s a special feeling one gets when in the presence of their soul mate.  It’s a golden light that emanates, and it’s just a matter of time before they both realize it.  And maybe this “true love” sensation exists in real life, but I think that that’s actually something else.  It’s lust.  Good chemistry.  Kindred spirits, perhaps.  But true love, true love as shown in this movie, is born out of time.  Out of ups and downs.  It happens gradually and it isn’t a specific feeling, it’s something that dawn’s upon you over time.  And most importantly, it’s not guaranteed.  It’s never ever guaranteed.

With that, I’ll go ahead and wrap my impression of the entire movie up with one metaphor.  If Annie Hall were a cupcake, I’d say its foundation would be misanthropy, comedy would be the icing, and sentimentality would be the sprinkles on top.  I have to say, it makes for one hell of an original confection.