Archives for posts with tag: toni collette

If you’d like to watch a romantic movie with multiple generations and Vanessa Redgrave, watch Letters to Juliet, which is silly but palatable. Do not watch Evening, which is self-serious and terrible.

Anne (Vanessa Redgrave) is dying. Her daughters, Connie (Natasha Richardson) and Nina (Toni Collette), come to stay with her, and notice that she starts mentioning names they have never heard. It goes without saying that Connie has a husband and kids and a Range Rover where Nina has a boyfriend in a band and a bad dye job (hers, not his), and that they are mutually awful to each other.

The audience sees the people behind these names in flashbacks: young Anne (Claire Danes), Harris (Patrick Wilson), and Buddy (Hugh Dancy). Anne’s friend Lila (Mamie Gummer) is getting married in Newport; Buddy is Lila’s brother and Harris is their housekeeper’s son, now a doctor. Anne is their impecunious artistic friend, as we learn because she’s not blonde and has heard of Greenwich Village, even though it’s the fifties. Since my dad sub-let a flat from a sitar player in the Village at about this time, and my dad is hardly an espadrille-wearing anarchist, this seems laid on a little thick. It can be galling and awkward to be a poor relation at a Newport wedding, but if the bride really wants you to be her maid of honor, you could maybe try to handle it with a little grace.

Buddy is…something. He’s constantly drunk and on the verge of writing a novel and has carried around a note from Anne for four years but kisses Harris and drunkenly jumps off a cliff but is fine. Constantly drunk and jumping off cliffs is standard Newport wedding behavior, as, probably, is being on the verge of writing a novel. One supposes that kissing Harris seems odd for the fifties, or would, if the movie didn’t have every single character stress that absolutely everyone was irresponsibly in love with Harris. So much for Buddy.

Harris, of course, is Anne’s great love too, but circumstances and expectations conspire against their eternal happiness. She regrets this on her deathbed, as she has evidently forgotten that Harris, as we have seen him, had approximately the personality of damp celery. But, of course, Anne’s choices are now being borne out in her daughters, somehow. They realize she was doing her best, and now they’re doing their best, and everything is fine. It’s offensively pat.

On a formal note, the flashbacks don’t mesh especially well, and it can be difficult to discern why, exactly, we have flashed back, or why, for instance, Eileen Atkins (as the night nurse) is now wearing an evening dress. It’s charming to have Meryl Streep play the older Lila, but not worth it for an unnecessary framing device. It’s not as bad as, say, The Notebook, but that’s only because it isn’t quite as cynical.

Stray observations:

  • They don’t even let Claire Danes commit to the ugly cry. They do let her slap people and over-dramatize herself, though.
  • Why did Glenn Close sign up to be Lila’s mom? Any actress could have done that part.
  • Seriously, you don’t have to be poor and artistic to have the capacity to feel. And name-checking The Great Gatsby doesn’t fix the hackneyed way you’ve dealt with class.
  • A character is hit by a car, and a bridesmaid observes, in scarily flat tones: “Oh my goodness, the blood, it’s everywhere.” That’s the worst piece of dialogue, but the rest of the movie runs a close second.

Director: Lajos Koltai
Rating: PG-13
Length: 117 minutes
Score: 2/5

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This is a family movie, and is therefore sort of terrible. I guess? We seem to cut “family” movies a lot of slack because ostensibly they are made for children, and children lack critical reasoning skills. This is the standard explanation, but I submit that the real lack of critical reasoning skills betrayed by this movie is evenly divided between the studio and the lead actors. I have no idea why either Ioan Gruffudd or Toni Collette agreed to be in this, and I know Mr. Gruffudd makes a lot of terrible movies, but Ms. Collette is definitely a real actress who can turn rôles down. Also Richard E. Grant! What the hell!

Apparently, this was originally called Foster, which is more mysterious but also less cloyingly terrible, so I wish they had stuck with that. Alec (Mr. Gruffudd) and Zooey (Ms. Collette) Morrison are married, work in absurdly cutesy jobs (Alec owns a toy factory and Zooey has a book shop), have a beautiful house somewhere in Britain where it’s always sunny, but are not happy. This is because their son died in an accident some years back, and they have not managed to have another child.

That is an unbelievably sad thing to happen to someone, but this movie addresses it in a way that will make children go “huh?” and adults puke. When the Morrisons consider fostering a child, one arrives on their doorstep: a preternaturally calm and well-informed being called Eli (Maurice Cole), who wears a suit and a fedora and prefers CNN to cartoons. He teaches them many lessons about…something, bails out Alec’s failing toy manufacturer with a laughably awful suggestion, gets Alec and Zooey to reconnect at LegoLand, befriends Richard E. Grant the homeless man, and then disappears without a trace, leaving Zooey being sick on Christmas morning. Show me a child that can grasp what’s happening, or care. Once you have any capacity for comprehending what the stakes are, the facile, saccharine response is almost insulting. Is it religious? It has some stabs at it, but never commits.

“Embarrassing” is the first adjective that comes to mind.

Stray observations:

  •  Why is Richard E. Grant here? Why is he homeless? Why does he believe in fairies?
  • Seriously, where do these people live? And how do they afford that beautiful house near those beautiful gardens?
  • The child is adorable on his own merits, but his world-wise schtick gets old quickly.

Director: Jonathan Newman, who also directed The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box, and I think I just figured some things out
Rating: PG
Length: 90 minutes
Score: 2/5

This is one of these movies that apparently everyone has seen, but has not deeply spread through the general consciousness. I, in fact, did not know that a) it took place in Australia, and b) it starred Toni Collette. That’s weird, because those are both the sort of thing I generally do know.

Early 90s Australia–as evidenced by this movie and by Strictly Ballroom–is a place that is brightly colored but rather dirty, and badly stuck in the 80s. Muriel (Ms. Collette) is out of work, out of favor with friends and family, and generally out of countenance. She lives in a town evocatively called “Porpoise Spit,” and listens to way too much ABBA. Her “friends” are shallow, over-tanned, and deeply cruel, uninviting her from a vacation. Of course, she goes anyway, runs into a friend with whom she has lost touch (Rhonda, played by Rachel Griffiths), and takes off from there on a voyage of touching self-discovery in Sydney.

Muriel’s Wedding is unlike the usual movie along these lines, because the path is smooth for neither Muriel nor Rhonda. Their flaws are believable, unlike the run of the mill rom-com women with exaggerated lunacies. Ms. Collette, Lord love her, is actually plausible as a woman with low self-esteem, and she brings her trademark slightly-mad vulnerability to this rôle. Ms. Griffiths is not as subtle, but nevertheless an effective foil. The Sydney sequences are episodic, and it would perhaps improve with more attention paid to shape and continuity.

All of this said, this is one of the best movies about women friends. Men are neither idolized nor demonized, but instead play rôles which they might in real life, which is a nice change. Some people are lousy, some people come through unexpectedly. It’s not exactly a feel-good movie, but that, I think, is a point in its favor.

Stray observations:

  • ABBA’s “Waterloo” is such a great song.
  • Man, wedding dresses used to be ridiculous.

Director: P. J. Hogan
Rating: R
Length: 106 minutes
Score: 3/5