Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Life Less Ordinary

A Life Less Ordinary (Danny Boyle, 1997)

In essence, I suppose Danny Boyle's follow-up to his breakthrough hit Trainspotting is no different to the many other romantic thrillers we've seen through the years, but, unlike them, A Life Less Ordinary doesn't even retain the pretence of trying to hide it's inevitability: of course, we always know that the lead pairing will fall in love, whatever obstacles have been haphazardly placed in their way,but somehow screenwriter John Hodge's decision to advertise this fact from before we've even met these characters loses the magic that can, occasionally, be present in this type of film. No, Hodge makes his main supporting pair of characters two angels, O'Reilly (Holly Hunter) and Jackson (Delroy Lindo), who are charged by their boss Gabriel (Dan Hedaya) of making two people fall in love, or else: if they fail, they'll be stranded on earth. So, of course, in the rather wacky, slightly heightened reality of A Life Less Ordinary, the central pairing must fall in love, because now the price is doubled: not only will they be unhappy, but these two angels will be too.

So who are this central pairing, this inevitably lovelorn couple, and how, exactly, are they thrust together? Well, Robert (Ewan McGregor, in his third straight film for Boyle) is a lowly cleaner with aspirations to write a trashy novel (he repeatedly spins a lame yarn about the lovechild of Marilyn Monroe and Bobby Kennedy growing up and solving a great mystery), but when he's fired from his job and replaced with a robot, he charges in and points a gun at his rich boss Naville (Ian Holm), and the whole thing transpires so he ends up kidnapping the man's beautiful daughter Celine (Cameron Diaz). Of course, Robert proves a rather inept kidnapper, but no worries: Celine is so smooth and confident, and I suppose rebellious, that she ends up taking charge of her own kidnapping... for a share of the profits, of course.

Strangely, for a film both written and directed by men, A Life Less Ordinary proves itself to be an oddly feminist film. Of course, this came when it was fashionable for the world to participate in reverse-sexism, a world where women are notably more intelligent and confident than the men, no matter what. (I have no problem with equality, but the current sexism towards men simply seems driven by revenge, which can hardly be what the suffragettes were aiming for.) Celine is so balanced, so relaxed, so coolly manipulative that she rapidly takes charge of everything, showing Robert what to do, easily escaping from her ropes and even offering a rather silly but convincing excuse to a curious neighbour who comes calling on their hideout. And so it is in the angels' pairing: O'Reilly constantly shushes a rather foolish Jackson when they visit Neville under the guise of bounty hunters. If Hodge's script had been more crafty, more elegantly written, and more sensibly compiled, it might have progressed beyond the simplistic exteriors of it's characters and created a more original film. But everything in A Life Less Ordinary seems pointless. Why draft in capable (and, in Hunter's case, consistently brilliant) actors if you're not going to give them anything to work with? The angel subplot certainly adds a fantastical interest to the film, but it never gels with the film, and Lindo and Hunter are reduced to mugging shots and soulless characterizations because there's nothing there for them to enhance. The script ambles along aimlessly, taking needless divertions into bitty scenes like Celine's forceful bank robbery and their visit to Stanley Tucci's rather unbalanced dentist. When, eventually, the film drops the kidnapping guise altogether, it totally falls apart, reducing itself to cliched romantic melodramatics and flat scenes of Diaz sobbing in her car.

I'm not sure if A Life Less Ordinary wants us to believe that it's actually spiritual or not. The ridiculous climax certainly points towards it, but it's almost so unbelievable that it might all be a joke. I can't exactly say that A life Less Ordinary is predictable, but it's plot turns are so stupid that I'd almost rather it had been. The cast, all a perfectly capable lot, are by no means awful, but they just dart around, aimlessly and rather half-heartedly trying to bring anything to their parts. Looking at the film's IMDB page, the current comment of choice describes the film favorably as "whimiscal and wacky"- if only the whimsy were charming enough to get excited about. Grade: D

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