Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday Movie Day Reviews

He's Just Not That Into You (2009): This film is about modern romance, but it's not your typical formulaic romantic comedy; this is messy and painful and complicated and, if I'm being honest, somewhat pathetic. If this is the current dating scene, I'm sure glad I'm married. Based on a relationship self-help book--the title stems from a Sex and the City episode--He's Just Not That Into You follows the intertwining romances of numerous characters.

Here's the lowdown: Gigi is getting dating advice from Alex after getting blown off by Conor who is actually attracted to Anna who is using Conor as a fallback guy if things don't work out with Ben, who is torn between Anna and his marriage to Janine, who works with Beth (and Gigi), who has been dating Neil (Ben's good friend) for seven years without committing to marriage. Confused yet? It'll all make sense.

Oh, and Drew Barrymore is in it too...definitely not that into her as an actress. Sorry, Drew.

As He's Just Not That Into You is based off a self-help book, the whole film feels a bit like an elaborate relational guide. There are even "chapters" in the film, with random characters telling the audience humorous anecdotes and offering dating advice. The characters' stories offer pictures of what to do and what not to do. As far as healthy relational advice goes, the film is a mixed bag. Some of the pointers are incredibly obvious: if a guy doesn't ever call you back, he's probably not interested. If someone isn't this socially aware yet, they probably shouldn't be in a relationship. Some of the tips are downright wrong or even offensive--dating, according to this film, is more about sleeping with someone asap than it is about healthy romance. On the other hand, as the film progresses and each character has to wrestle with relational tension and self-discovery, there are moments where timeless relational truths are revealed. The concepts of trust, self-sacrifice, honesty, and taking risks are all portrayed as valuable and worth pursuing.

My biggest qualm with the film isn't in the acting or directing--there are some top-notch actors in here, by the way--but with the portrayal of men and women. The women are presented as helpless, naive, and pathetic as they desperately try to get the men in their lives to notice them. The men are depicted as manipulative charmers who use women to get laid, interested more in sex than in love. This isn't a high view of humanity here and it initially turned me off to the movie. Yet as the story progressed, so did the characters. By the end, I found that I genuinely enjoyed seeing the process everyone went through despite my initial negative reaction. No, not everyone has a happy ending here (no spoiler there), and while the film felt about 20 minutes too long, the ending left me satisfied.

Yet I couldn't help but think of my single friends while watching this. Is this how they see themselves? Is this what dating is really like? Isn't there another--a better--option out there? I have to think that there is. I have to believe that someone can be single without being pathetic, that it doesn't take a marriage relationship to be a whole person. Sure, I believe that marriage and the family is the ultimate example of the Trinitarian-relational imago dei embedded in human lives by God. But I also know single people whose entire lives revolve around finding "the one" without every becoming healthy whole persons themselves. The apostle Paul seemed to be doing okay as a single guy. So did Jesus, for that matter. And this is where the film finally redeems itself--it slowly comes full circle and paints a realistic picture of relationships on the other side of messiness and drama. People aren't better off just sleeping around with anyone; we need commitment and self-sacrifice and security to have the best relationships, even the platonic ones.

Despite some of the negative points above, this film is a good conversation starter when it comes to romance and relationships. Katie and I had a great conversation about marriage, singleness, and honesty after the film. This is probably better as a rental than seeing it in theaters. And even if "he's just not that into you," I'm glad that I worship a God who is.

The Wackness (2008): Winner of the Audience Award at Sundance last year, this coming-of-age film is as much an homage to the early 90s as it is to New York City. Lonely high school grad Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck, from Nickelodeon of all places!) is friendless and lonely during the hot summer of 1994. Luke is a drug dealer that uses an old ice cream cart to transport his drugs all around the city. He begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), in exchange for free pot while also forming a crush on the doctor's stepdaughter (Olivia Thirlby, of Juno fame). Mary-Kate Olson plays a pot-smoking free spirit who buys drugs off Luke and has a little make-out session with the psychiatrist. 

You've got a Nickelodeon star selling drugs to the little girl from Full House who is making out with Gandhi. My, how they've all changed!

Behind the drugs in the film--and there is quite a bit of drug use--is the story of a young man learning to find his way in a world of adolescent adults. None of the adults in this film are role models for the teens; the young people clearly see how incredibly immature their parents act. Sadly, this isn't far from the truth for many families. When parents become overly self-focused, their children must learn to navigate life for themselves. As Luke and Squires form a bizarre friendship/mentorship, my heart was breaking for this kid. He's smart and resourceful, but insecure and naive about a lot of things. He needs someone who's not a moron to help him figure things out, to listen and be a sounding board for ideas, to simply be present.

It's teens like Luke that remind me of the importance of youth ministry. I think of the kind of young men Jesus chose as his disciples: loud-mouthed, uneducated, way too young to make a difference. Yet Jesus looked beyond their initial appearance and saw the heart of these young men. When I see a character like Luke on screen, it reminds me that there's hope when we come alongside each other in the midst of pain. The film's title comes from a line Olivia Thirlby tells Luke, that he's never looking at the "dopeness" of life, that he's always stuck in "the wackness." Yet it is in embracing the wackness that Luke finally finds the strength to move beyond it. Ben Kingsley gives a polarizing performance; you'll either love it or hate it. It's really strange to see him acting like a leftover down-and-out hippie psychiatrist. I wasn't overly impressed with him, but Josh Peck's subtle performance as an insecure teen is quite touching.

Something I haven't even addressed yet is the context for the film--it's 1994. This is the era of mix tapes, Notorious B.I.G., Kurt Cobain, Rudy Giuliani, and saying things are "mad wack, yo." This film is mad dope...or wack...or ill,  I'm not sure. Whatever means "mildly flawed but might be worth your while." (Note: there is a lot of drug use and some sexual situations)

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