Me and You and Everyone We Know (15)
Samantha loses her magic touch
Friday 19 August 2005
So here we go again. Hollywood, never knowingly overburdened with fresh ideas, has decided it is time for yet another old television show to be hauled out of the vaults and given a big-screen makeover. In the case of Charlie's Angels, Starsky and Hutch and the forthcoming Dukes of Hazzard, the thinking is geared to our unappeasable appetite for the Seventies and all its endearing naffness. Bewitched, however, goes back to the Sixties - which is, like, ancient history - and prompts one to wonder how many of today's moviegoers will have a clear memory of, let alone a strong affection for, this particular "classic" programme.
The director, Nora Ephron, co-scripting with her sister Delia, has made the TV show a central joist in the set-up, which serves both to clue-in the uninitiated and to work a sly, postmodern trick. Nicole Kidman plays Isabel, a perky blonde who is spotted in a bookshop by a washed-up movie star, Jack (Will Ferrell), and cast as Samantha in a new television remake of, that's right, Bewitched. The joke is that Isabel really is a witch, with a cat, a broom and an ability to outwit the laws of physics - and, just like Darrin in the original show, Jack falls for her without twigging what she is. It's a clever conceit, and one imagines Ephron had fun dreaming up ways to play off one type of magic (witchcraft) against another (television).
Unfortunately, there's absolutely no magic in the movie. Kidman, pitching her character towards Marilyn Monroe rather than Elizabeth Montgomery, tries to make her dizzy without being dumb, and the effect is a whole sequence of excruciating false notes. Kidman can do comedy, but only of a brittle, edgy kind - To Die For is a peak; she's no good at playing "soft". Nor does she have any romantic rapport with Will Ferrell, who mugs away as if it were pantomime. It's hard to know what's happening to Ferrell, who, with his innocent-simian phiz and height, ought by now to be one of the screen's great clown-princes; instead, they keep on putting him in lousy pictures like this and Kicking & Screaming.
Big names in small roles fail to spark, too. Michael Caine plays Kidman's twinkly father, Nigel, a cravat-and-blazer type with an eye for the ladies, but if Shelley Winters thought Caine was knocking on a bit in Alfie 40 years ago, he's way past it now. Shirley MacLaine vamps through the part of Endora, one of those egomaniacal divas she plays to order, only here without any decent lines or memorable scenes. You have to remind yourself that this film is from the pen of the woman who wrote When Harry Met Sally, because not a trace of that wit and dash is discernible 17 years on. From Sleepless in Seattle to charmless in LA: Ephron's work no longer has the power to bewitch, but it does bother and bewilder.
Me and You and Everyone We Know (15) ***
The words "kooky" and "quirky" are now almost tautological when placed next to "American independent movie". Miranda July's feature debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, which wowed them at the Sundance and Cannes festivals, would have to hold up its hand on the kooky-and-quirky front, but, while in other movies that might constitute a warning, here it qualifies as a recommendation. There is something guileless and less than knowing about its offbeat characters, all engaged in the pursuit of love, or at least in the avoidance of solitude.
July, as well as writing and directing, takes the role of Christine, who works by day as a cab driver and by night tinkers at video art which, by the look of it, is meant to be hopeless, though, this being LA, one can't be too sure. Christine runs into Richard (John Hawkes), a shoe salesman on his uppers following a painful separation from his wife. Desperate to spy a silver lining in the gathering clouds, he tells himself, "I am prepared for amazing things to happen", even if setting fire to his own hand wasn't amazing in quite the way he intended.
His two sons seem to be having more fun than he does. The 14-year-old Peter (Miles Thompson) is used as a test dummy by two neighbourhood Lolitas trying out their oral skills, while his six-year-old brother Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) stumbles into a weird relationship with a stranger on the internet who is beguiled by the boy's fanciful musings on "poop".
Talk of internet porn involving minors might ring an alarm bell if this were a movie by Todd Solondz, whose brilliant Happiness remains a benchmark for the sick comedy of dysfunction. July is similarly bold in dealing with inchoate sexuality and the borderline between curiosity and abuse, but whenever the tone looks about to darken she swerves away towards light comedy. I was grateful; another Solondz would be surplus to requirements.
July herself, her eyes an almost unnatural blue, has one terrific scene in which she walks with Richard along the street, and they mark their progress from a shoe store to a car park as if it were an entire relationship.
Richard, in search of a "normal" life, is initially freaked out by Christine's eccentric friendliness, and doesn't know what front he should present. Preparing for her visit, he's panicked by the sight of his kids' messy bedroom, but realises that this is what passes for "normal". "Just play around," he tells them, "do whatever it is that kids do." By the end he still hasn't got the hang of it - why dump an unloved art print in the bushes outside your house? - but at least he has stopped immolating himself.
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