F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 10, 2012)

10 08 2012

When most people think of Edward Norton, they think “Fight Club,” “American History X,” or perhaps his brief stint as “The Incredible Hulk.”  In other words, I doubt many people would immediately classify him as a funny, light entertainer (though “Moonrise Kingdom” could change a few minds).  But take a look at Norton’s résumé and you will see that his only directorial venture was, in fact, a comedy!

His “Keeping the Faith,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” is a delightful romantic comedy of interfaith understanding and rivalry.  Norton plays Brian Finn, whose best friend growing up in New York is Ben Stiller’s Jake Schram.  Fast forward to adulthood, Brian becomes a Catholic priest, and Jake is a Jewish rabbi.  Still buddies, they find hilarious commonalities between their similar positions in different religions.

But their friendship gets a shock when Jenna Elfman’s Anna, a dreamgirl for both Brian and Jake back in their teenage years, moves from California back to the Big Apple.  She may have disappeared long ago from their lives, but Anna picks up right where she left off with both men, rekindling an old flame that burns brighter than ever.  But each men presents their own problem in terms of dating: Brian is required to be celibate as a Catholic priest, and Jake has to marry a Jewish woman (which Anna is not).

Yet in spite of the occupational challenges, both men vie for her love and affection.  She’s put in the unenviable (but seemingly always optimal choice for Reese Witherspoon) situation of choosing which illicit love to pursue.  I know this sounds a little bit like “This Means War,” but give it a chance.  It’s heartfelt, funny, and truly sincere.  Plus, it’s a movie that doesn’t shy away from having a good time with religion while also taking it totally seriously.  Why Edward Norton stopped directing after “Keeping the Faith” is beyond me.

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REVIEW: Friends with Benefits

22 07 2011

It’s time for a movie to come along that changes the romantic comedy genre for better and for always (or at least reverses the way it’s heading at the present moment). A movie willing to avoid the sappiness and the cliched, predictable genre tropes. A movie willing to be a little bit sneaky and subversive in its delivery of what the audience wants from the genre. A movie that gets to the heart of what the genre is supposed to be – truthful, believable romance with some observations on the tricky thing that is love with some humor sprinkled on top.

Friends with Benefits” is not that movie, although it desperately wants to be. It gets some points for trying, though. It takes some good pot shots at the genre through the very clever usage of a fake romantic comedy starring Rashida Jones and Jason Segel inside the movie, and levels some very accurate criticism of them that will no doubt have audiences nodding along with Timberlake and Kunis’ sex pals.

But like so many of the recent onslaught of meta movies, it winds up devolving into the very thing it scorns. It wants all the benefits of self-awareness but none of the responsibilities, which here would include being creative and providing an alternative to the laughable aspects of the genre that it constantly lampoons. To use a sports metaphor, it has the swing but not the followthrough. It boldly goes where few romantic comedies will go and then backs away when honesty and ingenuity is asked of it.

However, it’s nice (for once) to see the movies giving us some indication they realize how RIDICULOUS the romantic comedy has become. Even though “Friends with Benefits” eventually subscribes to the formulaic rules of the genre straight from the textbook, I’ll take a movie with squandered potential over one with no potential any day. Not that it makes it any less disappointing, but the movie sort of gives us a wink and a nudge when it crosses over to the dark side. It’s almost as if director Will Gluck (last year’s excellent “Easy A“) is so apologetic for selling out that he all but superimposes the text “I’M SORRY” over the closing scene.

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