Saturday, December 26, 2009

"It's Complicated"

I saw this rom-com for the freedom fifty-five set with two friends tonight at a late screening. It's a very well-written comedy about love in late middle age and like the kitchen our heroine is building, there's a few sharp knives of wit hidden in its well-oiled drawers.

The film stars the great Meryl Streep who has shown much flair for romantic comedy in recent years ( Mamma Mia!) as Jane Adler, a divorced woman in her '50s with a successful bakery business, three great kids, a gaggle of girlfriends and a large, beautiful and suddenly very empty house as her youngest heads off to university.

On the weekend of festivities for their son's graduation, Streep and her ex-husband find themselves alone in the bar of a hotel where they're both housed, pre-commencement. He has remarried: she has not. His second wife is at home with her young child, which, conveniently for the plot, is not his. It's the Adler's first dinner together alone, in a decade. A few bottles of wine later, complications ensue.

As befits a comedy for middle-aged people, the action is divided between the kitchen and the bedroom. Streep is preparing to renovate both with the help of an architect who has more than a professional interest in her. Steve Martin comports himself with admirable restraint as Streep's other love interest.

The ex-husband, played brilliantly by Alex Baldwin, is a somewhat louche legal lion who has realized, a decade later that the kitten he ran off with has long since become a cat and he already had a much nicer one and kittens in his former home. His appropriately tiger-tattooed second wife is marching him off to the fertility clinic at a point in his life when his children from his first marriage are finishing college. His longing for the comfort of his former life is palpable: you feel him wanting not only to sleep with Jane but to just come home where he knows he belongs and stay there, raiding the fridge with his grown kids and drinking wine in the garden.

This is a romance: all weddings and nice hotel rooms and witty friends and homes beautiful and an endless procession of culinary delectations. You know the Adlers belong together in cosy, late night domesticity: but there's a fly in the ointment. It's not the obstacle of Mr. Adler's current marriage which seems like one of the warmer rooms in hell, but rather the fact he's the kind of man who is only truly in love when he's after something he knows he shouldn't be having at the moment. The former Mrs. Adler knows him too well to be so unwise the second time around. Her wisdom tinges the film with sadness, a problem in a vehicle that requires by its very nature for love in all its heady blindness to conquer all.

I'm the target audience for this sort of thing and I enjoyed it. Unlike the lovely pastry Streep's character offers guests throughout the film, the ending was bittersweet and a little flat: not in the best way for such a frothy confection of a film to end in my view, but it's a small quibble with a mostly charming offering.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


OK peeps, this Sunday I am helping host the second OPEN SCREEN DOOR, sponsored by Film Training Manitoba, OnScreen Manitoba and the Winnipeg Film Group.

This month's feature film script is LIPSTICK AND A REVOLVER: THE PEGGY TAYLOR STORY by Winnipeg writer CAM PATTERSON.

This is an epic WWII drama based on the true story of a Canadian woman who was a spy for the Resistance during WWII. Alicia Johnston is going to play Peggy. Come on down and support your local screenwriters!

1:00 pm
Admission is free ( we take donations!)

East of Berlin

Hannah Moscovitch's much-hyped new play is currently on at MTC Warehouse and last night I ventured out with two hard-core theatre goers to see what the fuss was about. My companions loved it as did much of the audience but I felt rather lukewarm about yet another post-WW II drama.

It's a well-constructed three-hander about the son of a Nazi death camp doctor raised in blissful ignorance in Paraguay and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who grew up in New York. Set in the mid-sixties its a love triangle with a dark twist.

Rudi is fed the poisoned fruit of truth about his past by Hermann with whom he has a complex and sexually charged friendship. Overwhelmed, Rudi flees Paraguay for Germany to study medicine and explore his family's dark roots. Brendan Gall, all twitchy neurosis off the start, speeds through the text at a gallop. It's a credible performance but the break-neck pace left me with little time to empathize with him and left his character with little time to make any discoveries.

Diana Donnelly does some nice work and is deft with the darker comedic aspects of her role, but I didn't really see the emotional evolution of her relationship with Rudi.

The stand-out of the show is Paul Dunn in the role of Rudi's friend Hermann. It's a brilliant performance full of flashes of the emotional underpinnings beneath his character's wit and revelations. I was left feeling far more for Hermann than for the suffering Rudi.

The set by Camillia Koo is a marvel of suggestion, the rows of charred tomes and vaguely threatening objects suggesting a dark and hidden history. The lighting and sound were both used rather in the manner of B movies, telegraphing emotions the audience should have been left to feel from the text and the performances. The score was particularly overwrought.

I don't know if the brusque pacing was the director's decision or if the actors were just worried about holding our attention for 90 uninterrupted minutes. More time for discoveries would have gone a long way towards making this well-worn territory connect better emotionally with the audience.

Ah, Jews and Germans after WWII: I saw the NIGHT PORTER a long time ago which dealt with similar subject matter in a much more gripping and subversive fashion. It's not that you can't write about the past but rather that this play felt like it had been written in the past. Perhaps that's why the mostly grey haired audience connected so well with the material. If the play had been written in the late 60s, it would have been novel but it's fifty years later. I infinitely preferred SCORCHED: a truly brilliant and contemporary take on war and its aftermath.

Moscovitch has some half-dozen commissions from various theatres across the country for new work. I'd like to see what she does with a less shop-worn subject.