Sunday, August 12, 2001

Smart Women, Stupid Choices
Giving up wrong men who are right in Someone Like You and Bridget Jones's Diary

The Chick Flick Is Dead, Long Live The Chick Flick
Having heard we were smack dab in the middle of a Chick Cinema Renaissance, I dutifully sat through both Someone Like You and Bridget Jones's Diary, which claim to offer female protagonists bubbling over with emotional complexity (at least as far as mainstream romantic heroines go). The moral of these stories: Being a strong woman means that, eventually, come rain or sleet or snow, you should be able to recognize when a man is bad for you and go the other way. But I left the theaters frustrated, because both Bridget's and Jane Goodale's reward for ditching Mr. Fascinating, Sexy and High-Maintenance is Mr. One-Dimensional Deer Caught in Headlights. I know that objectifying guys into himbos is all the rage, but if I'm going to pay $10 to live vicariously through some woman who suffers a lifetime's worth of romance in under two hours, my surrogate hunk had better be worth it -- not someone I'd hand a wrong phone number and avoid eye contact with on my way out of the party.

What's A Dud Like You Doing In A Place Like This?
Sadly, Diary's message is that being true to yourself will net you a dour lawyer played by Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice), who looks hungover -- even when well-rested and clean-shaven -- and distinctly uncomfortable out of period costume. It's not Firth's fault that his Mark Darcy has the most one-dimensional role in the film, but at moments when you should be swept up in Bridget's own discovery of her growing fondness for him, you instead find yourself thinking, "Colin Firth seemed so much shorter in The English Patient. Or maybe Renee's not as tall as I remember from Jerry Maguire… then again, Tom Cruise is, like, 5'6", right?" When we meet Mark, he's humorless at best, and spends the whole film, miserably, at the beck and call of his glossy Londony girlfriend. Presumably, falling for quick-witted Bridget is going to "make him feel alive again" (e.g., jump-start his personality). No amount of last-ditch character development (final scene, Bridget and Mark in clinch on street: "Hold on. Nice boys don't kiss like that." "Yes, they f***ing do." -- resume clinch) could convince me that he's anything other than a sad, cold fish.

The somewhat more American message in Someone is that being lithe and tanned and wearing well-tailored, breathable fabrics -- and opening your heart to trust even though it's been stomped on by bastards -- will net you Eddie, a helmet-haired Adonis with a loft the size of Cleveland. (And even that's not big enough for Australian Hugh Jackman, who's just too big and brawny to take in with the human eye, sort of like Mt. Rushmore. His lines come not from his mouth, but from the general parameters of his gargantuan head, thickly supported by what my mother would call a "stubborn neck.") Enhancing the Harlequin beefcake stereotype, Eddie wields both emotion and ripped-ness by demolishing the wall of the room his lovely (ex)girlfriend once inhabited, before she realized she was dating a chain-smoking, promiscuous thug with an uncertain American accent and left him. But we're to assume that Jane's going to cut through all that and turn him into something approaching a decent human being -- and not be just another perky notch on his belt.

Bad Boys, Bad Boys
In fact, these women should have gone with their first choices, played in Someone by Greg Kinnear and in Diary by Hugh Grant, men who are supposed to be all wrong for them. Greg's Ray Brown is wrong because he's little-boy indecisive. When they meet, he's sexy, dashing and in year three of a stale relationship, and Jane (who -- in a brave upheaval of stereotype -- is obsessed with marriage and finding someone who will let her have it, already) can't believe her luck. But Jane never even gets close to walking down the aisle. After months of love and commitment (represented by lots of lolling about in Central Park, eating of bagels and filling in of New York Times crosswords) Ray leaves her at the lease, returning to his ex (played with sexed-up gusto by Ellen Barkin) apparently because she showed up on his doorstep with two pastrami sandwiches and announced that she was lost without him. (And we know his love for Ellen must be the stuff of myth, because in dumping Jane he also passes on a stunning Upper West Side apartment with French doors, working fireplace and a wraparound terrace.)

At which point Jane goes off and develops her old cow-new cow theory: That once had, the female is no longer desirable to the bull, who moves on in search of new females. Her 'research' is supposed to keep her mind off pining for Ray, but months later her steely reserve melts at the office holiday party and he's all tender, dewy-lidded and "What are you doing New Year's Eve? Can I call you?" She says yes and on the 31st, when Eddie -- his neck mercifully hidden by his collar and bowtie -- asks her along to a party with him she declines, feigning exhaustion. He leaves, and she starts running around primping in anticipation of the call that never comes -- releasing her, though she doesn't know it yet, to eventually realize she and her roommate are madly in love. Finding the Right Woman is supposedly going to put an end to Eddie's skirt-chasing, but once a skirt-chaser, blah blah blah. Sure, Greg's acted selfishly, but Eddie's epiphany will be short-lived, and if you're going to put up with immaturity in a mate, the man in question might as well at least have half a brain, a way with humor and a neck in proportion to his head.

As Daniel Cleaver, a.k.a. Cleave, Hugh Grant's bad boyfriend act also involves indecision, in the form of our pudgy heroine vs. hot, lithe Laura from the New York office of his publishing firm, with whom he's had a relationship of undetermined length when he beds Bridget. He dumps the latter to marry Laura but then pulls an Ellen Barkin, showing up on Bridget's doorstep on her birthday toting a bottle of something and announcing that he's lost without her. Good, finally, I thought, even though I'd read the book and knew she'd eventually wind up with Darcy, the excruciating lawyer. But deep down I was hoping -- as you do when watching movies where you know something bad's about to happen because you've seen it before or know the story -- that some cosmic force would alter the course of the film just to make me feel better (a la "Maybe Judy Garland's learned her lesson and now she'll kick the pills and booze").

And sure enough, dud lawyer and sexy publisher duke it out in a fistfight that's about more than Bridget (turns out Mark walked in on Cleave nailing his wife years earlier -- statute of limitations, anyone?), and Cleave looks even hotter with blood all over his natty shirt and says something witty that Darcy couldn't come up with at gunpoint, but Bridget scoffs and leaves Cleave literally lying in the gutter. Sure, she won't have to deal with what she calls "emotional fuckwittage" ever again, and we're supposed to feel she waged and won the war of all decent women looking for decent men and being routinely screwed over. But just as with Someone you can look ahead and see Eddie sending poor, distraught Jane packing to make way for his next perky temp, here, scratch lightly at the surface of Bridget's victory, and you'll start to feel the stale weight of countless pub nights, BBC Christmas specials and weekends away reading P.G. Wodehouse in damp, tapestried inns piling up on the platter of her future.

Perhaps the only upshot to these two tales is that they bridge the real world-fantasy gap. Unlike with other love stories that give us the kind of heavenly men we'd concoct in a lab, Someone and Diary let you leave the theater secure in the knowledge that it's not just you -- even fictional women idealize their mediocre mates. Note to Hollwood: A woman can find more than her share of selfishness, betrayal and claustrophobia in real-world relationships. At the movies, she should be able to fantasize about finally getting it right.

Tuesday, August 07, 2001

Gorilla Filmmaking
Planet of the Apes's Tim Roth talks monkey with John Black

Tim Roth makes a great ape. He's so convincing in his role as General Thade in Planet of the Apes, even he didn’t recognize himself.

"It's the one time an actor gets to really vanish. I prefer that," Roth said in a recent interview with The Barrel. "Putting on the makeup was a pain in the ass sometimes, but it helps not to be yourself. I'm sick of the sight of myself on the screen. When I saw the final cut, I had no problem imagining it was somebody else."

Along with Rick Baker's amazing make-up and Colleen Atwood's form-fitting costumes, Roth credits his performance to spending almost a month at ape school learning how to act like his simian ancestors. At the school, stunt men and women, as well as performers from Cirque Du Soleil, taught the actors how to walk on the outsides of their feet, groom with their fingers and otherwise act like an animal.

"Once you have the make-up and the costume on – which was actually quite painful – I found it forced me to move and act in a certain way. Thade's movement had to be quite liquid, which I rather enjoyed. It gave him a shark-like quality. And a really great swagger."

When acting like an ape became too dangerous, such as the scenes where Thade climbs walls and leaps across a castle barricade in a rage, Roth was content to let the real stunt people do the work. "I don’t have actor egos with that sort of stuff, because it really screws up the movie if you do. I did a couple of things, but nothing too elaborate," he said. "The acrobat from Cirque du Soleil who was my stuntman was much better at it than I could ever be. My character needed that sort of movement to give him a three-dimensional quality."

Roth suddenly laughs at the memory of what his stuntman had to go through to look more like the actor he was pretending to be. "He has quite a small nose, so he had to put on a fake nose like mine then the ape nose over that to get the look right."

Although he plays an extremely nasty chimp in the movie, Roth said making Planet of the Apes was actually a lot of fun. "I found it all so fascinating. I had a great time," he admits. "I loved working with Michael Clark Duncan. He's hilarious. I spent most of my time between takes trying to make him laugh at the wrong moment. He’s a pushover, too. And he’s this huge guy and he’s dressed like a huge gorilla with this deep voice. Hearing a laugh come out of that was amazing."

Roth also admitted having great fun calling his human co-star Marky Mark, even though the actor hasn't gone by his rap star name in close to a decade. "Mark's great because he doesn’t do any of the movie star shit that a lot of actors do. He doesn’t have time for that. Remember that torture scene in Three Kings? He’s so vulnerable in that scene. A lot of actors won’t give it up like that. They have to act the hero no matter what, even if it’s not in the script. Mark's not like that," Roth said. "The thing I admire about him is that he's there to learn on the job. Acting is not what he was trained to do. He's picking it up as he goes along, which is what I do."

Roth is less forthcoming when it comes to talking about Charleton Heston, the original astronaut in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, and current president of the National Rifle Association.

"Me and Heston hung out all the time on the set," Roth said, tongue planted firmly in his cheek. "Actually we didn’t talk much at all. He was one actor in a rubber suit and I was another actor in a rubber suit, doing our jobs."

One person Roth wishes he could have worked with in this new vision of a land ruled by apes is the chimp hero of the first film, Roddy McDowall. Roth was a good friend of McDowall, who died in 1988.

"I think he would have loved this movie," he said, "and I think he would have loved to be in it."

Sunday, April 22, 2001

Fill 'Er Up: Romantic heroines who eat in Someone Like You and Bridget Jones's Diary


Someone Like Youis a bland little story which revolves around Jane, a sweet girl who likens human relationships to the mating habits of cows and eventually lands a bull of her own. From first-kiss exhilaration to heartbreak and back again, Jane (Ashley Judd) can't stop eating and wearing little Lycra tank tops. I wish I could say all this food consumption sends out a positive message, but it just doesn't. While I can certainly identify with incessant eating, it's the way she does it that just plain pisses me off. It's girl eating; such a thoroughly feminine stylizing of the act that you might even call it method eating. It rarely happens at mealtimes or tables; it's usually executed standing up -- in fact, it's what nutritionists call "grazing," which seems overly symbolic in a movie that features cows as the dominant motif.


But this is just one example of a disturbing trend of girl eating in film and TV. I've read my Cosmo, I know I shouldn't order the endive sampler on a date because real men love a woman with an appetite. But key here is that these characters consume girly, non-threatening food in a non-threatening manner: Like so many Calistas and Megs before her, Ashley stands, hand on hip, and snaps a baby carrot stick in two; she munches from an enormous bowl of popcorn whilst lying, tummy (tummy, not stomach -- maybe belly, but certainly not stomach) down, on her bed and watching TV; and of course, she eats ice cream straight from the container with an oversized spoon that she twirls around in her mouth a lot.


Ice cream is the ultimate non-threatening food: It allows women to be wittle babies (it's ice cream, it's not even in a bowl, and did I mention the size of the spoon?). They childishly eat it before meals, in-between meals and -- in emergencies, i.e., when they've been dumped or fired -- instead of meals, brandishing the spoon in emphatic punctuation of their vocalized injustice. (In fact, the pint of Ben and Jerry's/heartbreak connection is so engrained in the American female psyche that it's almost impossible, in mainstream entertainment, to feature one without the other.)


Ashley Judd, whose success is less about talent and more about posture, poise and perpetually glowing skin, could horf down a vat of Cheetos before coming to bed, but her twig of a bod will never budge, reassuring the male subconscious that she's in control. She has just enough of an appetite to carry over to a nice, healthy romp, but not so much of an appetite that she's a voracious sex beast. Notice she doesn't prance around in her skivvies gnawing a boar shank to the bone. That would make folks anxious, like when the praying mantis eats her mate's head after copulation. The message is that hefty gals, or petite women who love food so much that the fat must be lurking inside, ready to take over at any moment, are sexually scary. For that, there's Ellen Barkin, who plays a talk show host with earthy, sexed-up aplomb and little tiny eyes, and who, we're told, lures the love of Jane's life away with pastrami. See? Women who use lunch meat as weaponry are not to be trusted.


At least Bridget Jones has the decency to drown her sorrows in drink, fatty foods and cigarettes, and to look like shit as a result. But good news: If we're to swallow Bridget Jones's Diary's message whole, so to speak, the chubbiness/sex crimes connection doesn't give English men pause. For while Ashley's Jane pecks away at her tiny food, across the pond, Renee Zellweger's Bridget eats a lot, does it awkwardly and still nets not one, but two desirable men. She's seen piling a ton of food on her plate at her mother's annual Turkey Curry Buffet party, spooning Branston Pickle from the jar and cooking a meal for her friends which turns out to be 'bloody awful' (then again, she's British, so perhaps she was just being patriotic). Weight and the yo-yoing thereof is such an issue for pudgy, pasty Bridget that throughout the film's shoot, we were given constant updates on just how many pounds poor Renee Z. had to pack on/take off for each scene -- being an American starlet and consummate professional, she threw herself into intensive pre-production research to wrap her brain around what it's like to look heavy even when you're wearing black.


The eating problem in Someone Like You can be summed up in an excruciating exchange between the two main characters about it. In the scene, Eddie (Hugh Jackman), the promiscuous studmuffin Jane will wind up with at the film's end, has returned home (they're roommates) after bailing on a date. It seems once he and this chick got back to her place, she retrieved ice cream from her freezer and began spooning it straight from the container into her mouth -- on the heels of a full meal -- and apparently this seriously curbed his sexual appetite. Ashley's character -- all fueled up to loathe men because of her boyfriend Ray's (Greg Kinnear) recent disappearing act -- lays into Eddie, snarling some blather about his inability to deal with "a non-fat woman who eats." You go, honey. Reclaim your sexual power by raiding the fridge when you can't sleep and eating one chopstickful of leftover Chinese takeout straight from the container. In your size 0 underwear. That distant roar is a victory cheer rising up from hungry women everywhere, including your sister Wynonna, who you'd better grab onto in the event of a strong breeze.

Tuesday, December 05, 2000

IN THE BARREL TODAY:
Queer As Folk:

Gay Life Finds Its Place On National TV

Stephen talks about life before, during and after the first episode of Queer As Folk.

As an exercise I listed what happened to the characters in the first episode of Showtime's new sensation Queer As Folk, then listed what happens in a typical day in my life. Hey, it’s about time my life has some representation in the mainstream media, and I want the world to know about it. I'm here! I'm queer! Read on!

A Day in The Life of the Characters in Queer As Folk:

- Get wasted on a number of illegal drugs and drive erratically.
- Seduce a blond 17-year-old boy, take him home and perform numerous sex acts on him repeatedly throughout the evening into the morning hours. Drop him off at school (you’ve driven there erratically) in your shiny Jeep that has ‘faggot’ spray-painted on it by a couple of neighborhood ragamuffins.
- Get hit on my a female co-worker and go with her and another co-worker (this one’s slightly homophobic – in the way that your Uncle Bob is) to a sport bar called Shoeless Joe’s and pretend to be straight. Use the phrase “butt plug.”
- Father a baby with a beautiful lesbian couple who have problems of their own.
- Drop some more strange pills and have more sex with that 17-year-old and a guy from the Internet.
- Visit you mom at the local gay hangout – she's a bartender there and wears “I’m a PFLAG mom!” buttons. She’s also Sharon Gless, believe it or not.
- Get followed home by a really muscular guy who turns out to have a rubber ass and willy.
- Give a powerful presentation for some powerful clients at your powerful Pittsburgh advertising agency with a look of such sexual predation on your face that you seduce a male -- and very married -- client into having sex with you in the bathroom.

A Day in My Life:

- Wake up and eat a bowl of cereal (Toasted Oats -- $3.99).
- Go to work. Subway train is running late due to incident on express track. Continue reading Harry Potter book #3.
- Arrive at work.
- Leave work.
- Eat dinner (roasted chicken -- $4.99).
- Watch Queer As Folk.
- Go to bed.

Finally, my parents can watch TV and see their son’s life in all its glory. Thank you Showtime.

Saturday, December 02, 2000

IN THE BARREL TODAY:
David Blaine, You're My Hero!
Liz tosses some superhuman challenges his way

If you happened to be glued to your TV set Wednesday night to see latter-day Houdini David Blaine howl in pain and keel over upon being released from the block of ice he called home for three days, then you were probably sitting there thinking, "Wow! First he was buried in a glass coffin for a week, now he's survived in sub-zero temperatures against all odds--what can he possiblydo to top that?" Here, off the top of my head, are a few suggestions:

-- Blaine is locked inside sound booth with Vonda Shephard, Calista Flockhart et al. for entire week it takes to record A Very Ally ChristmasCD, including track versions for export to Japan

--Standing in for sole absent castmember (and close personal friend) Leo diCaprio, Blaine spends two weeks on closed set shooting Growing Painsreunion special

--Wearing only a bodysock, leather mask and Brut by Faberge, Blaine is locked in restroom stall of a gas station outside Shreveport, LA for 24 hours with rapper Eminem

--After popping question to model girlfriend, Blaine endures 11 hours behind closed doors with fiancee and wedding consultant Randee Spitz in bridal registry suite at Target in Paramus, NJ

--In tour de force, Blaine is shrunk small enough to spend three days inside microchip implant that enables George W. Bush to move eyes up and down, side-to-side

--For prime-time finale of Colon Cancer Watch 2000, G.P.S.-fitted Blaine spends 46 minutes up Katie Couric's ass with DV infrared palmcorder








Monday, November 27, 2000

Stephen's Unbreakable review

Have you seen this movie? No? Then don't read this.


Bruce Willis finally shaved his head and franky I'm a happier man for it. However, the man has gotten a bit creepy for my tastes. Maybe we need to consider a little less squinting. He's starting to look like a snapping turtle in need of laser eye surgery. Anyway, Shama Shama Shamalayan also made The Sixth Sense, which makes him a very good director because it was nominated for best picture and didn't win, which is definitely a good thing. That movie scared the hell out of me, even though I didn't get the shocking ending until much later. As I was whispering to friends that I couldn't believe Bruce Willis' wife was dead through the whole movie, I was informed that it was Bruce who was actually dead. This all made sense later and lead to an interesting discussion at the usual post-movie snacks:

Me: "But the kid wasn't dead."
Friend: "No, but he could see dead people."
Me: "And Bruce was dead. Was the wife dead?"
Friend: "No, the wife was alive through the whole thing."
Me: "But the steam coming from her mouth meant she was very cold and dead..."
Friend: "No, the wife was breathing steam because the room was cold because Bruce was dead."
Me: "What a shocking ending."

Unbreakable also has a shocking ending. Turns out that Samuel Jackson isn't just weird, he's supposed to be weird because he is actually the villain and must therefore be left talking at the end of the movie as Bruce Willis walks away saying the same thing the audience is saying, "Okay, didn't see that one coming."

Bruce Willis plays an accidental superhero -- kind of like Al Gore -- who has a child that looks, cries and wears fake middle-class clothing just like Haley Comet Osmond, the boy who played Bruce's son in The Sixth Sense and Helen Hunt's equally as spikey-haired son in Pay It Forward, another movie with a shocking ending (I didn't see it so I don't know why it is shocking but I heard it is). You see, Bruce survives a train crash (it isn't shown in the movie, which means that Shama and the studio execs probably couldn't agree on whether or not Bruce should squint as the cars toppled) and suddenly realizes that he has never been sick a day in his life. The same can't be said for ex-wife Demi Moore who still looks like she stares in the mirror all day singing the theme from St. Elmo's Fire. Bruce then starts bench-pressing hundreds of pounds, showing off his new post-Demi Popeye arms, which are just as shocking as the ending and remind me that I really need to hit the spinach. It was in this scene that Bruce's son may have seen a dead person or two because he did a wonderful little bit of acting, showing how scary it was to see your hot, bald daddy press some major weight. Bruce's scary son, in a later scene, also threathens to shoot his father in order to prove that he (the dad) is "unbreakable." Maybe Bruce had once thrown the little bugger in a lake to make him swim. Well, he doesn't shoot him, but it gives Bruce, the scary kid and Kelly Preston-Travolta-Hubbard (who plays his quiet wife) a chance to act out the scene which will be shown at the Oscars.

Samuel Jackson doesn't wear one of his signature Kanga hats in this movie, but he does wear a purple, glittery cape and a loppy 'fro, giving him the appearance of Buckwheat ISO a 1-bdrm in the East Village. Samuel's got osteoporiosis and breaks a lot of hips and things and finds himself in a wheelchair. Nice job.

So, what we have here is Sammy Jackson, unable to stop breaking himself, and Bruce, who can't be broken. Well, I thought we would have a Lorenzo's Oil thing going on. Sammy would beg Bruce for a bone transplant and we would all end up in a nasty court battle where Bruce would fight for custody of his bones and Madonna's gay son. Oh, wait.

Anyway, everything turns out at the end to be a big old hoax and Bruce becomes a real-life superhero who wears a rain poncho not unlike the one in I Know What You Did Last Summer, except Jennifer Love Hewitt's boobs aren't anywhere to be found. Frankly, I'm a bit pissed because I didn't get to see Bruce in tights.

Unbreakable: 9/10

-- Stephen

Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Welcome to our nasty little world, where nearly everything bugs us, and we get to toss it into the Barrel with far more venom than it probably deserves. Heading up the cast of characters are we two malcontents who've yet to decide if we're going to make up new names for ourselves, so bear with us. Occasionally, we'll feature cameos by such notables as our significant others, our parents, our dog, and anyone with a gripe so grating that they just have to write it down and throw it in the Barrel. Thanks for stopping by.
IN THE BARREL TODAY:

Bounce
Directed by Don Roos

Let it be said, I have nothing against Gwyneth Paltrow. I saw Shakespeare in Love and found her acting to be perfectly nice; though in truth, I couldn’t much concentrate on the plot, seeing as my boyfriend was wedged in a theatre seat between me on one side and an insidious redhead bent on winning his heart--or at least his groin--on the other. I actually preferred Sliding Doors, where she plays a forlorn Londoner whose fate plays out in two different ways depending on which tube she’s caught. I like it when Gwyneth does accents; it takes some of the heat off of Meryl Streep. But if there’s one role that Gwyn—who used the word “thrice” in a Vanity Fair interview—was not born to play, it’s that of a middle-class suburban frump-mom. (That’s why God gave us Helen Hunt.)

Conceivably, Bounce’s wardrobe folks whipped themselves into such a froth about garbing La Paltrow that they just couldn’t bring themselves to make her character, Abby, look truly cheap (or wear a bra, for that matter). For her first scene, they do make a valiant effort: She’s all haggard floral prints, white pumps and ivory L’eggs in between. This is aimed at setting the tone so that when she next pops up, Calvin Kleined to the nines in a sleek palette of slate blues and greys, we’re supposed to not let the look detract from the fact that her character’s a homely, good-hearted loser.

But enough about her. Because Bounce is also about Ben Affleck, in the role of which he claims to be “most proud.” Word has it—in every one of those are-they-or-aren’t-they “Benneth Reunion” magazine articles you’ve read—that Gwyneth signed onto the project because she was convinced that Ben was made for this movie. (Would that we could all plot such clever revenge schemes against our rat-bastard exes; I usually just settle for looking really good when I see them again.) Ben’s turn as the heartless, high-powered executive Buddy is the best recruitment plug for the advertising industry all year: Yes, Virginia, there is a world where you can dress well, “work” in funky offices with skylights, mezzanines and carnival-style popcorn machines and rake in enough tainted coin to afford a beach house.

Of course, Buddy appreciates none of this earthly bounty, because—as you may have guessed by that pained look on his face--he is tortured, proving once and for all that shallow lifestyles do not shallow people make. (I’m telling you, the positive messages in this movie never stop.) See, he swapped plane tickets with a sweet, schlubby writer so the guy could get home in time to sell Christmas trees with his Johnathan Lipnicki clone of a son. Ha ha ha, no, that’s not really it: Ben wants to get jiggy with Natasha "Species" Henstridge in the airport Ramada--any selflessness in his actions is purely incidental. But Greg, the devoted dad (played by Tony Goldwyn, the bad guy in Ghost, redeeming that typecast about 10 years too late) never makes it home ‘cause his plane goes kerplunk over Kansas. The last time we see him, he’s basking in the wonder of First Class--complimentary in-flight kit in hand--and gaping at the fold-away toothbrush like some pathetic, cardiganned Eliza Doolittle fresh from the gutter.

Learning of this unfortunate turn, Buddy is racked with guilt and very thirsty, so he drinks himself all the way to rehab and back. At work, his new dry self is assigned a fairy godmother in the form of a buff, compact, requisitely sassy gay assistant (The Opposite of Sex’s Johnny Galecki). All’s well until the voices urge Buddy to check up on the dead writer’s wife and make sure she’s alright. They meet in a hammy scene where Buddy confronts and stares down both of their demons, in the form of a nasty, high-strung rottweiler Abby bought after Hubby died (the dog’s named Buddy too, wouldn't you know it). Naturally, Buddy doesn’t mention meeting Greg, and this results in lots of fun scenes where Abby--in order to spare Bud the weight of tragedy--refers to them as divorced, and he and the audience get to exchange a heavy, knowing look.

Of course the two fall in lurve, thanks in part to the machinations of Buddy’s fey yenta (homosexuals are so clever and kind-hearted, aren’t they?), and they start spending more time together, and getting it on (meaningfully, mind you), and going away on weekends, and the kids give him a nickname, and, well…. In a twist I won’t reveal, Buddy and Abby have a fight that lands them both in tears, giving Ben the opportunity to use his favorite onscreen emotion, the one where his eyes and lips both disappear, and his puffy red face contorts because he's doing this thing with his teeth that looks like he's trying to pulverise rocks. Abby--with heart so heavy that Gwyn's usual stooping posture becomes positively concave--chucks his lying (but still well-meaning!) ass out of her drab bungalow, barring him from ever returning. Much soul-searching ensues on both sides, and you can probably figure it out from there, but we have to wait for Buddy’s life to hit an all-time low before Bounce whips out its most ambitious message. In the movie’s gratingly triumphant final moments, Buddy becomes celluloid proof that here in America, if you stop being an asshole, survive rehab, get yourself fired from your six-figure job and renounce your bitchin' beach house (because you can’t afford the rent), you too can be middle-class—and that’s when girls just like Gwyneth will fall at your feet. Is this a great country or what?

Tuesday, November 21, 2000

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