Rightwing Film Geek

Virginia Film Fest Day 1

Gonna try something new now that I can blog from my iPhone … a single post updating the films after I see them. UPDATE: I decided to separate the days just to keep the post(s) at manageable length, though I’ve updated each throughout the day)

I’ve gone to the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville several times before, but it has a new director this year, who wants to de-emphasize the “overarching” themes it’s had in the past, though it does have one — “funny business.” This year’s slate is heavier on classics and local films than fall awards-season stuff (though there’s always been some of all).

Thus my schedule is heavier on films I’ve seen multiple times, but never with an audience (real important for a comedy). You don’t (or shouldn’t) need me to tell you SOME LIKE IT HOT or HIS GIRL FRIDAY are awesome, so those remarks will be heavier on the particular screening or audience reaction or “things seen anew.”

My first film is about to begin:


HIS GIRL FRIDAY (Howard Hawks, USA, 1940):

Double aggravation at the start — introduced by a professor-type who said Hildy was starting her own business, and then quickly realized that the film was being shown on projected DVD *with the English captions on* … grrr.

Now seeing it for the first time since seeing the 1931 film of THE FRONT PAGE, and believe it or not, the lines in this famous fast-talker are actually delivered slower here. But the little gestures and side touches make this one funnier — Grant tapping Bellamy on the shoulder so he can see him fake-cry. My profession also means I understand every thing Walter Burns does, and Roz Russell here is every man’s (well, every journalist’s) idea of the perfect woman. But I’ll go to my grave thinking the suicide is a mistake — a real tone-breaker.


TRUE ADOLESCENTS (Craig Johnson, USA, 2009, 6)

What if the “grumpy adult bonds with cute moppet” genre had as the “grumpy adult” a Gen-X slacker hardly worthy of that noun. And not in a Jack Black SCHOOL OF ROCK kind of way, where he’s still basically a mentor, but with an adult character with a serious case of perpetual adolescence.

Mark Duplass is near perfect in the role until the very last shot, where he has to pull off the kind of soulful “look in the mirror at yourself” and he just doesn’t have it. The plot trajectory is entirely what you’d expect from the premise — Duplass goes camping with his adolescent cousin and the kid’s best friend and he grows. Except here, the adult being the buggest kid of the three — though the generation gap still asserts itself — makes the material feel fresher and tenser than it is. And it’s doubtful that he actually does grow. In the end though, it’s like camping itself — it’s enjoyable (I guess, in the case of camping) but you don’t really end up with much permanent takeaway except the journey itself.


TENURE (Mike Million, USA, 2009, 6)

As with IDIOCRACY, Luke Wilson is the least interesting part of a comedy he stars in. He’s a very average everyman, working only as counterpoint to the crazies who surround him. But this film, a campus comedy about an English professor up for you-know-what, often works exactly on those terms. When the crazies take center stage for a scene or sequence, it’s inspired. My favorite scenes can be called School Spirit and Erotic Poetry. And Rosemarie Dewitt also good in another “other woman” role — here, a stalker object with a backstory. However TENURE is not remotely as good as IDIOCRACY perhaps because it’s too good-natured and sane for a comedy. What makes the school spirit and erotic poetry scenes work is that the behavior is outlandish, but logical for the character obsessions they embody.

November 5, 2009 - Posted by | Virginia 2009


  1. Totally agree re: suicide. Actually the “capital punishment as macguffin” aspect of HGF made the whole movie curdle for me. It’s used so blatantly as a plot device that it _can’t_ be gallows-humor, so it just feels coarse to me. Weirdly, I think my reaction to HGF is sort of parallel to my reaction to MEAN GIRLS–a lot of the pieces and lines are terrific, but the way characters and situations get _used_ feels cheap.

    Comment by Eve Tushnet | November 6, 2009 | Reply

  2. Eve:

    I saw another classic farce today which has two scenes where gangsters are mowed down en masse, but that didn’t bother me one little bit. The key difference is that SOME LIKE IT HOT didn’t attempt to milk either scene for pathos (or gore fetish) and never used the gangsters as a kind of moral center to the movie the way FRIDAY had two scenes where Molly Malloy is made out to be a kind of moral center — her scene with Earl alone and her spitting rage at the newsmen. You can’t kill off a character like that in a screwball farce.

    But see … that’s precisely why the capital punishment angle doesn’t bother me — it IS only a Maguffin, and hence not much emotion is invested in it and there’s no violation of the film’s tone or the viewer’s emotions. Also FWIW, the Maguffin ends happily within its own terms (not that this matters too much to the film overall).

    Comment by vjmorton | November 6, 2009 | Reply

  3. Yeah–I’m honestly not entirely sure why the mob-fleeing works (for me) as comedic setting and the death-penalty stuff doesn’t. I think it’s mostly because the ongoing danger in SLIH threatens the protagonists, not essentially cardboard characters. So while I take your point that the gangsters who get killed at the beginning, setting the plot in motion, ARE treated in a macguffiny way, there isn’t the same ongoing sense that the characters we like are treating the personal tragedies of characters we don’t really know with insouciance.

    Or you could argue that I just really love SLIH and am willing to make excuses for it! But this “other people’s pain is the excuse for our shtik and/or heroism” seems to me to be fairly common to newspaper movies–I seem to recall that THE PAPER did it, for example, possibly with a race riot or racial killing which existed to provide drama for the white protagonists?? or am I confusing two movies?–and it’s more or less the only way to make me dislike a newspaper movie.

    Have you ever seen FIVE-STAR FINAL? My very most favorite newspaper movie.

    Comment by Eve Tushnet | November 8, 2009 | Reply

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