One of the pleasures of the “chick flick,” whether the rom-com blockbuster or the quirky indie, is that we sometimes get to see what life would be without the state, or at least without it in our every nook and cranny. No NSA spies, no Manchurian candidates, no Pentagon bureaucrats trying to respond to alien invasions, or other big government features of the testosterone fueled action film. (And I love sci fi and action films, but they all feature lots of government, espionage, and militarism, though the best of them tend to feature an individual rogue cop/pilot/spy/crew who refuses to take orders and saves the day heroically despite the bureaucrats.)
We’ve had some good or great “women’s films” recently (see Molly Haskell’s book From Reverence to Rape for a history of the genre) from Silver Linings Playbook (2012) to Magic Mike (2012).
This season we have at least three interesting ones, featuring a beautiful comic, a comic beauty, and a great actress.
Enough Said is the last film featuring the late James Gandolfini, co-starring with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. In a way it’s a movie brought to you by premium cable, given that its stars are best known for work on TV. Dreyfus plays a character very similar to the one she played in The New Adventures of Old Christine (2006-2010). An LA massage therapist and single in her 40s, she ends up dating a fat and not conventionally attractive divorced man (Gandolfini), and working with a new client with whom she becomes friends (Catherine Keener). Fairly early on, as Keener, like many massage clients, babbles on about her life, Dreyfus realizes the ex-husband she is hearing about of Keener’s is the man with whom she, Dreyfus, is sleeping. She can’t come clean and tell them, partly because its awkward, partly because she is distrustful of men and wants this insider information on Gandolfini’s negatives, rather than discover them herself. There is also a little subplot about a failure to put one’s cards and concerns on the table between Dreyfus’s best friend (Toni Colette) and her maid. The plot is little more than a short story from a magazine, but the actors are great. Keener is actually a kind of touchstone; she seems to refuse bad scripts, and if she is in something, it’s almost always good.
Another Time is oddly a kind of sequel to Eric Bana’s sci fi romantic tragicomedy, The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003), though Bana isn’t in it and it isn’t tragic. A young man (Domhnall Gleeson) is told by his dad (Bill Nighy) on his 21st birthday that the male line of their Cornwall family can travel in time to any point in their own past history, and change it without lethal results, though he does offer Aesopian cautions about uncles and grandfathers who destroyed their own lives by focusing on only wealth or other pursuits. Domhnall moves to London where he will use his new found power to find the perfect woman and then woo her with the perfect pitches. It works, and he marries the irresistible Rachel McAdams, here actually toned down with a mousy rinse and mismatched clothes so she isn’t so obviously a delicious beauty you almost never meet by chance in real life. She never knows that his perfect love making or knowledge of all her passions (Kate Moss), are because, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (1993), he’s had a lot of practice with her even though she thinks everything is being done for the first time. Some rain does fall into the sunshine life his power allows, since it has its limits, and he can’t save people whose time is up. Very worth your time. And oddly, a movie kind of tangentially about Bergsonian (Henri) philosophy and Austrian economics on time, uncertainty, and ignorance, as Domhnall seeks to acquire all the relevant knowledge to put his marriage into a completely contented equilibrium, where no new or undiscovered actions could make things better.
Finally Blue Jasmine. Not the best of the three; does anyone really like late Woody Allen? But Cate Blanchett is great and it is a movie where Alec Baldwin’s character commits suicide. Baldwin plays Bernie Madoff, though now rather obviously a gentile, as is his wife Blanchett. (And her victims, including her adopted sister and her ex-husband and new boyfriend, all seem Mediterranean and ethnic.) We see her after the Feds have closed her husband down and convicted and imprisoned him and he has hung himself. She throws herself on the mercy of a long ignored sister, whose husband (Andrew Dice Clay) is a working class contractor whose life savings and lottery winnings were stolen by Baldwin through investment schemes. In flashbacks we see that Blanchett may have not known that her husband was a crook at first, and definitely didn’t know he was an adulterer. When she finds out he is cheating on not just his clients, but her, and plans to leave her, she calls the FBI. Now in poverty, sleeping on her sister’s couch, she latches onto a trust funded and minor diplomat, Peter Saarsgard, who has ambitions to become a Senator. But she doesn’t tell him who she is or what her married name was. She’s just some classy Hamptons interior designer from back East. When he finds out he dumps her, and she ends up in a final scene babbling on the street, a newbie bag lady in a Chanel suit. Grim.