Sunday, May 26, 2013

About time for another Sunday meditation ...

The pond thought long and hard as to whether it might be a breach of confidence to note that it had access to a recent test screening of Richard Curtis's latest film, About Time.

After all, why would Universal and Working Title be doing a test screening down under, in the antipodes, amongst the gum trees and the koalas, if they didn't think this work in progress had some issues?

Sad to say, it does. There's nothing wrong with the work of the key players - Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson all do their best, and it's not McAdams' fault that for the last half of the movie she's required by the plot to keep popping out babies to keep things turning over.

Meanwhile Nighy and Gleeson indulge themselves in a celebration of father-son love which seems a tad out of place in a romcom. And what's worse it's man love of the repressed British kind, so when Gleeson and Nighy build to a kiss, it's a quick hug and an embarrassed peck on the cheek.

Nor is it the cast's fault that the basic premise - the men in the family can time travel back into the past, but not the future, and only as far as the birth of their children, or otherwise things can go horribly wrong - is entirely silly.

It's a Narnia-like premise that sees Gleeson pop out of a wardrobe or some other black spot, after clenching his fists, and he's thereby able to head back to change things around.

It means there's never much tension in the drama - after all a dash to the wardrobe will fix things.

It's a bit like the sight of Spock in trouble in the heart of a volcano ... Spock die, and ruin the franchise? You'd have to be a mug to swallow it ... or the sight of Kirk looking like he's a goner in the magnetic ionic positronic photonic sphere fluctuation orientation device. Or whatever. But by golly it does make you think fondly of Galaxy Quest (Or remind Iron Man in his ever so perfect suit, so invulnerable that the script has to contrive ways to keep him out of it and vulnerable, since krypton belongs to another plot).

Never mind, as a plot McGuffin, the wardrobe and clenched fist routine is so featherweight and illogical, you can be driven mad on the spot just thinking about all the flaws it introduces into the storyline ... and all the easy solutions to tricky bits in the drama that it offers and Curtis too eagerly seizes.

Like what to say about the hero preaching honesty, then not telling his wife about this fundamental male heirloom and using it for manipulative and conniving tricks, all in the aid of getting his selfish way ...

Nor is it the cast's fault that Curtis is inclined, via them, to preach - a couple of times - in the dire third act, about how we should just always look on the bright side of life, and enjoy each day as it comes, and turn our backs on time travel as a solution to the little things that ail us on a daily basis ...

Nor should we brood too much about the way the cast is all so smug and well-off in a terribly naice British way, since all sitcoms rely on that kind of routine, the woman a reader for a terribly interesting and engaging publisher, and the man a lawyer, because, well lawyers are funny but they can be naice and even hug their clients if all has gone well (though he still did look like a bit of a fraudster if you ask the pond).

The family live in a splendid English mansion by the sea in Cornwall, but sssh, not a word about any servants needed to keep the joint running.

At least for balance there's some nice byplay featuring a caustic playwright who's not too caustic but drinks red wine and says 'fuck' every so often, and Richard Cordery doing a forgetful Dickensian uncle - Dickens stands in for W. H. Auden in this version - though the character is so limited, he's mainly there for a few jokes and a mournful final speech.

No, the real problem for this particular romcom is that it isn't very funny, not much com hooked up to the rom, and unfortunately the real problem strikes the hardest in the third act, which isn't very romantic or funny, what with a funeral being involved (and if a viewer, seeking obvious parallels, does a head count, they'll notice only one wedding, done several different ways, with bonus gale, and one funeral, done in quirky style).

To add to the syrupy soggy preachy tone, the music is inclined to the banal and the sentimental (what a pity they didn't use the song deployed in the trailer to introduce a bit of energy).

Now the pond doesn't have a problem with Curtis - after all anyone born in New Zealand has to be celebrated - and has enjoyed several of his past shows, which is why we turned up for the outing. But by end of tale it seemed a bit of a pity that in this case he'd been allowed to direct his own material, and no second pair of hands hadn't been called on to weigh how more might be extracted from the material by way of laughs, and by way of romance, and what to do about the third act, which doesn't have anywhere much to go in terms of romcom.

That's the problem the production house now most likely faces, but the problems are deeply embedded in the script.

There is for example a "meeting cute" inside a totally dark restaurant - the fashionable conceit of eating in "noir" - which probably read well on the page and sounded good in the pitch as a variation on old and tired ways of doing "meetings cute", but in the realisation - pitch black with a clock on the screen to record time lapses - is about as engaging as ... being in a black hole.

When you strip actors of their faces be sure about what you're doing ...

And yet there's nothing that can be done about it now, because well, because you have to have the meeting cute, and any adjustments could only involve fiddling at the edges, not a re-shoot.

The test audience seemed to laugh and enjoy themselves, but the laughs seemed to tail off in the third act, and that's because the show lost its way, and became a weird mix of dad and domcom (that'll be domestic comedy to all those well off middle class types who've moved past romcom).

There are the usual rom montages and some nice jokes, but not enough for the pond ...

Wisely the trailer culls its material from the first third of the show, which offers traditional romcom routines.

Who knows if it will work - that's not the pond's business, nothing to do with the pond - and good luck to all those involved with it.

Nighy as always is reliable and engaging, and Gleeson is clearly and upcoming talent, and already the diligent studio is hard at work building it up, and you can read about the pitch here in Time for Richard Curtis to get back to rom-com roots, and you can see the trailer that's just been released here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.