Friday, May 05, 2006

RED ENVELOPES: Many Weddings and a Funeral...and a Random Body-Dump

Lately, my approach to Netflix has been to set aside one slot for my wife. There are some movies that she wants to see that just don't interest me in the least. (The infamous Catwoman debacle is a prime example.) But there's no reason she should suffer just because we don't see eye-to-eye on every movie. After all, I know she's not going to join me when Red River finally comes.

Unfortunately, my wife is not the kind of person who likes to sit down and watch a movie. As she herself admitted, you kind of have to trick her into it. "Oh, is there a movie on?" As a result, Morvern Callar sat around our house for several weeks before I finally plopped the disc in the player. It was just time.

The plot: Morvern (played by Samantha Morton with considerably more hair than she featured in either In America or Minority Report) is a Scottish stockgirl in a grocery store whose boyfriend kills himself in the middle of their apartment because "it seemed like the right thing to do". He leaves behind a novel he has written, and asks her to submit it to publishers. He also leaves her money in the bank to pay for his funeral. Morvern, however, submits the book under her own name, dumps his body in the moors, and spends the money on a holiday in Spain.

It's a start, right? Kind of a downer, but an intriguing premise. No. It's not a premise. It's the entire film. I've just told you pretty much everything that happens. This story seems like it could pick any of these threads and follow it to an interesting conclusion. But it really isn't interested in any of them. And that's reflected in the film itself. The first 20 minutes are devoted to Morvern having absolutely no visible reaction to the corpse she has to step over to get to the kitchen.

Let's think about that last sentence for a moment. Dead body in the hallway. No crying or cheering or anything. Morvern seems like a pretty detached soul. Well, she's not alone. Virtually everyone in the film is riding a major wave of ennui. Guests at a New Year's party mindlessly ransack a house. Vacationers in Spain never bother to go out and see Spaniards, instead participating in mindless sex games. (A man and woman called upon to swap swimsuits in a bag couldn't look more dour if they were in a Soviet breadline.) Among the only mildly happy people are Morvern's new book agents, who are too vapid to be depressed.

It's hard to imagine a more pointless movie than Morvern Callar. Not poorly made, but with no particular place to go and no real idea how to get there. It's like a vacation slideshow that focuses entirely on the packing. And nobody's especially happy, so you're not really sure why any of them are there. The Scottish Tourism Board must be thrilled.

Needing an immediate antidote, I broke open another envelope and threw on Wedding Crashers. It did it's job: it made me smile. This is owing almost entirely to the efforts of stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan, opposites who complement each other perfectly. Wilson's laconic drawl is wonderfully dry when paired with someone hyperkinetic, and Vaughan's second-before-the-explision personality shines next to someone moving at a slower pace. And for one of the films from the same core cast (following in the footsteps of Old School, Anchorman, and Starsky & Hutch), it has an unusually strong supporting cast, led by a friendly but still way-too-intense Christopher Walken. There's also a fetching Rachel McAdams (who, for the two people who will understand this, is in full Carrie Barrett mode), the amusingly nutzoid Isla Fisher, and a criminally-underused Jane Seymour. No doubt her thread was much longer in the original script, which was probably 300 pages. Throw in the obligatory Will Ferrell cameo, and you've got a film that's working a lot harder than you'd expect it to.

Because when it comes right down to it, Wedding Crashers is really a trifle. The plot is predictable, the outcome is pre-ordained, and you never take the really serious moments half as seriously as the people onscreen do. It's a confection. Like the old Bob Hope-Bing Crosby road movies, you don't really care about the details. You just want to see two pros do their thing. Wilson and Vaughan are the pros, and they do their thing very, very well.

Now if they made a movie about someone putting their name on the novel of a dead guy, I'll bet it would go somewhere.