Thursday, 17 September 2015

TBT - America's Sweethearts (2001)

My review of Station Eleven discussed my relationship with YA and the fact that I always come back for more knowing that, more often than not, I'm going to fucking hate it. I've pretty much accepted at this point that I'm an oft disappointed fool who's stubbornness will always be my undoing. It's a character trait that moves beyond the world of shitty books for teenagers/adults that never want to grow up. It's just as easy for me to lie to myself that the work of certain directors or actors that I know have a tendency to be fucking awful will actually turn out to be awesome. The most notable offenders are Woody Allen and the man I'm going to talk about today, John Cusack. Now I've been in love with John Cusack since I first saw Say Anything so I have this ridiculous notion that everything he stars in will be amazing. Unfortunately, this hypothesis is absolute bullshit.

I can't even remember the names of all of the John Cusack films I've sat through and questioned the strength of my affection for him. His performance in a couple of 80s teen movie and High Fidelity surely can't be enough to justify the likes of 2012 and The Raven. It's sad but Cusack is at this worst when given the role of romantic lead, which you think would be ideal for the guy who left a generation of young women waiting in their bedrooms hoping to hear Peter Gabriel wafting from a boombox below.

Watching Serendipity caused my brain to slowly melt out of my ears with it's fucking banality and schmaltz. However, it is perhaps the irritatingly timid America's Sweethearts that I have the biggest issue with. Written by Billy Crystal, Peter Tolan and Donna Roth, America's Sweethearts is like the dipshit younger brother of Hollywood classic Singing in the Rain. The off-screen romance between A-listers Lee Philips and Gwen Harrison has turned to shit and their most recent rom-com is on the verge of tanking. In order to claw back success, a desperate studio executive (Stanley Tucci) must rely on his recently fired publicist (Crystal) to create a campaign nobody can ignore.

Their divorce has left Gwen and Lee emotionally scarred; something that makes it difficult to get them in a room together but provides a shit-ton of material to keep a whole host of journalists happy. Whilst the studio is attempting to suggest that the pair are about to reunite, Lee finds himself falling in love with Gwen's put-upon but lovable sister Kiki (Julia Roberts). The story that unfolds is neither an adorably cute, hilariously funny or sharply satirical. It has elements of each but is so unsure of what it's trying to be that it ends up feeling like a fucking waste.

Crystal and co attempt to take a few pot-shots at the film industry but their attempts would only see them receiving the worthless participation rosette at school sports day. There are a few moments at the beginning that suggest the curtain will be pulled back but as the narrative goes on the script gets confused and all focus is lost. The comedy just isn't clever enough and the romance tries to be too earnest. There are loads of moments when the film forgets it's supposed to be making you life and tries to portray its message as insightful.

It doesn't help that characters are so fucking badly written. The main characters are paint-by-numbers staples and get very little to work with. Julia Roberts and John Cusack just fall into tired old traps because the writing gives them nothing. Catherine Zeta Jones does well at portraying the heartless Gwen but falters whenever she is forced to show the actresses human side. Billy Crystal's publicist once again can't quite decide whether is has a heart of gold or prefers the ruthless pursuit of cash. The actors never have a chance to find their groove because their characters change their minds about who they are more than the guy in that fucking Katy Perry song.

The solely comedy, screwball characters fair slightly better but it's middling at best. Christopher Walken's portrayal of the mysterious director Hal Weidmann is the closest we get to proper Hollywood critique and he manages to provide a few decent moments. Hank Azaria, on the other end of the scale, is nothing but obnoxious and uncomfortable viewing as Gwen's new Latin love, Hector.

America's Sweethearts is a film with a major identity crisis that opens well but just moves closer and closer to its inevitable breakdown. It makes painful viewing at times and I felt fucking bad trying to get enjoyment out of it. Some things are so pathetic and confused that you are morally obligated not to get enjoyment from them. I didn't want to laugh at America's Sweethearts: I wanted to recommend a good therapist for it. I guess all of this confusion and chopping and changing would be okay if the ending was as strong as the opening. Surprise, surprise: it's fucking not. The inevitable takes so long to happen that all satisfaction is lost and there is no comeuppance for the people who's downfall we have been craving for so long. No good can come from watching this film. 

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