4 Movie Collection: Comedy
November 29, 2012
Stephen Frears, Hal Ashby, Antonio Banderas, James L. Brooks,
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, Rebecca De Mornay, Michael O’Keefe, Melanie Griffith, David Morse, Nick Nolte, Albert Brooks,
During the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Geena Davis could seemingly do no wrong, appearing in successful films like Beetlejuice (1988), Thelma and Louise (1991), and A League of Their Own (1992). Among these hits was Hero (1992), a high profile comedy that the studio had big expectations for, considering the talent involved, but it failed to capture a large audience in North America. Bernie Laplante (Hoffman) is a shifty low-life six days away from going to prison and desperate to prove that he’s a responsible guy to the court. Gale Gayley (Davis) is a slick television reporter who interviews a businessman before he commits suicide and doesn’t even try to stop him. En route back to Chicago, her plane crashes and she’s pulled from the wreckage by Bernie who witnessed the whole thing. He takes off before she can thank him and soon offers a million dollars for him to come forward. Someone does – a homeless man (Andy Garcia) who met Bernie briefly. One can see what the filmmakers were trying to do – recreate the idealistic cynicism of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (1941) but they don’t quite get there. Frears’ direction, as always, is outstanding, especially the airplane crash sequence, which, in a ballsy move, the director opts to play out over Dustin Hoffman’s face.
After directing several classic films during the 1970s, Hal Ashby fell on hard times during the 1980s. The Slugger’s Wife (1985), written by acclaimed playwright Neil Simon, is an opposites attract love story. Debby Huston (De Mornay) is an aspiring rock singer who gets involved with power-hitter baseball player Darryl Porter (O’Keefe). They exist in completely different worlds and as their relationship develops, they feel the pull from them. He goes on an incredible home run streak and she feels like her identity is being eclipsed by the large shadow his world of baseball casts. While Michael O’Keefe is believable as a pro ballplayer, Rebecca De Mornay isn’t a very convincing rock singer. The dialogue is pretty lousy and the cast does their best to sell it. Fortunately, the two leads have decent chemistry together.
Actor Antonio Banderas’ directorial debut saw him cast his wife Melanie Griffith in front of the camera with decent results. Crazy in Alabama (1999) is part comedy, part coming of age story set during the summer of 1965. Aunt Lucille (Griffith) is a force of nature, a colorful personality that could only come from the South. She dreams of going to Hollywood and tells her nephew Peejoe (Lucas Black) how she killed her abusive husband by poisoning him. He promises to keep her secret but is pressured by the local sheriff (Meat Loaf Aday) to tell him what happened. Peejoe realizes that he has to grow up fast. For a first time director from Spain, Banderas does a surprisingly good job of conveying life in the South during the ‘60s with plenty of local color and period detail.
After the critical and commercial success of Broadcast News (1987), James L. Brooks ambitiously set his sights on making an old school musical with I’ll Do Anything (1994) that featured the likes of Prince, Sinead O’Connor among others providing the music. Test screenings were disastrous and so Brooks cut all the musical sequences out, which resulted in a more conventional romantic comedy about an unemployed actor (Nolte) who gets custody of his six-year-old daughter. Nick Nolte’s actor protagonist allows an insider like Brooks to take all kinds of good-natured jabs at show business. Like many Brooks’ protagonists, Nolte’s character is a bit of a neurotic mess and cursed with too much self-awareness. While certainly not as bad as, say Ishtar (1987), I’ll Do Anything isn’t as strong as his other films (with the exception of How Do You Know). It is nice to see Nolte not playing some grizzled tough guy but an actor struggling to make a living.