The Movie Club

The Homely Husband

Dear David, Roger, and Sarah,

I just need to say one thing right off the bat, on behalf of hard-working husbands everywhere. Why is it that no woman can stand to be married to John C. Reilly? Or, rather, why has this fine and funny (and reasonably handsome) actor been systematically typecast as a spouse so unbearable that his wife would apparently prefer suicide (Julianne Moore in The Hours), death row (Renee Zellweger in Chicago) or sleeping with both a teenage sociopath and a redneck halfwit (Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl) to enduring the matrimonial hell of waking up next to John C. every morning, even though the character played by John C. is, in each of these movies, a decent, if flawed and a little dim, guy with a steady job and a deep devotion to his missus? John C., fire your agent. You are a sex machine.

Seriously, though, I thought Reilly singing “Mr. Cellophane” was the most touching moment in Chicago—actually the only moment of pathos in that wild and enjoyable, cold and brittle spectacle. But it is worth noting—and perhaps worth discussing further—that female marital/sexual dissatisfaction was a theme in quite a few interesting movies released last year: the three John C. movies mentioned, and also Far From Heaven, Secretary, Lovely & Amazing, Unfaithful, and (tangentially at least) Y Tu Mamá También. At the moment, it seems, female sexuality may operate under less of a taboo than male sexuality: The idea of marriage as an existential and erotic prison for men, a staple of theatre and film in the ‘50s and ‘60s, is now decidedly unfashionable. What is in for men these days—in a big way—is grief and/or early- mid- and late-life identity crises. See, for example, About Schmidt, I’m Going Home, Igby Goes Down, Catch Me If You Can, Time Out, Signs, Road to Perdition, Minority Report, Moonlight Mile, Love Liza, Y Tu Mamá También again, and so on. The protagonists of some of these pictures do, unlike poor John C. Reilly, get laid now and again, but with the gratifying and self-gratifying exception of the last one mentioned, sexuality is not central to their predicaments or their quests.

So, there is one matter for possible further discussion. In any case I find I’m still reeling in amazement at how many good movies I saw this year and how much there is left to say about all of them. For ease of comparison, I’ll list my top-10 movies (readers who want a prosier version can click here):

1. Talk to Her
2. The Fast Runner
3. Adaptation
4. Far From Heaven
5. The Pianist
6. Spirited Away
7. Storytelling
8. Gangs of New York
9. Lovely & Amazing
10. Punch-Drunk Love

Interesting, as ever, to note the overlaps and divergences. I would say that Y Tu Mamá  was for me what Talk to Her was for Roger: a movie I liked perfectly well but didn’t feel as passionately about as I did about the above. Also, I knew it would be on dozens of year-end lists and didn’t really need my help. The same went for About Schmidt, though by the end of the year I’d begun to have some reservations about it. When I first saw it last spring I was blown away by Nicholson’s performance and by its willingness to meander. When I saw it again at the New York Film Festival I was more conscious of its length and of what I take to be a forgivable but nonetheless damaging indecisiveness of tone. It’s interesting to watch critics argue about whether Payne is smugly mocking his characters or is compassionate and forgiving toward them: I think he’s not sure how he feels, and rather than succeed in making his ambivalence itself the narrative perspective, he waffles. (The opposite happened with The Pianist, whose subtlety, humor, and absolute mastery of what David aptly calls “classical” filmmaking technique were revealed to me only on a second viewing.)
Making up my list, I felt a little like Charlie Kaufman gabbling into his tape recorder, and I finally had to admit to myself that there was no way to get it right. In a parallel universe, there are seven or eight different lists, and invisibly at the bottom of this one there is a 12-way tie for 11th place. If I had been able to include festival movies not yet released here both The Son, the Dardenne brothers’ rigorous anatomy of paternal grief, and The Man Without a Past, Aki Kaurismäki’s soulful, populist male existential-crisis tale would have made the roster, pretty high up. (And what would have been dumped? I don’t know. Leave me alone.) They were both at the Cannes and New York festivals, and will, happily, be released in the United States in the next few months, so we can talk about them a year from now.

Roger, I’m glad you made room for 13 Conversations …, a movie I was very fond of that not many people seemed to like. (It’s at No. 5 on my list of the 12 11th-best movies of 2002.) And thanks for reminding me of the delightful The Triumph of Love, David, and of the quiet and moving I’m Going Home, Sarah, a hold-over from last year’s festival circuit. For my part, I’d also like to rescue from the onrush of oblivion What Time Is It There? and Last Orders, which just happen to be movies about … men grieving for the dead and suffering from identity crises. One takes place in Taipei, the other in London. Small world.

With New Year Best Wishes,