Tuesday, August 30, 2011

One Day.

One Day (Lone Scherfig, 2011)

Semi-Important Note: So this is the new romantic film with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. It is still in theatres. The fact that I am writing this post is itself a SPOILER ALERT. Many people have gone and will go to see this movie expecting something that is not Taste My Sad material. I am sorry if you were one of those people before seeing this link and thus realizing that it's actually sad. Don’t read the rest of the post if you don’t want to know why and how it is sad. If you don’t want to see this (OTHER SPOILER ALERT) shitty movie, then read on. I get indignant.

Category: Sad version of When Harry Met Sally. So here’s what I know about this movie (currently in theatres!): it follows two friends through the years, friends who are clearly going to get together at some point (I guess the poster is its own SPOILER ALERT). The clear analogue here is When Harry Met Sally, a classic Woody Allen ripoff romantic comedy. Except this version probably doesn’t end with a romantic New Year’s Eve speech given by a short Jewish Long Island native. Different strokes.

Harry and Sally, as everyone knows, were two friends who turned out to be in love with each other, and figure this out at the end of the movie and live happily ever etc. In Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman awesomely explained why this is a dangerous, unfair thing for people to expect of their platonic friends: “Most of the time, the two involved parties are not really ‘best friends.’ Inevitably, one of the people has been in love with the other from the first day they met, while the other person is either (a) wracked with guilt and pressure, or (b) completely oblivious to the espoused attraction.” Harry and Sally situations, if they ever do work out, are probably very rare and usually not really like what happens in that movie. And most of the time they end terribly and awkwardly and friendship ruining-ly. I’ve written before that romantic comedies can be depressing, and in that regard When Harry Met Sally may take the cake. As Klosterman writes, “Nora Ephron accidentally ruined a lot of lives.”

Also, much like The Trip, this is a deceptively sad movie that happens to be in theatres right now. The blog is nothing if not timely.

My familiarity with this issue: I make no secret about my deep romantic love for just about all my platonic friends, male and female, so as to avoid any potential Harry-Sally (or Harry-Harry) situations. Honesty is the best policy.

Initially I had no interest in seeing this movie, obviously. (Its title did put me in mind of the Barenaked Ladies classic "One Week," a happy-sounding tune whose lyrics are kind of sad, I guess. #foreshadowing?) I’d dismissed it as another dumb romantic comedy for the young Anglophile set. I read that Anne Hathaway, who I actually like, was playing British in this, and I figured that seeing her flit about and hearing her probably-terrible accent would push her dangerously close to what I like to “Paltrow territory” (where all the absolutely insufferable rich famous actresses reside). But then I came across a blog post that talked about how critics were avoiding talking about the sad twist ending. So I figured I’d blog it up. I then discussed the film with FOTB Melissa Passarelli, whose thoughts are presented below.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their university graduation. We see them every year on the anniversary of that date – July 15. Emma is smart but success doesn't come quickly for her, whereas for Dexter, success and women come very easily. Through the years they grow apart as their lives take different directions and they meet other people. But as they grow apart from those other people and their lives start taking opposite directions again, Emma and Dexter find that they belong with each other.”

What FOTB Melissa Passarelli thought of the movie: Under normal circumstances, this movie would have made me very sad. I probably would have cried the first time it was clear that the two main characters needed to get together but couldn’t because the fates are cruel (I’ve been known to start crying within 15 seconds of watching a sentimental commercial). But instead, One Day filled me with ire, not least of all because it foreshadowed that Jim Sturgess will not age well. But seriously, are you kidding me? They finally get their shit together, and then Anne Hathaway literally gets hit by a bus? [Editor’s Note: THAT HAPPENS.] Is that the message you’re trying to send me, that as soon as you find happiness, somebody dies? GAH.

By the time the aforementioned bus scene happens the audience knows that something shitty is about to go down, so I just sat there waiting to be pissed off. And then the movie continues for another 20 minutes, and we’re supposed to feel all bad for Jim Sturgess and hopeful about his personal growth. NO. I thought I was seeing a romantic comedy, or at least a dramatic British version of When Harry Met Sally. If I wanted to watch a realistic story, I would see an independent movie, or an episode of Gossip Girl. End of song.

What I thought of the movie: Agreed. Oof. The thing is that I didn’t totally hate it at all for the first 85% or so. It’s not without its charms. Anne Hathaway’s accent is super-annoying, yes, but the writers give her some good quips. Jim Sturgess’s character is an asshole, yes, but he’s a believable one. The movie doesn’t try to dance around the conundrum that Klosterman talked about. It acknowledges that the two are MFEO (even though it’s hard to understand why Hathaway pines for Sturgess all throughout his Asshole Years), and that she's in love with him pretty much from Day One, but that he needs to go and screw around and take drugs for a while before he can get his shit together. So it’s not unrealistic.

The plot gimmickry is pretty annoying, though. The conceit of the movie, as noted in the plot summary, is that it only shows us what happens on July 15, the date the two meet and almost do the do in 1988 after just having finished school. So each successive scene has to include a ton of expository dialogue to fill us in on where each character is at that point in their lives. "So, you're still doing X, are you?" That sort of thing. There’s really no way around it, but that’s what happens when you’re so reliant on a gimmick. There’s a lot of telling, not showing, which I’m told (shown?) is the wrong way to do it.

And then of course there’s the climactic event in the movie that Melissa talked about. They get married and she’s riding her bike and then she gets pancaked by a bus. It’s just outrageous. I’ll discuss this in greater depth later.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Here’s a question: Was I the only straight man in America to go see this movie by himself on a Sunday afternoon? I obviously don’t have access to that kind of data, but yes, yes I was. While I do usually like going to the movies by myself, I did feel slightly self-conscious about this one. The audience for this film turned out to be a whole lot of single girls (in packs; one group seemed big and enthusiastic enough to be mistaken for a bachelorette party, which I can’t imagine was actually the case), a few young couples, and two middle-aged gay men. And me. 

I began to worry about what would happen if someone gave me a look, or even said something to me about what in the world I was doing there by myself. It would have required me to try to briefly explain the concept of this blog to a stranger. And even in normal social situations in which the blog comes up in conversation with new people, I often have serious difficulty explaining it, what with my crippling social anxiety and all. I suppose I could have also pretended to be gay ("OMG I just LOVE Anne Hathaway"). So neither option was particularly attractive to me. Luckily I didn't have to do either. I got a few strange looks entering the theatre, but nothing more than usual.

How I felt after the movie ended: So there’s a lot of hubbub about the ending of the movie, and it’s pretty well justified. Obviously a movie can do whatever it wants. But there’s a reason everyone is disappointed or weirded out or annoyed by the ending: it's because it doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie at all. Here’s the problem: assuming that the audience was enjoying the movie up until the climactic incident (kind of a major assumption, but still), they were enjoying it as a certain kind of lighter entertainment. Hathaway’s quips, the Britishness, the overwhelming gimmickry of the framing plot device: we are set up to believe that this movie is not Schindler’s List, but is, as Melissa noted, a more dramatic British version of WHMS. Then the bus comes and ruins everything (including but not limited to Anne Hathaway's structural integrity). It’s not even that we’re not expecting it, it’s that it’s wildly out of touch with the tone of the rest of the movie.

A movie like this, somehow, begs the question of what the artist’s duty to his audience really is. I’ve pondered this question a lot with respect to a lot of my favorite TV shows, especially Lost. Everyone freaked the fuck out about the end of Lost. They were disappointed, sure, but moreover they were ANGRY. They felt like the producers of the show had deliberately led them into a maze for the previous six years, knowing all along that the maze had no exit. The phrase “wasted” was used a lot, and not in my usual Saturday-night sense, but rather in the “you wasted six years of my life” sense.

I continue to find this argument patently ridiculous, and not just because I actually liked the last episode of Lost. I’m not saying people didn’t have a right to be disappointed by the ending; many reasonable people were. I’m saying that the reaction was unbelievably unfair and over-the-top. Lost was a singular achievement in television. People were entranced and captivated by the show for some portion of those six years. And I believe that in becoming so entranced and so captivated they relinquished the right to claim that their time had been “wasted.” Once you’ve given yourself over to a piece of art, you can hope for a fitting conclusion, but you can’t retroactively deny how you previously felt. It can't "ruin it for you."

I’m currently similarly entranced and captivated by the show Breaking Bad. I will go on record right now as saying that even if the end of Breaking Bad sucks – even if it ends with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman getting gay-married in upstate New York and becoming candy manufacturers – it won’t take away from the brilliance of the show at large. I could never disavow it. It’s already given me too much for a shitty ending to take away. For Lost and Breaking Bad, the artists had already more than fulfilled their duty to me long before the shows’ (actual or eventual) conclusions.

But a movie like One Day – as its on tenuous ground to begin with – has no such leeway. It can’t afford to believe that it’s something grander or nobler than it is, and it desperately can’t afford a shitty ending. And the climax is just that. It attempts to elevate the movie, to turn it into some sort of Oscar-bait high drama, and that's not possible that late in the game. 

That, I think, speaks to the true duty of an artist to his audience: to always understand/never forget what it is you’re doing. (My fake ending of Breaking Bad would probably qualify as a violation of this rule, to be fair.) The reaction to the climactic event of One Day has been so pronounced because this unspoken contract between artist and audience was, like Anne Hathaway's spine, shattered. It’s similar to how angry I was at the ending of Pay it Forward, a supposedly inspirational movie capriciously transmuted into senseless melodrama due to the filmmakers’ naked desire to manipulate the audience. With One Day, I just think there was a profound misunderstanding of what people were getting out of the pre-bus part of the movie.

I guess it's too late now, but my advice to people who actually would want to see this movie would be to go, make fun of Hathaway's accent, gawk at Sturgess's poor haircuts, etc., and then leave right after they get married. Don't wait for her to get on the bike. Just go, and tell your friends you saw this mediocre British romcom with a weird gimmick and not the worst ending you've ever seen. 

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