Home Again (2017)

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You’re telling me you have live-in childcare, tech support AND sex?! Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) decamps back to LA with her two young daughters when she separates from her music manager husband Austen (Michael Sheen) in NYC.  On the night of her 40th birthday she goes partying with her best girlfriends Dolly Wells (of TV’s Dot and Em) and Jen Kirkman and is hit on by twentysomething Harry (Pico Alexander) who with his brother Teddy (Nat Wolff) and friend George (Jon Rudnitsky) have made a hit short film and are new in town to try to turn it into a feature after getting interest from the WCA talent agency (cue funny meeting). The guys wind up back at hers, Harry throws up while about to do the deed with Alice and next morning George realises her father was the great auteur director John Kinney when he stumbles into a room filled with scripts, posters, camera and – ta-da! – Oscar. And then whaddya know, the late great one’s wife and muse Lillian Stewart (Candice Bergen) walks into the house and invites the would-be filmmakers to live in the guesthouse. Call it philanthropy – she’s feeling kind since she outlived the man who impregnated a younger woman and had a second family – this might be a riff on reality a la Nancy Meyers since it’s her daughter Hallie’s romcom debut.   It’s a peculiar setup in many ways – but the kids love the guys, Alice is having a hard time doing business as an interior decorator with super bitch Zoey Bell (Lake Bell) and this odd domestic situation is not unpleasant. The compulsion to return those nuisance long-distance calls to NYC subside.  Harry isn’t aware that sensitive George fancies Alice too and has taken a side job as a rewrite man, Teddy is auditioning for other roles so he’s now left with the heavy lifting of raising finance among the Hollywood set led by horror director Justin Miller (Reid Scott). When Alice is finally ready to introduce Harry to her friends as her date it clashes with a money meeting and he stands her up, causing a real rupture. Then her not-quite-ex decides to find out what’s really going on on the west coast … Light and funny, this isn’t quite as sharp and zesty as Meyers’ best work (Meyers produced) and there are too many montages set to music as a substitute for character development and dialogue and not remotely enough the type of complications that you’d expect from such a plot. Wells and Kirkman are two fine comic actresses in their own right but they don’t get the full Greek chorus role they deserve and the subplot with Bell (from It’s Complicated) is underdeveloped. Lola Flanery is terrific as the older of the two kids with serious anxiety problems but a talent for writing which George encourages.  Reese is always good value and she’s fine in a somewhat underwritten part which never really lets her rip other than getting drunk and spouting some home truths; while as her young lover Pico Alexander is serious eye candy and they really spark on screen. You’ll have seen him in A Most Violent Year and Indignation. You’ll certainly see him again. Mild, likeable entertainment. Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer.

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What Women Want (2000)

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This is the kind of film you can’t really unpick:  it’s put together like a watch by writer/director Nancy Meyers who was offered a rewrite on the script but only did it on condition it would be her directing debut. (She didn’t get writing credit.) Her marriage to producing/writing/director partner Charles Shyer over, she was ready to strike out on her own. She completely redid the original premise and boy did she hit a home run. She spent most of the Nineties making movies looking at men in the burbs, married and a little confused in the context of family; now she takes uber-male Gibson, macho advertising dude, and literally gives him insight into how women think. He cross-dresses, puts on makeup and in an accident worthy of magic realism, hears everything women around him are going through. Talk about a makeover! It helps him with his teenaged firebrand daughter Alex (Ashley Johnson) but it also gives him the edge on rival ad woman Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt) with whom he inconveniently falls into a friendship that threatens to become romantic… There’s laughter, there’s tears, there’s romance,  there’s ads for women’s products. “If you know women, you can rule,” his shrink advises Nick. Nancy Meyers knows what women want. And for that she is one of the half-dozen or so Hollywood filmmakers with final cut. For more on this, I’ve written a book on the woman who celebrates her 67th birthday today. https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481117503&sr=1-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.Pathways of Desire cover Amazon.jpg

Irreconcilable Differences (1984)

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Nowadays Nancy Meyers is more celebrated for her rightful foregrounding of the older woman’s experiences:  in the early 80s after having her screenplay (with Charles Shyer) for Protocol rewritten by Buck Henry (apparently at Goldie Hawn’s behest after they wrote Private Benjamin for her) she decided to write a very caustic appraisal of Hollywood, marriage and the whole darned thing. Ryan O’Neal is the film professor hitching a ride west to Hollywood;  Shelly Long is the wannabe writer who picks him up. He’s cherrypicked by a producer and mentored to write a movie and becomes a director who abandons Long and their young daughter Drew Barrymore and when his movie with new love Sharon Stone fails and Shelly’s career soars, Barrymore sues for emancipation from their madness. It’s brilliantly written, performed – look at Barrymore! Extraordinary! – and smartly directed by Shyer, cunningly incorporating screwball staging with references to Ernst Lubitsch (and Peter Bogdanovich). I’m a huge fan of Nancy Meyers – so I wrote a book about her:  https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481113546&sr=1-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.

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The Intern (2015)

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Nancy Meyers is a spectacular filmmaker:  she makes deftly witty social satires starring female protagonists and she’s been at it since 1980 when she co-wrote Private Benjamin for the heroic Goldie Hawn. There was a long gap between It’s Complicated (2009) and this – so long I wrote a book about her work, fearing the worst. Then she came back with another zeitgeisty comedy, starring Robert De Niro as the titular character, an active widower seeking more to do with his time and seeing an opportunity with a politically correct seniors internship programme at an e-commerce firm in his Brooklyn neighbourhood.  His boss is the driven company founder, millennial Anne Hathaway who runs this fashion seller with a sharp focus that somehow blinds her to the people around her – the wussy stay at home husband and cute daughter, the chauffeur who drinks (despite her espousing of bicycle riding in the warehouse suite), and the capacity of former businessman De Niro to assist her in the running of her firm because her financier wants to replace her as CEO. This jabs at a lot of contemporary targets – women and work, work-life balance, the generation gap, seniors in relationships (the brilliant Rene Russo is CRIMINALLY under-used as De Niro’s romantic interest) and corporate life. Even if Hathaway wasn’t originally intended to co-star (it was supposed to be Tina Fey opposite Michael Caine, then Reese Witherspoon), it has the unexpected slippage effect from her role in The Devil Wears Prada and we might see her as Andie all grown up in a dream(-ier) job where she’s the boss. De Niro is a flinty protagonist (she’s really the antagonist here) and this perhaps is where the film-story balance comes a little undone:  there are snotty, spiteful moms in the playground, her own awful mother hounding her on the phone, a dull spouse (couldn’t she do any better?! And pay a babysitter?!)  and a decided lack of interests outside of work – compare the narrative solution in Baby Boom in which Diane Keaton hit on a highly domestic answer to a business problem. This targets so many bases and is a lot of fun at times – even De Niro’s break-in caper with his dude co-workers – yet it doesn’t really say a lot about the specifics of this fashion website idea or why it’s so important to Hathaway, has remarkably conservative ideas about men and women and never feels like it truly exploits its characters:  Anne Hathaway needed to go really crazy at some point! She’s … aggressive passive. In the meantime, you can get my book about Nancy Meyers here: https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474702335&sr=1-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.

Something’s Gotta Give (2003)

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Jack. Diane. How much do we love Nancy Meyers? She wrote it for them and boy do they make it their own. He’s Harry Sanborn, rap mogul, dating art dealer Marin (Amanda Peet) and he has a heart attack at her mother’s Long Island beachfront property as they’re about to consummate their new relationship. Mom just happens to be Erica Barry, the Broadway playwright. He finds himself sequestered there by doc Keanu Reeves, unwillingly falling for  a woman of his own age for the very first time. She’s got writer’s block and objects to him on every level, except … she never meets anyone outside of work and now she’s got this horrible old guy after her and Keanu fancies her too. Meyers admitted that she wrote this from the experience of feeling invisible following her divorce from Charles Shyer, her husband, directing, writing and producing partner of a quarter of a century, and this is all about figuring out how to integrate your personal experiences into an art form when everything goes to hell in a handcart. Keaton’s scene at her computer when she ranges from tearful rage to hilarity as she writes her next hit play starring Harry, her new subject – replete with a row of his avatars with their rears on view to the world in the hospital replay on Broadway – is brilliantly written, directed and played.  She’s a great romantic heroine and you can bet with Meyers there’s a twist or two to the narrative – irony and genre-twisting being her speciality. Erica manages to be an unhappy emotional vampire for whom we root. Art imitates life and then some. This has a transformational arc that’s equal parts Pygmalion and Cinderella. If you want to read more on her work, I’ve written a book about her films:   https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474803514&sr=8-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.

Private Benjamin (1980)

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What a delight this is – a movie about a woman who finally finds herself – without a man, or a clue. So she ENLISTS??? This starts hilariously and even lewdly when Judy Benjamin’s second hubby dies in flagrante and she holes up in a motel eating pizza. The US Army comes calling at a weak moment. It’s not the Club Med experience after all. But in Europe she gains a real sense of self … and is diverted by a Frenchman who lures her away and subjects her to the kind of makeover Goldie Hawn sends up in Death Becomes Her. This mix of comedy, rites of passage, marriage and forces satire was huge and gave the fabulous Ms Hawn a sense of control over her career (she produced) which however dissipated fairly quickly. But it was Nancy Meyers’ first screenplay – and she went (eventually) from strength to strength. I write about it in my book about Meyers on sale at Amazon (shameless plug). Pathways of Desire:  Emotional Architecture in the Films of Nancy Meyers is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01BYFC4QW

The Holiday (2006)

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What a cast. And it’s seasonal too! Christmas in April, as Preston Sturges didn’t write (for him it happened in July…) This is writer/director Nancy Meyers’ most explicitly essayistic film about love – and movies. Kate’s a society columnist in London in love with engaged Rufus Sewell, who wants her as his mistress;  Cameron is the LA trailer-maker shacked up with cheating Ed Burns.  They swap homes for the vacation and love turns up on their respective doorsteps.  One learns to cry for the first time in years, the  other learns to stop. Meyers takes knowing swipes at Hollywood genres, gets these impressive professional high-achieving women to rewrite the conventional ending and leaves us all with serious home envy (I have Kate’s, I want Cameron’s.) As in all of Meyer’s films, this is knowingly subversive with some home truths and life lessons (many coming from the wonderful Eli Wallach, the screenwriter neighbour who hasn’t worked since 1978) and there’s a surprise walk-on from Dustin Hoffman not to mention the stars of the film-within-a-film (alright, I won’t!). A film that repays repeat viewings. And if you want to read more about Meyers and her work I’ve written a book that takes you from her debut, Private Benjamin (1980) through It’s Complicated (2009). Pathways of Desire:  Emotional Architecture in the Films of Nancy Meyers is for sale on Amazon.  https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474803514&sr=8-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.

It’s Complicated (2009)

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The films of Nancy Meyers, the estimable writer-director, reach a kind of pinnacle here. Divorced baker Jane Adler is remodelling her home ten years after splitting up with Jake, the father of her adult children. While being befriended by her architect, Adam, her married ex-husband seduces her when they are both drunk at their son’s graduation. And … complications ensue. Meyers’ history of interrogating Hollywood genres has always been artfully concealed beneath hilarious comic patter and situations and Quentin Tarantino was moved to comment of this that she allowed Ralph Bellamy to get the girl. If you don’t know what that means (or even if you do) you could do worse than check out my book on the subject. Pathways of Desire:  Emotional Architecture in the Films of Nancy Meyers is available on Amazon.  https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474803514&sr=8-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.

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Once Upon a Crime … (1992)

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Eugene Levy is best known as Jim’s Dad in the American Pie series but the comedian has a sideline as a director and this was his theatrical debut after some TV movies. He got Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers to rewrite an Italian film from 1964. They had used him to play a small role in Father of the Bride and he would have a larger supporting role in I Love Trouble a few years later. (Steve Kluger also gets a writing credit – it looks like they rewrote his adaptation). One of the great luxuries of watching movies is visiting places you now have exceeding difficulty in reaching because you have to strip off and wait for 2 hours at every airport you enter. The travelogue film really took off in the 60s but the title sequence is misleading: that and the first 5 minutes of this take place in Rome and the remainder of the story in its entirety takes place in Monte Carlo. So far, so good, but it’s shot kind of flatly and the meet-cute over a lost dachshund between Richard Lewis (you will know him from TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Sean Young never really materialises in the antic humour you might expect. There’s a murder, compulsive gambling and some serious eye candy in the form of Ornella Muti. There are Levy’s colleagues from SCTV – Jim Belushi and the late, great John Candy – Cybill Shepherd, George Hamilton. Giancarlo Gianinni and even the wondrous Elsa Martinelli in the opening sequence – but it’s just not the comedy you want it to be, even in that fabulous setting, despite the efforts of a very game cast. When Patrick McGilligan asked Meyers what she recalled of the script, she claimed it was a rewrite she couldn’t remember. I have written a book about Meyers, the most successful woman filmmaker in American history. You can get it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481117503&sr=1-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.