It’s not a sign of mental disorder when a person watches the same movies over and over again, is it? Thank goodness. Because here I go again.
The hubby is working a put-in for a major musical down at the Palace tonight starting at one a.m. (isn’t show business glamorous?) so here I am, awake at three-forty-five in the morning, in my twenty-second private living-room screening of Love And Other Disasters.
Like many of my favorite movies this one was written, directed, and in part produced by the same person, in this case by Alek Keshishian. Keshisian’s other work includes (says IMDB.com) a bunch of films with Madonna, a documentary about Bobby Brown, and another all-star vehicle called With Honors, none of which I’ve seen.
Love and Other Disasters is written. (Don’t laugh. A lot of movies aren’t. One of my other favorites, Under Siege, was “written in the trailer every morning” according to co-starring-villain Tommy Lee Jones.) Alek Keshishian’s rather self-conscious story is about a gay wannabe-screenwriter in London, his dream of love with a chance-met man, and the very real love affairs of his two best friends, straight women Brittany Murphy and Catherine Tate.
Keshishian’s script refers constantly to the movies and to the narrator-gay-hero’s fear of real-life romance. There are sly hints that the story was heavily rewritten so that it could be produced—Michael Lerner’s “giant of the film industry” buys the hero’s screenplay but hammers the table, roaring, “You gotta kill your baby! Understand me? Kill your baby! Kill your baby!” And at the drumriff scene, featuring a fragment of the film-within-the-film with cameos by Gwyneth Paltrow and Orlando Bloom that tells how the story ends but not really, the story’s characters leave the theatre commenting on the differences between “how it really happened” and how the story was rewritten according to Bernstein’s views on how to please the audience. These are the things I don’t like that much about this movie, and yet they don’t suck either.
But Murphy is electric as warm, vital, witty, overwhelmingly generous and romantically cautious Jacks, an assistant at the British office of Vogue Magazine. Jacks’s problem is that she only has sex with people she doesn’t love, and only loves people she doesn’t have sex with. This protects her from heartbreak…until she falls for the “gay” guy she’s trying to fix her best friend up with. (She also looks amazing in and out of expensive underwear.)
The whole complex romcom roundabout plays itself out in a series of slick and yet unpredictable moments, shuffled expertly together by a highly-competent ensemble cast. I particularly adore Murphy in this, but they’re all wonderful.
Scene: A therapy session that may or may not have actually happened between the gay hero and his best gay friend’s shrink, an immense and kindly confident woman in a red tent-dress who suggests that the stages of a relationship can best be determined by farting. An American would have written that analogy around a sexual metaphor. Only a Brit would make it an extended and hilarious bathroom joke. Later in the story the hero gets into bed at last with the man of his dreams—and the dreamboat flunks the “fart” test. I love any movie scene with a therapist; this one’s delightful.
Scene: Jacks is about to have grudging, grumpy sex with the resentful ex-boyfriend who is so in love with her that she’s too tenderhearted to really break up with him. Her cell rings. “Don’t answer it,” he begs. “It might be someone,” she says.
Scene immediately followed by: Her best girl friend Tallulah (Catherine Tate) is having a crisis: the British Telecom employee who has been obscene phonecalling her for weeks has stopped calling. “Why is it that whenever I fall in love with someone, he abandons me?” “Let’s indulge this sick fantasy,” Jacks suggests. “What was the last thing you said to Prince Charming?” Tallulah thinks. “Stop calling me or I’ll call the police.”
Scene: Jacks has a fight with the obnoxious Vogue fashion photographer, “an overpampered monster” who walks off the shoot. His assistant, the secretly-straight hero, steps in to cover the job. The editor confronts Jacks and the assistant photographer next day. “How very All About Eve. … It’s a movie, darling. About an assistant who seems very sweet and innocent but is really very ruthless and ambitious.” The hero retorts, “I’ve seen it. Frankly I found it not very believable. The idea that Bette Davis could be the victim of anyone is ridiculous.” The editor’s response is deadpan…until her rebellious employees leave and she bites a cookie in half in what I can only describe as a marked manner.
Okay I won’t tell you the whole movie. But I want to.
In this story, everyone means well. Nobody is a terrible person. (Even the Vogue photographer melts down only after his heart breaks.) This is the hallmark of a masterly romantic comedy of the old school. It’s really worth renting.