A gimmick that sort of worked in a novel becomes an obstacle that trips up this love story based on best-seller by David Nicholls. It is better at telling us to care about the two characters than it is at making us feel anything for the couple who stumble their way toward each other for almost 20 years.
The gimmick is that we check in on Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dex (Jim Sturgess) every year on the same day, July 15, known in England as St. Swithin’s Day, less a holiday than a Groundhog Day-style harbinger of the weather. So instead of following them on days when especially significant or illuminating events happen, we see whatever happens to be going on each July 15. Sometimes it is an important moment but most often it is more indicative than revealing. In the book we had their internal perspective on what was going on. Dex’s dead-on assessment of Emma’s room in the first chapter was as revealing about himself as it was about her. It was so astute that it made up for his cluelessness about himself and frequent boorishness for many years to come. On screen, even Hathaway’s radiance and Sturgess’ charm cannot persuade us that these two people would have stayed in touch, much less been dear friends, over decades.
The gifted director Lone Sherfig (“An Education“) resists the temptation to throw in a lot of signifiers of time passing, but inevitably we get distracted by the shifting hairstyles and conversion from typewriters to laptops and phone booths to cell phones. Covering 20 days over two decades means that there is very little time for each update, and without the interior monologues that gave the novel’s characters more substance, it feels more like a perfume commercial than a story. There is more wit in the interplay of the digits of the passing years with the action of the scene than in most of the interactions between Emma and Dex. Nicholls, who adapted his book for the screen, is too attached to details that do not work in a movie. It would have been much better to jettison as many as half of the days to give us a chance to catch our breath and see how the friendship actually works. There is too much of Dex’s “VH1 Behind the Music”-style descent into alcohol, drugs, and one-night stands (even in the book, he seemed hardly worthy of the loyal and principled Emma) and too little of the characters around them who are supposed to have been an influence. And there is much too little of actual events. It is Emma’s experiences as a teacher that lead her to find her voice as a writer. How do I know that? From reading the book. It all feels rushed and abrupt and unsupported, and the ending feels like a maudlin cheat.
My friend Jennifer Merin writes about documentaries for About.com. She has a thoughtful new post about a new project from film-maker Anne Aghion to create a repository for historical documentation about Rwanda, including a huge cache of footage shot during the ten years she was on location in the country.
On the Kickstarter page about the project, which has already exceeded its funding target, Aghion says:
Since 1994, all Rwandans share genocide as their central legacy. As they search for a path to long-lasting recovery and peace, discovering—or re-discovering—their common history and cultural identity is essential to moving forward and to consolidating peaceful coexistence. Our goal is to give free and open access to that history in picture and sound.
The Iribia Center for Multimedia Heritage, whose name means “the source,” will gather films, photographs and audio recordings dating from the start of colonial rule in East Africa, more than a century ago, to the present day.
Ralphie will be not only waiting for his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring and hoping for a Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle but also singing and dancing in a new musical production based on the classic movie (which was based on Jean Shepherd’s stories about his childhood). Co-producer Peter Billingsly, the original Ralphie, is now looking for kids to star in the show’s five-city tour over the holiday season. You can audition online via LetItCast. The audition will not be made public — the only people who will see it are the creative team doing the casting.
If you are interested, here’s what you do:
1. Record a video of yourself singing a brief song that is rhythmic and that shows your voice, high notes, and personality. A classic Broadway or a holiday song is suggested and it should be no more than 90 seconds.
2. Get a recent digital picture or headshot of yourself and your resume. (If you don’t have a resume, just prepare a brief paragraph about yourself in a Word Document.)
3. Go to www.AChristmasStoryTheMusical/casting and follow the link to register with the online casting site, LetItCast®, and follow their instructions to submit your video, photo, and information.
Casting directors are seeking to fill the iconic lead role of Ralphie and his troupe of friends and classmates, including: Randy, Flick, Schwartz, Scut Farcus, Grover Dill, Mary Beth, and Esther Jane. They are looking for children, between 8 – 13 who are extraordinary actors, singers, and dancers. The production seeks young actors of all ethnicities who are 4’ 11” and shorter. (Boys, your voice should not have changed yet.)
I have consistently criticized the MPAA for allowing the F-word in a PG-13 movie. It used to be limited to one non-sexual use of the term but now they allow it more than once in some PG-13s. It makes no sense at all. Either the word is acceptable for young children or it is not. Movie studios are cynical in manipulating the MPAA to get the rating they think will sell the most tickets. So they will throw a bad word into an otherwise-acceptable film so it won’t get a “babyish” PG rating.
“Allowing it once or twice just doesn’t make sense to me,” Minow says. “The word is something you’re OK with a child hearing or you’re not. And, still, in 2011, I’d argue that it’s outside the safety zone for children.”
The MPAA’s Joan Graves responded that she is open to revising the rules to prohibit the F-word if she hears from parents who object. If the language in PG-13 movies bothers you, get in touch with her at:
MPAA Ratings Board
15301 Ventura Blvd., Building E
Sherman Oaks, California 91403