Thursday, July 02, 2009

Films of the 00s: Wonder Boys

At noon today, July 2, we will officially hit the midpoint of 2009. As is true for a lot of you, I'm sure, there are contexts in my professional and personal life in which I can barely handle the fact that half of the calendar year has already passed. The prospect of So Much To Get Done, shot through with the horror of Where Does All The Time Go?, can be quite debilitating, so I choose to redirect that energy into a sort of New Year's Eve-ish posture of wistful serenity: Remember This? How About That? Look At Everything We've Done.

Getting closer not just to the end of the year but to the end of a decade—I know, I know, not in mathematical point of fact, but by cultural consensus—means that the retrospective mood is setting in strong and early, and it's here to stay for at least six more months. I've been thinking about all the movies I've seen that came out since all of our computerized infrastructures didn't crash at Y2K. Though I often feel compelled to revisit durable favorites, my stronger desires of late have been to catch films that sailed past me in their commercial runs, or to take a second or third spin with titles from the 00s that I worry I might have under- or over-rated, or cases where I flatly can't predict how I'll feel about a given film now that more years have passed. So, unlike that "Plays of the 00s" series that's unfolding on my miniature theater blog, which revolves around annual prize-winners and word-of-mouth hits, my "Films of the 00s" series, inaugurated as 2009 has officially begun winding down instead of up, has broader and weirder goals: taking stock of films I missed, films where I didn't match the critical consensus, films that I felt mixed about at the time and still do, films I've caught myself flashing back to when I never thought I would, films that were personal pets at the time but that I haven't thought about a lick since, films that in one way or another say, "Give me one more chance!" Stay tuned through the rest of the year.... among other things, this project oughta help me craft some Best of the Decade lists that I can really strongly get behind.

To kick things off, I took a third spin with Wonder Boys, a film I loved enough in 2000 to see it twice, even though Paramount had a hell of a time selling even one ticket to almost anyone except delighted critics and devoted cinephiles. They even released it twice, to no commercial avail. I was an ardent fan at the time. Suddenly, in 2009, I find that I'm... just a fan. The problem, it turns out, is its star performance, one of the very elements that drew the most hosannas at the time, including from me. From my new review:

"What Wonder Boys has in spades, beyond the heroic self-confidence to make a dramedy with so many non-cartoonish adult and semi-adult characters (and academics at that!), is a terrific sense of economy: you don't, for example, need to see much of the Grady/Sara relationship to glean a strong sense of its moods and backstories, just like you don't need more than one vertiginously high-angled shot of a wet slice of pizza, drooping over a porch railing in the rainy dawn, to 'get' everything about the previous night's wild party. But Douglas's self-regarding persona and, I dare add, the story's and the script's own notions of Grady seem much less contiguous than I remembered them being with that air of crystallized understatement. The movie pushes him at us, almost as much as that infamously awful poster did...."

Read the rest here, and enjoy the series as it progresses, doubtless in fits and starts (doesn't everything around here?). I won't always have quite this much to say, or quite this much time to say it in, but hopefully I'll take occasions to jot at least something about films like Wonder Boys that I barely spoke about at the time, despite having lots of thoughts about them.

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Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

So ambitious you are!

5:10 PM, July 02, 2009  
Anonymous Kettle said...

This from you??

2:28 AM, July 03, 2009  

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