A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Brings a Tear to my Eye

In awards, drama, romance on February 24, 2009 at 3:04 am

Depending on my mood, I like depressing movies. If I’m in a bad mood, I’ll want to watch a movie about people being killed and dismembered and what a friend of mine calls “wrist-slashingly good”. I don’t want to go too far into talking about any other movies than – well, than the ones I want to talk about right now. But, I’m sure in the future posts will appear for these movies, including BLINDNESS, CHILDREN OF MEN, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. 

And while, all of these movies are fantastic, and mostly are capable of bringing me to the verge or tears – I watched a couple today that really hit me where I needed hit. In the heart. The two movies I’m going to go over today were funny, poignant, a little schmaltzy and sad. They made my eyes water (just a little bit) and made my heart ache, like the real, lonely loser, I am. They both focus on characters that, even though surrounded by people (in the vastness of New York City) are alone at the beginning. Both main characters have suffered a loss in their lives – one through an unknown set of circumstances and the other as a victim of September 11. Both movies end on a high note, with the characters having grown, or learned a lesson or just have kind of stopped being jerks. 

The first movie to talk about – which is timely with it’s lead performer having just lost his nomination for Leading Actor at the Academy Awards – is THE VISITOR, starring Richard Jenkins and written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. The movie also stars a number of Middle-Eastern and African actors, including Haaz Sleiman as Tarek; Danai Jeskesai Gurira as Zainab and Hiam Abbass as Mouna. 

The movie starts with Jenkins’ character, Walter, going through the motions at his job as a Professor in Connecticut – attending meetings, denying student’s papers that come with lame excuses and sitting at home alone sipping his wine. He’s assigned to travel to New York City to read a paper that he co-authored – although he admits that he really just added his name for the other person’s benefit – and hesitantly goes, late one night coming into the apartment he has seemingly also kept in the city, although not actually habitated in for some time. 

He realizes something is amiss when there are fresh flowers in the vases, and lights on in the bedroom, albeit they’re empty. The story really gets started when he opens the bathroom door to find a woman bathing and is then grabbed by the woman’s boyfriend. It is soon worked out that the people currently living in the apartment are actually the intruders and they pack their things to leave. 

The fact that Walter invites these people, who are obviously immigrants to the United States – and soon we learn, illegally here from Syria and Senegal – back to his apartment; and they accept, is the beginning of where this voyage is going to take us. And while my experiences with NYC are mostly confined to a short actual trip and endless days/months spent viewing the city on the big and small screen, this gesture is one of genuine kindness and kind of naivety. But, we know that Walter is lonely, and he also sees that these people have no place to go. So, Tarek and Zainab come back to stay in the apartment, only initially for a few days to try and find a new, more permanent place. 

Moving on, we see that Walter is still the odd man out, Zainab always acts cold towards him and Tarek is always nice and inviting. The fact that Tarek invites Walter to come see him perform at a jazz club, playing his African drum, sets off a friendship and an awakening in the spirit for Walter. So, when this is taken away, when Tarek is falsely arrested in a subway station – for jumping the stile, even though he’d paid but had gotten his bag stuck – Walter refocuses his attention on trying to help this man. Then the heart of the movie shows up in the guise of Tarek’s mother, Mouna – played wonderfully by Hiam Abbass – who is worried for her son, but as she’s illegal too, she can’t visit him in the detention center. So, everyone in Tarek’s life is dependent on Walter to communicate between them. 

Mouna is a beautiful woman, who has age in her eyes and is accepting of the kindness of Walter and accepts Tarek’s girlfriend, who is much blacker than she thought. She’s long ago lost her husband, and Tarek’s father to a prison/detention center and is now worried about her son. The relationship that develops between Mouna and Walter is wonderful and heartfelt and really just struck me as how “falling in love” really is. It’s slow and elusive. You feel unsure about the other person and in a delicate situation as these characters find themselves, it’s too difficult to try and think that there’s anything going on. 

There are no sex scenes, or nudity or even steamy kisses in this movie. Mouna and Walter’s love, as far as we know is never consummated. And the only real romantic moment is Mouna’s whispering of an Arabic phrase of endearment and a look back as one of them walks away. But, I have to say that this relationship made my heart aflutter. It’s so real and it’s so pitch-perfect to how I’ve felt a million times while getting to know someone, even for just a brief moment. This movie could easily fall into the trap of the “forbidden/doomed love”, or even the slight romantic comedy, but it doesn’t. It’s chastity and restraint are what makes this romance the more powerful. 

The performances are all strong in this, and – not to get into the topic of what was worthy for Oscars this year – I can certainly agree that Jenkins’ performance was note-worthy. He might be familiar to people as the Father from the HBO series, SIX FEET UNDER; or a number of other roles such as a detective in the movie WOLF, with Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson; or as the gym manager in The Coen Bros. BURN AFTER READING. He has the face for comedy, with those droopy, puppy dog eyes, the bad complexion and the nasally, monotone voice, but he has depth and it makes him relatable. And he’s good at physically showing, how I think a lot of us feel in our normal, everyday lives. 

THE VISITOR is worth seeing, for it’s fantastic acting, from an international cast; covering a topic that is very much of it’s time (now) but what will make you keep watching are the relationships between these characters. The love they show for each other and the love we see but aren’t force fed to believe, because it seems real. I leave a lot of “romantic comedies” thinking, ‘yeah, and in six months they’re divorced, or cheating on each other with Meg Ryan or Matthew Perry’. With THE VISITOR, I was praying that the characters would soon fall into each other’s arms and forever stay there.

The other movie isn’t so much a love story, as it is a sympathy story. REIGN OVER ME, starring Adam Sandler as Charlie Fineman, Don Cheadle and Alan Johnson; written and directed (and supporting acted) by Mike Binder, is the story of a dentist (Cheadle’s Alan Johnson), who – much like Richard Jenkins’ character – is kind of going through the motions in life. He has a successful practice, where sometimes he feels like he’s the subordinate, when he’s actually the one that started it. He seemingly, because of the buzz it gives him, takes on patients who are only there because of the attractive doctor – as is the case with Saffron Burrows’ character, Donna. He’s feeling suffocated by his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and two daughters, and then one day sees a man walking out of a hardware store. The man is his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Sandler).

We learn that after college they went their own separate ways in life, but Alan knows that Charlie lost his wife, three daughters and even his dog in one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Alan tries to get Charlie’s attention, but with his headphones on, Charlie is in his own little world. Later, Alan does catch up to Charlie, only for Charlie not to remember who (Alan)Johnson is. Cheadle goes over details of their living together in college – remember the sleeping nude, sleep-walking (which don’t mix well), and the endless Springsteen jam sessions! – and Charlie gives a hint that he remembers. Taking Cheadle back to his place, we see that Charlie is remodeling his kitchen, has the barest of furniture – besides a couch to sit on as he plays video games with this big screen TV/projector – and bedrooms with everything covered up and abandoned, along with his thousands of vinyl albums. Obviously, Cheadle’s character soon feels the need to try and help (save) his old college buddy, but the barest hint of asking questions about his past, or bringing up anything that isn’t chinese food, movies or the hot girl that is bothering Cheadle, induces a violent rage from Charlie. 

It’s burrow’s character, towards the end of the movie – as she’s made the voyage of crazy stalker (a la FATAL ATTRACTION), strange tag-along (like Natalie Portman’s character in GARDEN STATE) and eventual… hmm, I don’t really want to say “love interest”, but yeah kind of – when she cuts through all the psychiatric crap and gives us the common parlance of what’s wrong with Charlie. During this journey, with our main characters, Alan is forced to deal with his wife and his business partners and even himself. Sandler gets to be the sort of RAIN MAN of this movie, giving us a powerful performance – much like his characters in SPANGLISH and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. The range of emotion that we get to see, him go through really allows him to keep pace with an actor like Cheadle who we know can act – y’know, in that respectable way, and not just as the silly boy-man who never grows up. 

The waterworks here flow, because of that performance, and because of how we see Cheadle and the other actor’s playing off that. This movie is totally Sandler’s show, and to say he had me on the brink of tears – and not from laughter – is an off position to be in. But, I can’t imagine too many dry eyes when he finally confronts his past by telling his story. This also, isn’t to say that there aren’t laughs in this. Because he’s playing a character who has regressed – not quite to a child-like state, but one that can’t really cope with adult situations – Sandler gets to cut loose a little and give us some crude, non-PC humor, like telling Liv Tyler how perfect and round her breasts are. 

The movie also leads you down a couple of roads that in other movies might suggest how things will turn out, like the down-ward spiral and the eventual “committed” situations, but the movie doesn’t completely go into standard situations, although it does end with the possible budding romance, but even there we’re not given a conventional closing to that plotline.

The only other thing to really talk about with this movie is it’s pretty powerful use of music – which almost all comes from either Sandler’s iPod, or he mentions the band and we then get to hear a song from them. The best usage of this is from the song that the movie takes it’s name from, The Who’s Love, Reign O’er Me, which is played twice in the film and then again over the end credits, recreated by Pearl Jam.  This song captures this movie perfectly, not only in the scenes that it is part of, but the raw emotion and how powerful love is and sums this movie up better than I could. So, go see it for Sandler’s performance – a sad to not see him get nominated for this in 2008, for anything other than a Teen Choice Award (according to IMDB) which is kind of odd. 

Today, I felt like being alone. And when I feel that way, I watch movies. These were the ones I watched and I loved them.

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  1. […] people and society, but it took the two movies that I initially wrote about in my first blog post – HERE – for me to say, “I want to just write about the movies I watch.” So, with that, I […]

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