Last weekend I intended to see Capote, but the E train was running roughly once every two hours, and always wary of being tempted by the Krispy Kreme across the street from the theater in Chelsea I didn’t leave enough time, and got there way late. So instead we decided to see The Squid and the Whale, and it was a lucky break; to say “best” would perhaps sound too objective for a movie of admittedly narrow interest, so let’s say it’s far and away my favorite movie of the year so far. A co-blogger once noted that should I become a father–God forbid for all potential parties concerned!–my children would certainly have such useful skills as the ability to properly rank Lynch somewhat below Scorsese. So early in the movie when the teenage son asked his washed-up novelist father about being assigned to read A Tale of Two Cities and he replied by noting that it was “minor Dickens, not nearly as rich as Great Expectations or David Copperfield” I knew I was hooked. (And when later on he’s taking the kids to the movies and insists on Blue Velvet rather than Short Circuit, or when the young woman flirting with his son expresses her admiration for Tender is the Night and he notes that it’s second-rate, far below Gatsby and if only he had finished The Last Tycoon…it was like they were putting my life up on screen, providing the pleasure of recognition if also being depressing. If you’re not a wanker but know one, even better!) The movie is remarkably perceptive about family relations and teenage ambitions and romantic self-sabotage, consistently funny while also being affecting. And the acting is, of course, wonderful. Linney’s brilliance is no surprise–there’s no better actor working in American film right now–but Daniels is a revelation. Anna Paquin basically plays a more fleshed-out version of her character from 25th Hour 4 years later, but she’s good at it, and all of the teenage actors score (special kudos to Halley Feiffer). It is, as I said, a picture of somewhat narrow appeal, but if the story has any interest you’ll love it.
This Saturday, having squandered an opportunity to see the ecstatically reviewed revival of Sweeney Todd as the result of my sheer idiocy, I decided to make up for it by seeing Walk the Line, hoping for another lead-into-gold opportunity. And actually the movie was better than I was expecting. Accept the strictures of the middlebrow biopic for what they are and it definitely works, and obviously this biography is an interesting one. To be sure, there are flaws. A.O. Scott is right that there’s not enough about the creation of his music. And while the decision to re-record the classics rather than mime them is defensible, you definitely lose something–when Cash puts on “Highway 61 Revisted”, hearing one of the handful of American popular musicians even more accomplished than Cash at his peak reminds us of the difference between the real thing and the decent simulations we’ve been hearing. And some of the big set pieces–the audition for Sam Phillips, the onstage proposal–feel too TV movieish. (For all I know, the latter is historically accurate, but it still seems phony.) And yet, I don’t think any of these weaknesses end up being major–the goodwill generated by Cash, both man and music, overpowers the flaws most of the time. The strength of the movie is that for the most part it doesn’t lurch from one set piece to the next, and the small scenes are generally effective. (Consider the casual cruelty conveyed in the brief scene where he insists on nailing pictures of June Carter to the wall in his workshop, for example; there are a lot of moments like this, powerful and telling without overelaboration.) And, again, the acting does what it has to do. For some reason I’m always surprised when Reese Witherspoon is good, but actually she’s a fine actor, and in this movie she’s ideally cast; her performance deserves its accolades. And Phoenix does valiant work with an impossible job. He doesn’t have the voice and (to his credit) doesn’t really try to imitate the master. But he always conveys Cash’s stolidity and his demons, and singing aside his ability to inhabit Cash’s complex stage persona is quite remarkable. It’s not a great movie, but better than such movies usually are. (And I’ll probably be able to talk my family into seeing ST when they come next month, so it will be win-win.)
In other movie news, I don’t really want to discourage anyone from seeing it, but I have to say I didn’t particularly care for Good Night and Good Luck. As a technical achievement, it’s impeccable, but I have a large prejudice against position-paper reading and easy morality conflicts in art, and this movie is loaded with ‘em. (Oddly, while one might think that McCarthyism would be a good subject it’s almost impossible to make a good movie directly about it, precisely because there’s really nothing to admire in McCarthy.) Clooney is a real director though; his first two movies are both failures, but both failed in interesting and very different ways. He has a great movie in him, but alas this ain’t it.