December 1997
s m u g
feed hollywood
by Brian Thomas

Dysfunctional Family Values

Ah, December. The end of another year, a time when film critics start thinking about buying themselves expensive home video equipment - and the annual ritual of wrapping up the year's events in cinema with wistful articles full of premature nostalgia and predictions of next Spring's awards. There'll be plenty of pieces this month about how "we" laughed at Will Smith's antics in Men In Black, "we" thrilled to Jackie Chan's stunts in Operation Condor, and "we" wept openly about Val Kilmer's accents in The Saint. Although the only experience "we" the public shared is reading dumb Sunday section fluff pieces about what "we" were doing all year. I'll deal with my personal "best of" list next month - there's still a hundred or so movies left to see this year.

So, what was the overwhelming theme in movies for 1997? How will we remember the year in pictures? The surprise success of Wes Craven's Scream early in the year led many to predict an avalanche of fright films to be unleashed, but Hollywood hasn't caught up with the public's hunger for horror, and only spotty (but successful) releases have followed. Last year's trend in disaster films resulted in only two volcano eruption movies and three or four airplane crash pictures. Arnold Schwarzenegger took the year off to have heart surgery before thrilling us with a Terminator 3 or boring us with a Junior 2: Knocked Up Again. Unless anyone unearths a lost Jane Austen manuscript, that vein has been thoroughly mined for another generation.

The overwhelming trend that I've detected in many of this year's features is a tendency toward dysfunctional romance. Witness:

  • My Best Friend's Wedding, in which a woman tries to destroy the happiness of the man she secretly loves so that she'll have a chance to snag him for herself.

  • Picture Perfect, in which a woman uses a good man who cares for her to get sex from the handsome (but slimy) office playboy.

  • For Rosanna, in which a dying woman tries to fix her husband up with her younger sister.

  • Head Above Water, in which a woman's ex-boyfriend is found dead in her beach house, and she and her husband try to hide the corpse.

  • Face/Off, in which two men who hate each other switch identities, and fool around with each other's women.

  • Female Perversions, in which a woman with a fairly decent relationship with her boyfriend tries to relieve her anxiety in the business world by experimenting with a lesbian affair, only to find that lesbian relationships can have the same problems as any other kind. Meanwhile, her sister deals with her frustrations through shoplifting and her niece through self-mutilation.

  • Love and Other Catastrophes, in which a girl falls for a guy who is secretly a prostitute, but ends up with the guy who secretly has a crush on her. Meanwhile her roommate plots to break up her ex-girlfriend's relationship with another girl, while using yet another girl to make her ex jealous.

  • The Edge, in which a man gets lost in the woods with the man who is having an affair with his wife and plotting to kill him. Through adversity they become good friends, then try to kill each other.

  • Blood and Wine, in which a father and son romance the same girl. This film is notable for the scene in which Jack Nicholson gets hit in the head with a golf club.

  • She's So Lovely, in which a hard-drinking woman commits to an openly-loveless marriage to a decent guy while she waits for her demented first husband to get out of the funny farm.

  • Starship Troopers, in which a man desperately joins the military to pursue his girlfriend. In turn, another girl who has the hots for him joins up to be close to him. She accidentally shoots a guy's head off, but gets her man in the end (or does she?).

  • In another film detailing the sick, twisted lives of cartoonists, Chasing Amy shows what happens to a hetero-guy secretly loved by his repressed-gay-guy partner who falls for a gay girl who has a secret past. When do these people have time to draw comic books?

  • The painfully bad remake Flubber, a man derails his former colleague's wedding so he can marry the bride himself, even though he's trying to ruin her career - just what is this guy after, anyway?

  • Two Girls and a Guy (which title describes nearly the entire cast), in which two girls find out that they have the same two-timing boyfriend. By the way, this film is worth catching just to see exactly how Robert Downey, Jr. behaves while he's taking all those illegal drugs. Impossibly, both victimized females find his stuttering, blinking, prancing, and screaming arias so charming that they forgive him.

  • The Pillow Book, in which a woman plots revenge against the publisher who extorted her father into a continuous homosexual affair, using her boyfriend as bait. This one gets much sicker, but I don't want to give away too much.

  • Crash, in which a guy has an affair with the woman he has a car wreck with (in which her husband is killed), then has an affair with a woman who was crippled in an accident, then tries to rekindle his marriage by getting in a car wreck with his wife. Believe it or not, I had trouble staying awake through this one.

  • Lost Highway, in which a guy is arrested for his wife's murder, escapes by accidentally turning into someone else, then has an affair with a brutal mobster's girlfriend - who might be his murdered wife, or her twin sister.

  • Intimate Relations is based on a true story about a guy who takes a room in a middle-class British household and becomes involved in a complex web of passion, blackmail and murder that involves an affair with his landlady and her young daughter.

  • In the Company of Men, in which two middle management drones carry out a twisted plan to simultaneously romance then humiliate a pretty handicapped woman.

  • A Thousand Acres, in which a farmer's three daughters deal with the surfacing repressed memories of his molestation while he goes crazy. House of Yes, in which a guy brings his fiancé home to meet his family on Thanksgiving weekend, but ends up renewing his incestuous relationship with his insane sister, which prompts his fiancé to sleep with his younger brother.

    Try reading this list next time one of your know-it-all friends starts to complain about the lack of imagination in today's films.

    Does this trend indicate a lack of morals in today's society? Like the characters on TV's Seinfeld, do our relationships come with the implied understanding that, no matter how close people become, they can expect to be screwed over by their friends if there's the least chance for selfish gain? I don't think so I don't believe, for example, that I like to watch violence in movies because I am violent. People like to see extreme behavior of all kinds, including the malicious display of emotionally damaging psychological torture in the name of love. Especially if it's in the form of screwball comedy.

    Meanwhile, all boxing matches are halted at the first sign that someone might get hurt.


    in the junk drawer:

    November 1997
    October 1997
    September 1997
    August 1997
    July 1997
    June 1997
    May 1997
    April 1997
    March 1997
    February 1997
    January 1997

and such
and such

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