Friday, July 3, 2009

Sweet Adventure

The summer is packed with popcorn movies filled with explosions, huge special effects, and so-so acting. But stuck in there are some smaller movies to give you a break from the flash and bang of the big boys. Away We Go is one of those small movies. And even though I'm still saying Star Trek has been the best summer movie (closely followed by The Hangover), Away We Go is not to be missed.

It's beautiful, thoughtful, funny, and quite touching. All those naysayers out there who didn't like it obviously didn't get the memo about the quirky indie road movie. Yes, just like with romantic comedies, it follows a pattern--a couple goes on a trip and meet strange wacky people along the way. After the trip, they have a profound moment and are happier and better for the experience. What's important about a movie like this are the characters. You want to believe them and believe in them. John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph, as Burt and Verona, are like real people that you want to have coffee with and offer a shoulder to cry on.

Burt and Verona are an expectant couple in search of a new place to put down roots and raise their daughter. In trying places close to family or friends, they make new connections to one another, find out new and interesting things about the people they know, and, of course, find out more about each other.

Like all road movies, the couple has run-ins with the weird and weirder. The best encounter is with Maggie Gyllenhaal's LN (yeah, it "Ellen"). The woman is a natural mom who doesn't believe in secrets or strollers. She's crazy and scary and so hilarious, I think I cried a little bit.

The most heartbreaking encounter is with Munch and Tom Garnett (Melanie Lynskey and Chris Messina), college friends of Burt and Verona. I won't reveal why it's so heartbreaking, but you'll probably put two and two together as the sequence unfolds. Have you ever had a moment in a movie where you've been so involved that you feel like your best friend just went through something horrible? Well, I had that moment in this that scene. It felt like someone stuck a knife in my gut and just twisted it. I know that sounds awful, but that's how great the characters are. They are real people on that screen, and I felt for them whole-heartedly.

Director Sam Mendes has a true knack for getting exceptional performances out of people.

John Krasinki and Maya Rudolph are both excellent. I didn't see a glimmer of "Jim" from The Office or any of Rudolph's wacky SNL characters.
They have great chemistry, and I found myself smiling with them throughout the movie.

This is not by any means a big budget must-see-in-theatres movie. But I always urge everyone to see the small films in theatres. It's always good to show your support to the quiet ones as well as the big explosion big guys who reign supreme this time of year.

The Proposal: Comic Love

We all know that most romantic comedies are the same: boy meets girl, they fall for each other, something tears them apart, and then they end up together by the end. There are only a handful, if that, of rom coms that don't follow this pattern. It's something a movie-goer accepts and even expects.

I didn't want to see The Proposal because I was hoping for a twist or a thrilling last act. I wanted to see it because I was in the mood for some silly love antics, and The Proposal delivered.

When Margaret (Sandra Bullock), a high-powered (read super-bitch) book editor, faces deportation to her native Canada as well as the loss of her job, she quickly declares that she’s actually engaged to her unsuspecting assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), who she’s tormented for years. Andrew agrees to participate in the charade, mostly because he wants to keep his job and get a promotion, but also because he'll finally have the upper-hand in the relationship.

The unlikely couple heads to Alaska to meet Andrew's family--doting Mom (Mary Steenburgen), never-pleased dad (Craig T. Nelson), and cooky grandma (Betty White). With an impromptu wedding in the works and an asinine immigration official on their tails, Margaret and Andrew reluctantly vow to stick to the plan and start finding out more about each other than they ever could have discovered in the office.

A romantic comedy is sold by the stars. Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock are both hilarious and have great chemistry. I figured I would laugh and have a good time, but I found myself outright guffawing at times. Reynolds has impeccable timing with snappy comebacks and witty asides, while Bullock's physical comedy will keep you snickering far longer than you should. And I must hand out serious props for her doing the nearly nude scene with the cute fluffy dog. There's no way I would have the guts to be basically naked and (purposefully) funny at the same time.

The supporting cast is good too. Craig T. Nelson is the proper never-satisfied dad while Mary Steenburgen calls up her role from Parenthood as the doting yet stern mom. And then there's Betty White. She is absolutely spectacular. I must agree with Clay Cane, of BET, who said, "Ms. Betty could be cast in a revival of New Jack City and you’d believe her in every frame." She's a loving and cooky grandmother who will speak her mind, dance with "exotic" dancers and chant over a bonfire in the middle of the woods...and I believed every minute. If I wasn't laughing at Margaret or Andrew, I was definitely laughing at Grandma Annie.

The Proposal is not amazing storytelling, in fact, the whole premise is a bit far-fetched, but the movie was never intended for serious study. It's fun, sweet, and a good time at the movies.