Sunday, November 29, 2009

Redbox Risk Review: My Life in Ruins

Over the break I watched My Life in Ruins, starring Nia Vardalos, who is Greek. Nia had a big wedding in another film, which I have also seen (twice).

It should be noted that I saw My Life In Ruins because of my girlfriend.

Watching the movie was my proposal, but only as part of a calculated maneuver designed to ensure I saw Ninja Assassin on opening day, which happened to be during my visit. This did not happen, as it turns out that my girlfriend is afraid of ninjas (Note: This is not actually true; she is not afraid of ninjas so much as not eager to watch a movie that heavily relies on gore to move the plot along. Having seen Ninja Assassin just today, I must concur with her decision to skip the film. Blood happens a lot. The gore was so intense—apparently—that I was carded when I bought my ticket. I’m 25; I don’t even get carded for drinks anymore. So double kudos to the family that brought their three year old to the movie and sat in the front!).

Digression aside (No, just kidding. I want to talk briefly about The Book of Eli. This is a movie I know nothing about. I’d never heard of it prior to catching the trailer today, and I’m going to scrupulously avoid learning more about the film. It’s entirely possible it turns out to be some zealous religious film, or something with an M. Night Shamamawow-esque “twist” ending, or even a Scientology vehicle. I don’t know. I don’t care. I will see this movie. Any film that lets Denzel play a hard-bitten, gritty hero while Gary plays a maniacal villain with a loyal but unsettling army of misfits—that’s a film I’ll be seeing. Mila Kunis is also shaping herself into a moderately well-off man’s Eliza Dushku, so that’s cool. Plus, there’s the knife.), My Life in Ruins was actually pretty good. I think, on the whole, I enjoyed it better than the big wedding.

The plot moves with surprising speed, and the disparate group of characters coming together into a beautiful unit occupies far less of the film than I would have expected. It works, though, because the film centers around a tour guide, her hirsute bus driver, and the loveable gang of misfits she’s saddled with. I could talk about how the plot develops, but I figure you can get that from IMDB. Instead, I’ll mention the single biggest surprise this movie held for me: it’s about Richard Dreyfuss, an esteemed actor whose name I utterly mangled when I Facebooked that revelation following my viewing the film.
As evidenced by my previous review, I have a certain affection for talented, big-name actors “slumming” in movies that don’t get a lot of attention (and possibly head straight to the Red Box). Dreyfuss plays an irascible, joke-slinging loudmouth who comes off as a prick but turns out to be a wonderful dude. Also, he totally scores at one point. The reason his character is memorable isn’t great writing—I’m not entirely sure this movie is particularly well-written. Instead, it’s because of the challenge of the character; Dreyfuss is playing a character who is not especially funny, but thinks he’s funny, and comes off as a prick to people who don’t think he’s funny, which is everyone but him, because he’s not funny. And the man actually manages to make the character…funny.

There are other amusing characters. The awesomely-named Rachel Dratch and awesomely-in-that-movie-with-a-dildo-lightsaber-battle Harland Williams both deliver performances that are probably funny. Since they’re playing ignorant tourist Americans I imagine some of the humor is lost on me, though. I’m an American and I really don’t remember the last movie I watched that portrayed Americans as anything but boorish assholes in a foreign context. The IHOP character elicited more chuckles because he collected artesian syrups and kept comparing things to pancakes. Jareb Dauplaise apparently keeps playing the same ignorant frat boy character…his IMDB page is saturated with fraternal appearances. I wonder if he really pledged. His bio is adorable, and his performance as a really, really ignorant tourist (also American, but it seems like less of a thing) is probably the funniest of the four non-Dreyfuss Americans.

Alexis Georgoulis plays a character named Poupi Kakas, and he does so with an entirely straight face. His deadpan delivery and gradual transformation from tamed bear to dude getting laid is solid—I wondered, watching it, if he was as amused by the whole production as his character seemed to be. My girlfriend also confirms that he looks spectacular in minimal clothing. So there’s that.

But it honestly all comes back to Dreyfuss. Without his character to bring balance to Vardalos, the entire film would have been much harsher and abrupt. Dreyfuss combines impishness, gravity and wisdom, and a certain “Yeah, I’m a prick. But I’m a prick because I earned it,” in such a way that his manipulation of the other characters into a coherent group is believable. It’s not the kind of role Dane Cook could deliver—Dreyfuss manages because he constantly exudes the sense that he knows when his character isn’t being entertaining, because he intended it to play out that way. It’s also not something I could see, say, Bill Murray pulling off—I feel like his presence would quickly overwhelm the other actors, even if he weren’t trying to ham it up. Dreyfuss, though, he pulled it off and added several layers to what would otherwise have been a very shallow, rushed film set in beautiful surroundings.

Did I enjoy the flick? Yes. I like romantic comedies. If I hadn’t watched it with my special lady friend I imagine I would have made my way around to it on my own, eventually. But she really wanted to see it and had so little luck finding it (even the first two days I was out there) that when it popped up in a Red Box I knew our night was set. I wanted to be sure she got to see it.

The fact that I think I enjoyed it more than she did, though…there’s probably no excusing that part. I claim ninja withdrawal.

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