Catherine Zeta-Jones might not have been the wisest casting choice for a romantic comedy about a supposedly unbridgeable age gap.
In The Rebound, her colleagues can't get over the idea that her boyfriend is 15 years younger than she is, an attitude which could prompt the wrong sort of laughs from the audience. Zeta-Jones's off-screen husband turned 25 on the day she was born.
All the same, the older woman/ younger man dalliance is fertile ground – as shown four years ago in Prime, with Uma Thurman, not to mention an entire series of Sex and the City.
Zeta-Jones plays a suburban mother who discovers her husband is having an affair. In the space of a montage, she's left him, moved to New York with her son and daughter, and secured an apartment and a job (an upheaval which doesn't appear to affect her children in the slightest). She then hires a 24-year-old divorcee (Justin Bartha) as a babysitter, and their relationship takes a turn for the unprofessional.
That may sound like a solid opening act, but it takes The Rebound a whole hour to plod through it: the film is two-thirds over before Zeta-Jones and Bartha have their first kiss. Shouldn't the sex in a comedy called The Rebound happen immediately after a break-up? By the time Zeta-Jones and Bartha make it to the bedroom, they're long-standing confidants, and her ex-husband is ancient history.
When Bart Freundlich, the writer-director, finally gets around to
exploring the age-gap issue, there are only two set pieces that give us a glimpse of the film he might have made. One has Zeta-Jones smoking pot at a twentysomethings' party, and one has Bartha being patronised over dinner by her middle-aged friends. Beyond that, Freundlich (Julianne Moore's husband, incidentally) makes almost nothing of the central dilemma. And not one person comments that if the genders were reversed, the age gap wouldn't be remotely remarkable. That omission couldn't have anything to do with the leading lady's private life, could it?
City Island is also set in New York, although not a part of New York that's been seen much on the big screen. The title refers to a quaint fishing village – in the Bronx, no less – with its beachfront houses, sailing boats bobbing in the harbour, and a view of Manhattan's skyscrapers on the horizon. It's amazing it hasn't featured in a dozen romcoms before now.
City Island isn't a romantic comedy, though, but a soft-centred comedy drama about a family that's bursting with secrets. Andy Garcia is a prison warden who dreams of being Marlon Brando but who is so afraid of his wife's mockery that he tells her that his acting classes are poker games. His wife, Julianna Margulies, assumes that he's having an affair. Their teenage son is obsessed with obese women; their daughter (Garcia's in real life) pays her college fees by pole dancing, and everyone in the family smokes when no one's watching. Oh, and Garcia has a grown-up son he's never met.
It's a bit too neat and tidy, this apportioning of secrets, especially when they all come to light in the same climactic scene, with so much hugging and so few recriminations that there was obviously never any need for anyone to keep quiet in the first place. The writer-director picks the feelgood option over the dramatic one at every turn, and while this cosiness makes City Island hard to dislike, it's just as hard to believe in it.
Nicholas Barber time-travels back to the Eighties with The A-Team and The Karate Kid
Also Showing: 25/07/2010
Baaria (151 mins, 15)
Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) pays tribute to his Sicilian home town in a saga which spans much of the 20th century: dirt roads are paved, cars displace horses, and a shepherd's son grows up to be a family man and aspiring Communist politician. There are a few sparks of satirical fire – the councillor in charge of town-planning is blind – but Baaria is, essentially, one long nostalgic wallow. Backed up by Ennio Morricone's glutinous score, it assures us that in the good old days, peasant hardship was balanced by loving families, merry festivities and continual sunshine. Tornatore tries to include every anecdote he's ever heard, but there's no over-arching plot to link them, so he keeps skipping from scene to scene, and from year to year, without dwelling on anything in particular. As protracted as it is, the structure of Baaria is so episodic and incomplete that it's like a two-and-a-half hour trailer for a film that lasts a week.
Ivul (96 mins, 15)
After an incestuous fumble with his sister in the family's French chateau, a teenage boy is told by his father never to set foot on his land again. The boy takes the instruction literally, and lives for months in the branches of the estate's trees. Andrew Kötting, a British video artist, disguises the slightness of his Gothic story with some irritatingly experimental editing.
My Night with Maud (113 mins, PG)
A reissue of one of Eric Rohmer's most beloved films, a black-and-white "moral tale" from 1969. You could class this as a romantic comedy, but this is one in which the characters sit around debating Pascal and Catholicism, which doesn't happen very often in a Catherine Zeta-Jones romcom.