YOU WON'T BELIEVE WHO HAS TWO WONDERFUL MOVIES COMING OUT… - Friday, 5/27/2005 12:42 PM
Or maybe you will?
I mean, who am I to assume that you're not the biggest Glenn Close fan in the world?
I'm not. Despite, obviously, having the highest level of acting chops, I've always found Close's performances mannered and her face - especially the eyes - just plain spooky. When I found out about her sordid past as a member of the Jesus Freak cult “Up With People”, I wasn't surprised. If you think those reasons are rather simplistic and/or downright ridiculous, naturally you're entitled to YOUR opinion. In no way am I (Pun alert! Pun alert!) close-minded.
That's not to say that I haven't liked some of her movies; the woman has been in so many, the law of percentages had to work, occasionally, in her favor. I've liked her in “Dangerous Liasons”, “101 Dalmatians” and “Mars Attacks!”. Except for the first movie (which was quite humorous, actually), my faves reflect that I find her earnestness works best when she's acting silly.
Alas! I've now discovered two more Close movies I'd recommend without hesitation. The first is, unsurprisingly a dark comedy; the second is a drama - a Merchant Ivory production, no less. Talk about another red flag, insofar as MY viewing pleasure! Once again, two negatives = a positive.
First, the comedy…
The artlessly named “The Chumscrubber” is a hoot; sort of a cross between “Donnie Darko” and “Desperate Housewives”, with touches of other twisted suburban teen flicks that we've all seen and loved. “The Chumscrubber” takes place in a fairly affluent California enclave where the adults are involved in a never-ending cocktail party, while their kids indulge in a never-ending drug binge. Rarely without, at least, a glass of wine clutched in their hands, the parents are happy to enable their children's co-anesthetized existence, to the point of writing out 'scripts. The community appears convinced that, as long as alcohol is legal and the tablets are prescribed and not “street drugs”, there's no harm/no foul: i.e., no nagging, dependant, and needy brats to get in the way of THEIR lives.
Think of a very down-market “O.C.”
The sleepwalking community gets jolted when one of the kids, who happens to be the main drug conduit, commits suicide. He is discovered by his 'best” friend, Dean Stiffle (Jamie Bell). “Jolted” may be too strong of a word here; it's the INCONVENIENCE of the boy's death that REALLY matters to them, not the tragedy, cause or meaning of the act.
The most OBVIOUSLY unhinged from the suicide is the kid's mom (Close). Because actually dealing with emotions isn't her community's specialty, all sorts of inappropriate and desperate behavior, both tragic & hilarious, ensues. Close is brilliantly maddening and heartbreaking as poor Mrs. Johnson.
Remember Jamie Bell as the incredible working class Brit boy-wonder twinkle-toes in “Billy Elliot”? He's all grown-up, filled out & looks great as a disaffected Cali youth. The accent is flawless, as is the acting. In other words… the new Jake Gyllenhaal, I guess.
Speaking of which…
Though we don't get any evil giant bunnies here, there are some nifty visuals triggered by Dean's delusions and disassociation.
The kids…one of whom is, naturally, a Culkin (Rory)… are all fantastic. The adults, who include Allison Janney, Rita Wilson, Carrie-Ann Moss, Lauren Holly, William Fichtner and John Heard, all play their characters in the broadest comedic ways. The result is that they appear even more cartoonish than the aforementioned drawn ones making appearances throughout. But, I guess that's the point… (“What is reality…”)?
The most jarring performance is by Ralph Fiennes, as a beatific mayoral candidate who is experiencing some sort of epiphany. It comes off like he's in another movie… I think he's channeling Chauncey Gardner in “Being There”. Unfortunately, Peter Sellers did it better.
One more thing…
… this movie is NOT dolphin-free.
If you're wondering what the fuck THAT means, well, you'll just have to check “The Chumscrubber” out. I hope it becomes the big Midnight show cult-classic it obviously wants to be. And it IS worth the time. It's a fine date movie and one that would appeal to your quest for something off-center. I really enjoyed it.
“Heights” is a whole different animal on a whole different coast and stars a whole different Close. Literally. In this one, Close sports straight black hair and simple sophisticated black clothing. She looks stunning.
“Heights” takes place during one day in the lives of five people living the arty life in Manhattan. Like “The Chumscrubber”, the film is about what a bitch facing reality is and the ultimate relief such a psychological awakening brings.
Or so these flicks would like us to BELIEVE…
“Heights” involves people who are basically unaware that, between them, there are…as Close's character points out… not six, but two degrees of separation. As for Kevin Bacon, he probably has his usual connection to these folk because he would move in the circles these characters inhabit. And if this reduction in degrees of separation keeps decreasing at such an alarming rate, in about 10 years, Kevin Bacon will be EVERYONE'S next-door neighbor and/or love interest. Not knowing the man, personally, I don't know if this would be a happy or alarming fate.
But, back to the movie…
The cast is exceptional. Close plays (and looks like) a Marian Seldes-ish iconic stage actress named Diana who teaches a master's class at Juilliard (which Seldes did) and is in rehearsals for a modern interpretation of “that play” for off-Broadway. Diana's so accomplished, she spends more time concentrating on the length of her gown's train and the party she's planning that night than the lines. Everyone is fine with her just going through the motions (basically the intros and outros) because, as the awestruck faces of those around her attest, she needs to rehearse about as much as an Olsen twin needs to diet. As grand as she acts, she treats everyone well, so she also has their sympathy vote because everyone knows that her husband is banging a broad in the sound booth regularly. “My understudy!” Diana dramatically moans to the director (Eric Bogosian, no less). “That Eve!”
Diana has a photographer daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), who is planning a wedding to a Yalie lawyer named Jonathan (James Marsden). Just as Seldes IS Diana, Isabel is the role that Parker Posey was born to play. In fact, Banks looks and acts so much like Parker, it took me a bit to realize it wasn't her! And (name dropping alert!) I know Parker! I think that Parker had better fire her agent… who I hope I DON'T know…
While I'm name-dropping… I also know Rufus Wainwright, who makes a short, but wondrous appearance. At least HE got to play himself (under the name “Jeremy”).
Though Isabel and Jonathan seem all happy happy as they prepare for their upcoming nuptials … including a wonderful trip to his family's rabbi, played deliciously by George Segal… they are each hiding a SECRET. Of course, those SECRETS are about to get the best of them. The catalysts for the impending revelations are Alec (Jesse Bradford), a cater-waiter/Fringe Festival actor and Peter (John Light), who is writing a profile on a sybaritic Robert Mapplethorpe-ish photographer for “Vanity Fair”. Isabella Rossellini is hilarious as his editor, by the way.
The resulting upheavals are as much Jane Austen-ish, as they are modern… which may explain the Merchant Ivory interest. In addition, the director, Chris Terrio, who is making his feature film debut, was a former assistant to James Ivory.
I am writing this on the day that Ismail Merchant's death was reported. That the audience burst into applause at the end of the screening I saw (which was a couple of weeks earlier) is a true testament to how fine a legacy this film will be for him.
Trust me: Screening audiences at REAL screenings … not the public sort or the premiers where the cast and crew are in attendance… RARELY applaud.