Something’s Gotta Suck or The Worst Movie Ever Made: Now Playing

(The following is a movie review from Banana, who's damn good at writing movie reviews and lovely emails and is a great person to go with to look for cameleopards. I've changed the name of her fiancé to "Petey" because I do things like that.

Tangential to this post is that I went to see Big Fish last weekend and it was "pretty good.")

The following is not a review. Much as twenty years ago medical researchers elaborated for modern readers the torture involved in Roman crucifixion, I am going to enumerate for you as an eyewitness the mental and physical punishments involved in watching The Worst Movie Ever Made. My project is clearly an autobiography, and therefore only incidentally a critique of Nancy Meyers's film Something’s Gotta Give, which many of you will enjoy, especially if you were born deaf and blind.

I can actually pinpoint for you my epiphany. Somewhere around halfway through the romance between Erica the playwright (Diane Keaton) and Harry the Hip-Hop Mogul (Jack Nicholson) these successful, middle-aged, allegedly interesting Caucasians decide to make pancakes in their bathrobes. Erica in her virginal white robe and Harry in his fertile black robe meet on opposite ends of the screen to drive home the idea that they are opposites bound to attract, yin and yang, mere expressions of each other. "Well, aren't we cute?" Harry asks. I was uncertain, although for most of the movie Keaton does act like a surprised duckling and Nicholson does resemble a char-pei. They go on to make pancakes and discuss marriage, and just before cracking an egg, Erica stops to ask, "Wait, was one of us just saying something interesting?" This time I was absolutely certain the answer was "no." At that moment it dawned on me that I was watching the Worst Movie Ever Made.

I looked around at my fellow audience members to see if they had realized it, too. My fiancé, Petey, and I were the youngest people in the theater by around forty-five years. This did not perturb me. I happen to have a great respect for the judgment of my elders, and with regard to movies I’m sure they’ve seen a lot more Capra and Wilder than I have. The Greatest Generation in fact was staying put, and the audience did not begin to get up and leave until around the time of the bedroom scene. It was when Harry stops to ask "Birth control?" Erica answers, "Menopause," and Harry-cum-Jack purrs, "Who’s the lucky boy?" I really almost lost my lunch. I turned to Petey and whispered, "Could we just crawl out of here and go get a stiff drink?" He refused, on the grounds that there were senior citizens blocking both our exits.

Ever since the creation of the second motion picture, one film has occupied the position of Worst Movie Ever Made. Until last night, I had reserved that title for Congo, a movie featuring Laura Linney, Tim Curry, and a talking gorilla. This displaced the 1994 film Johnny Mnemonic, featuring Keanu Reeves, Ice-T, and a monologue on room service. But since seeing Something’s Gotta Give, I have been forced to reexamine the process by which this title is handed down. The previous two movies I now realize were masterpieces of a sort. Yes they were really, truly awful, but they were the kind of awful that made you cringe and laugh out loud, and that means whenever they are rerun on USA, I will probably always turn to them in order to marvel at how many people must have said it was a good idea to make this movie in the first place.

Those films are now nearly ten years old, and a new breed of terrible film is taking over. There would have been no red flags in Nancy Meyers's script. Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson are, to say the least, reliable actors and comedians. Therein lies the film's insidious nature: it's almost a perfectly fine movie. Only a thoroughgoing misunderstanding of timing and a nauseating insistence on soft focus turned it into the miserable garbage that it is.

All this being said, I really must tip my hat to Diane Keaton. I’m not saying her performance made me feel any better, although she has got that Mary Tyler Moore/Nanette Fabray weeping thing down quite well. I give Keaton props for her Full Monty, not only because she looks better now than I did at 14, or do now, or ever will, or because she outshines Amanda Peet who is objectively an extraordinary beauty, but because she looks even better now than she did thirty years ago. Jack Nicholson’s ass makes a brave cameo too. But all this is beside the point, because as anyone who has seen Dancing at the Blue Iguana can tell you, nudity does not a good movie make–in fact, that improvisational experiment in strip-tease and the English language may clock in at number four on the Worst Movie Ever list. Keaton and Nicholson do have some chemistry, but after the third or fourth "plot twist" the only chemistry I could focus on was the formula required to blow up the theater.

It's not their fault really. It's Meyers's fault. Well, ok, and it's also partly the fault of Keanu Reeves, who plays Julian, the young doctor who competes for Erica's heart and clearly desires her as fervently as most people desire an endoscope. I will note that Reeves is the only actor to appear in two of the WMEs, and that he can't even order a CBC convincingly. But let's lay the blame where it belongs, and pick on the director. There is not a moment's relief from the focus so soft that I really thought I needed a new prescription for my glasses. The images on which the romance focuses are pebbles from the beach, cutting someone's shirt off with scissors, rain storms that drive the lovers together, and snow that sanctifies everything with romance. I defy you to find me a supermarket bodice-ripper that does not contain three of the four.

While we're at it, let's blame the writer, who in this case is also Nancy Meyers. We know where the plot is going from the start. Yes, Harry will wend his way toward his properly aged beloved as Odysseus did to Penelope, fending off life-threatening obstacles (a heart attack), and life-threatening temptations (Erica's daughter, played by Columbia grad Amanda Peet). Yes, Erica will fend off her other suitors, too, and the bourgeois heterosexual family will preserve the future. Hurrah. What a load of crap.

Erica claims she is 90% hard work and 10% talent, but this movie hasn't put in its 90%. Instead of doing the really hard work of showing how a person changes, it sets up obstacles only to knock them down two minutes later. No sooner have we realized that the post-coital Harry wants to go back to his own room on the other side of the house (cad!) then it turns out he’s changed his mind, and they're both going to get the best night’s sleep they’ve ever had. The script is chock full of that kind of scotch-tape transparency. Peet actually has to deliver the line, "There was more cooking in that kitchen than pancakes."

What's more, Meyers knows she hasn't done her work. I know she knows because she couldn't trust her story to seem romantic without throwing "La Vie en Rose" in the soundtrack every 10 minutes and semi-randomly winding things up on a bridge over the Seine. I'm sure she and her colleagues planned to get by on the chutzpah of showing fifty-year-olds having good sex. But in the year of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, this really is no longer a scandal. It certainly isn't shocking enough to make you laugh at something that isn’t funny, the way you might laugh at someone having his head cut off by a tractor, which seems to me to be the effect they were hoping for.

There's not a reason in the world why the damn thing shouldn’t have ended with them spending the night together, but it wasn't even halfway over. 30 minutes later I informed Petey that our engagement was off if he didn't let me out, but he held firm, so I was forced to slink down further in my chair every time a new scene began and I realized afresh that this curse passing as entertainment was still going. By the dénoument I discovered I was really much closer to being able to fit my foot over my head than I'd realized. In summary: watching the Worst Movie Ever will leave you with nausea, ADD, a misshapen body, poor eyesight, and a broken love-life. Even for the reward of seeing Diane Keaton naked, I don't think it's worth it.

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