Thursday, 21 January 2010

44 Inch Chest (2009) / It's Complicated (2009)


The night I braved both
44 Inch Chest and It's Complicated, in one sitting, was like flipping a two-tailed, rusted penny for three and a half hours, desperate to see a shining head:

(2009, Dir. Malcolm Venville)

44 Inch Chest
is a sickening seafood platter of s***ing, f***ing, c***ing, cockney horn-blowing, in which Ray Winstone and company deliver some of the most poorly timed, unintimidating, ensemble dialogue conceivable. A fourteen year old, faux chav at a public school could have written as realistic and engaging a gangster-script. Synopsis: wife tells seasoned gangster she has met someone else; gangster gets together with mates and procrastinates over whether or not to torture/kill male adulterer; gangster and mates capture and taunt male adulterer; we wait to find out whether or not male, 'French' adulterer will be forgiven by Winstone.

As a falling-apart-Winstone becomes more drunk and panicked, the director opts for a hallucinatory narrative, but the film is too light to make its audience really care which scene is really happening and which is a byproduct of Winstone's stupor: are we really supposed to sympathise with a one-dimensional, wife-beating protagonist; a crude, hackneyed synonym of Pacino's Michael Corleone? Graphic references to the infidelity are thrown at the captured, bound and hooded male adulterer, blurted out in alternating jabs by the surrounding halo of gangsters, in a phoney sequence that feels more comical than it does baleful, more absurd than pernicious. This is despite a plot which offers ample scope for sympathising with victims of adultery. Likewise Winstone's film-long epiphany is, by accident, laughable. One can't help but snigger at his relationship:garden analogy, as Winstone stands before his wife as a gangster-turned-poet comparing his marriage to an overgrown garden.

Other funny moments include Winstone (crying?) at the feet of 'French Loverboy', and Wintone huffing and puffing in a sprint through his neighbourhood, bearing close resemblance to Sonic the Hedgehog's arch-nemesis, Dr. Robotnik. We find ourselves asking a question that is never answered or even alluded to: what did she see in him in the first place? Most disappointing is gangmember Tom Wilkinson, a personal favourite (
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, In the Bedroom, Batman Begins), whose character is unconvincing, superflous even. As for the male adulterer, known only as 'Loverboy', he is a handsome, unnecessarily French, stereotype who remains silent the entire movie in a failed attempt by Venville to add suspense or mysticism to a humdrum and simple piece of work.

As Jonathan Ross recently observed on
Film 2010, this movie - like so many others of its all-too-clearly definable genre - gives the impression of having been made by people with a penchant for, but with no experience of, its culture or subject matter. 44 Inch Chest is rescued from straight-to-DVD humiliation by the believably remorseful and fearful, Joanne Whalley, by amusing, gay, wide-boy seer, Ian McShane, and by its deplorably marketable, British gangster badge.

(2009, Dir. Nancy Meyers)

On the otherside of the coin, in another screening room,
It's Complicated proved to be every bit as woeful, with Meryl Streep as the embodiment of the Starbucks-dwelling, Land-Rover-driving, Mail-reading, children-aggrandizing, children-spoiling, middle but upper-class-aspiring, idiot-mother in Western society. A fifty something divorcee seeking surgery, romance and a new mansion to live in, cursed with an irritating and incessant guffaw, and without control over her libido, Streep somehow (perhaps because she is Meryl Streep) managed to graft a Golden Globe nomination out of this role. Ultimately she won this category for her brilliant performance in the chef-biopic, Julie & Julia, and in her victory speech, she remarked modestly that she was only a "vessel" through which extroadinary women are characterised; that she herself is no extroadinary woman. Her acting is reliably competent, her character immediately dislikeable, as It's Complicated tells the story of a distinctly uncomplicated, unextroadinary divorcee.

We soon learn that her husband, played by Alec Baldwin, left Streep years ago for a younger woman. Now the divorced pair have their own problems: Streep is conscious of how alone she is, and wants a face-lift, and on her way to a clinic in a cliched elevator-scene, she bumps into Baldwin who is seeing a fertility expert. Baldwin and Streep have three children, one of whom is graduating, and while staying at a hotel for the graduation, Streep and Baldwin get drunk and sleep together. Baldwin's sleaziness is amusing for a few minutes before his body language and facial expressions become boringly predictable. Before a contrived party-episode where Streep and Baldwin smoke cannabis, the plot takes the form of a love-quadrangle, with the wet architect (Steve Martin) working on Streep's new home expressing a romantic interest in her.

Meanwhile Baldwin and Streep's affair is hidden from their children, and as irresponsible as their behaviour is, it doesn't account for one of this year's most cringeworthy moments in cinema. When they find out their parents have been seeing each other, and although their mother has been happy for the first time in years, the three spoilt, irritatingly perfect American children, actually young adults, are to be found sobbing under a duvet in bed together as if they were small children whose pet rabbit had just died. The culprits include this year's most regretful newcomer, cutesy Zoe Kazan, who, in the autumn, blemished an otherwise brilliant Me and Orson Welles. Just as difficult to watch is a conversation in the architect's car when Martin tells Streep that her age is one of his favourite things about her - the moment that surely brings all these Starbucks-dwelling, Land-Rover-driving, Mail-reading, children-aggrandizing, children-spoiling, middle but upper-class-aspiring, idiot-mothers to one cosmic, proverbial orgasm.

Because the plot comes to a dead end, the film's closure is indeed complicated. Half an hour of grossly sentimental screenplay attempts to resolve each forgettable fragment of storyline, the duration of which I spent on the edge of my seat... waiting for this night to be over.

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