Film: Reality bites :(
Oh, god, what has happened to the comedian trade? The title that was once worn by such enormous talents the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, by nearly choreographed tandems of Marx brothers or Abbot and Costello, by wonderfully nut Gene Wilder or weird to the point of scary Marty Feldman, is now worn by Jim Carrey!
Jim Carrey jumps into your face and yells "Laugh, dammit, laugh!" He stretches your face with his fingers, to make you a fake smile. He simply doesn't understand comedy. Now, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin - they knew comedy. When asked "what does Dean Martin do anyway?" the answer was "he makes Jerry Lewis funny". When Jerry would find a girlfriend, the joke was that the girl was always nearly as nut as he was. Later, in "The nutty professor", Dr. Jackil and Mr. Hide spoof, Jerry played both: clumsy professor and his seductive, handsome alterego - such transformation that you'd have a problem noticing that it was the same actor.
Nowadays, comedians have moved to TV screen, so Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano seem to be considered funny. Yet, their humor is basically laughing at other people, not at themselves. They seem too dignified (or more likely, not dignified enough) to laugh at themselves. So then, are they comedians or just a snarky Greek chorus? There is Lesley Nielsen who was the least funny of his generation anyway, and there is Eddie Murphy, whose ways of making someone laugh are even more crude than stretching face with fingers.
But honestly, I think that the prototype of the most desired comedian nowadays is Jerry Springer. Yeah, I know, his show is not a comedy. But it is freak show that Jerry orchestrates, and he appears as a ceremonial-master of this freak-show, wearing a grin that is just about to burst into laughter.
Then no wonder that comedy is considered less worth, even easier than drama nowadays. Nowadays, every actor desires dramatic roles that will finally prove that he is a good actor; Jim Carrey tries so too, with uneven results. What, being a comedian is a shame now? Comedians aren't great actors? Real actor can prove himself only through drama? Go figure.
Then there is Ben Stiller, who seems like a fade light at the end of the tunnel. His way of acting is impressing low-key (which is a nice change) and his facial expression emphasize situational comedy that he's most often put in. As someone said, no one can embarrass themselves better than Ben Stiller. But then, comedy of embarrassment isn't everyone's cup of tea either.
Stiller’s 1991 directorial, scriptwriting and acting showdown "Zoolander" is one of the funniest films I’ve seen for a while. It's a merciless parody of supermodel fame; he can't turn right, yes, that's his glitch, that's why he feels inadequate and feels the need to prove himself: 'cause he can't turn right. And film has glam; it has camp, where would a fashion world comedy be without that? Where would it be without cameo of David Bowie?
But don't be fooled about Stiller's directorial capabilities. For one, he also directed, um, "Cable guy". Yes, that god-awful Jim Carey vehicle, and one of his most aggressive roles too (when I say aggressive, I mean aggressive toward audience, of course); side by side with "Liar, liar". Don't bother. I once run out of the house so that I wouldn't have to watch "Cable guy".
But you can say that Stiller has variety, if not consistency. He made a great parody, he made a comedy that is better forgotten forever, then he has his 1994's independent comedy-drama "Reality bites".
"Reality Bites", staring Vinona Ryder, Ethan Hawke and himself is, as a film, so-so. I probably wouldn't be writing about it if there wasn't for one thing that irritates me: it attempts to be a generation movie; it fails miserably; and it's my generation they're talking about.
Let's recall of 1994: grunge is a big thing; everyone's listening to "Nirvana", and then when they wear out all "Nirvana" tapes, they turn to their sound-alikes "Soundgarden". But there's a lot of other music that falls into "underground" etiquette and it's all well; teenagers wear rather colourless clothes, compared to 80ies kitsch; they wrap themselves in layers of shirts, leaving every layer visible; the message is that you don't care what you'll be wearing. There's a subculture, and it's the way it has to be: every generation has its subculture, and you're permanently marked by the subculture you belonged to when you were a teenager.
So I was a teenager in 1994, I remember when I used to wear at school first shirt that got under my hand. There were, of course, kids who used to dress carefully and give a lot of attention to that, and our not caring was a sort of rebellion against that: against a notion that you are what you wear (irony is, of course, that we were what we wore as much as they were, but that's a trap you have to fall into). Then there were teachers who thought that, if you dress careless, that probably means that you're also a delinquent, a drug addict, that all those clothes are dirty... Which was not true, of course, we also had our others who washed our clothes regularly.
To be honest in this autobioaphical digression, I never had problems with those other kids, especially not with teachers. I might've been dressing careless, but I still had a sort of nerdy appearance that teachers liked (what with glasses and straight haircut) and I was always behaving good and being a good student, yada yada. It seems so, back then, nerdy reputation was granting you much less trouble than grunge reputation, at least here where I live. But I remember how some of my friends were literally hated by teachers, molested by other kids and, being hated by teachers, there was no one willing to protect them.
It's all sad, because grunge of all subcultures, was calling to being smart, to be different; Cobain's suicide, even though exploited to hell today, to the point where nobody even knows what it's all about, to the point of commercial gimmick - was essentially his call to be smart, not to be led by such vane images as Cobain himself became at that point. Barely anyone understood that.
"Reality bites" was, I believe, strictly made to appeal to such audience, people who think with their own head or like to think that they think with their own head. Ambitious people who want to leave a mark in this world; people who work when it's time for working and fool around when it's time for fooling around. With which I have to say that I don't think that Stiller understood his subject very well. Otherwise, he wouldn't boil it into a romantic comedy with generation messages to subtle that, till the end of the film, they poke both your eyes out.
Lelaina Pierce (Vinona) is such person: smart, young, ambitious, just getting out of college as the best in class, and planning to make a career as a film director. Which is where we find first problems: even though the best in class and very ambitious, she doesn't even think of university. Even though chasing directorial career, she still spends her time shooting her friends in very inane conversations - something that will make no better film than holiday photos would (but it's seems like Stiller thinks that it would make a good film); even though she has no working experience whatsoever, she is still appalled that no one will give her a good job is film or TV production; and in the end, even though she gave her personal shootings of her and her friends to a ruthless MTV-like station, and gave it right to edit without her presence (which self-respecting director would do that?), she is still surprised that they made a pointless, sucky, crowd-pleasing video out of it.
Oh, and about that video: it's not just bad, stupid, twisting the point; it's yelling "Look at me! I am a stupid video! Look at how I twist her points and ruin everything she worked for years! Gee, kids that like this kind of stuff must be very, very stupid!" It's Stiller, unable to give you a subtle message. He does something, and then overdoes it because he's not sure that the audience understood it at first. The video we're talking about is so overdone in stupidity that it's simply not believable. We simply don't believe that that TV station would make that video, our suspension of disbelief doesn't go that far; our impression of a film as a real story with real people, is ruined; that's what lack of subtlety does to you.
Now, before video, I was telling how Lelaine is a character who wants much, but does a little to achieve it, and is yet surprised at how world won't accept her enormous talent and energy with gratitude. Ok, let's assume that this is one un-idolized portrayal of the person; let's say that she has this romantic look of the world as the place of unlimited opportunity and that she doesn't realize that she has to fight for that opportunity. But Stiller makes sympathizing with the main character very hard job.
Lelaine's life doubts are simply brought to choosing between two men: intelligent, but because of his laziness, lost case
Michael is, on the other hand, successful manager of the popular TV station; he's also a good person, forgiving and very honest. Now you think that, being a successful manager at the young age, he must be a smart person. But no, apparently he's stupid. I say apparently because he doesn't give impression of the stupid person, on contrary. The thing I know he's stupid by, is that Lelaine's friends constantly call him stupid. Later in the film, Stiller turns on his Zoolander persona hoping that it would help him portray Michael as stupid. The result is that Michael sometimes acts clever, but then suddenly has moments of stupidity when he can't remember the simplest phrases. It's as if he has a stupidity button switching on/off. Therefore, this must be Stiller's worst performance to date.
You see where we're at: by choosing the emotional, nice and on top of it, successful man, Lelaine betrays her friends and her generation - or that's what Stiller thinks, at least. By choosing,
Guess who'll win? Yep, it was obvious from the beginning that talent and vision will win over ruthless corporation one-time-fun producing; kudos to Stiller for giving himself a role of loser, but as I said, being a loser is what he's best at. Does it matter that until the end, we literally hate
To add to that impression is the soundtrack that seems like some "Greatest hits" compilation record. It is irritating when the choice of songs is such that you feel that the prime intention was to sell a number of soundtrack CD's.
Imagine a party for teenagers organized by old people. Imagine them scratching their heads at the question "what music do today's kids like?" Imagine them choosing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, even though you wanna hear Moby and The Killers. Because to them, all kids are the same; Britney is popular nowadays - that means that all teenagers, without exception, want to hear her at party. The party they make is not what teenagers like, but what they think teenagers should like. Such is this film, tackling a subculture, but with a simplified, outsiders understanding of that subculture. Remember the “Easy Rider”. Remember how this film, made sincerely as a generation message, got new meaning and irony note with time. “Easy Rider” is nowadays perhaps the best portrayal of late 60ies, with all their flaws and with naive open-eyed belief in humanity; much of that was not even intended by director (Hopper) who made this film with straight face. “Easy Rider” was made by insider and nowadays it depicts subculture more than any outsider film could.