Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Short Take: "This Means War" and "Friends with Kids".
Tuck (Tom Hardy) and FDR (Chris Pine) are two CIA secret agents who are "grounded" after ruining a mission and spend their boring office time trying to meet women. Tuck is a romantic with old fashioned ways who recurs to online dating to meet someone, FDR is a playboy who beds a different woman every night. They accidentally end up setting eyes on the same woman, consumer marketing expert, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) who by dating different men finds the perfect outlet to escape from her ex-boyfriend's shadow, try out her wilder sexual side and practice housekeeping. Where the movie suggests that Lauren is a hands on, ultra feminist woman, the plot and character development merely make her dalliances look like irresponsible promiscuity and of course, she is the only one getting accused of it, the guys and their jobs make them look like heroes who have earned the right to use their security clearance to harass the woman they think they're in love with. For all its misogyny, double standards and ultra conservative morality (you know who Lauren will pick from the very start) the film's greatest mistake is how utterly joyless it feels. Witherspoon seems to have forgotten how to be bubbly and charming, while Hardy and Pine hardly make for heroes worth pining for. The only war this movie declares is one against the intelligence and taste of its audience.
In order to prove how awesome they are, the two friends decide to have a child and raise it without the typical family structure, of course their plan backfires as the movie conservatively reminds us that friends can't have sex and remain just friends, that children need two parents to be happy, that marriage is something we should all aspire to, and an assortment of other stereotypes that romantic comedies and dramas have helped perpetuate.
The problem at this point isn't whether they are right or not (morality and ethics aren't as universal as we'd think) but that movies like these pretend they will defy the conventional, only to become even more stilted and predictable themselves. The ending in Friends with Kids for example seems to be straight out of a cheesy 80s movie and the thing is that writer/director Westfeldt does not deliver it with a wink, she really thinks her movie is sincere.
More than a decade ago, Westfeldt brilliantly explored alternative sexual orientations in the wonderful Kissing Jessica Stein, if the characters in her new movie spent doing as much melancholy but hilarious soul searching as the characters in that one did, instead of screaming, cursing and dashing off dinner tables when upset we might've had our hands on a movie with some insight. Instead what we get are grownups who have replaced toys with wine, espresso machines and cursing to hide the fact that they are really nothing but kids.
This Means War ½
Friends With Kids *