MOVIE REVIEWS FROM NR
by John Simon
November 8, 1999
Warren Adler's novel Random Hearts
went from hand to hand in the 15 years between being bought for, and getting brought to, the screen. I'd be surprised if the author could recognize much of the movie as his own. Dutch Van Den Broeck, in the internal-affairs division of the Washington police, and Kay Chandler, a New Hampshire congresswoman running for re-election, discover that their respective spouses have long been cheating on them with each other and were headed for yet another Miami escapade when their plane crashed. Being duped by the dead is apparently especially painful, and the enraged Dutch hurls himself into tracking down everything trackable, drawing the reluctant Kay into a folie à deux
. From the ashes of two posthumously wrecked marriages, a beautiful new romance will sprout.
Dutch, whom we have seen as a terrific internal-affairs cop hounding a rotten apple in the police barrel, is even more relentless in unearthing details of this still-more-internal affair. Dragging Kay with him, he sniffs around the Miami hotel room where two pairs of terry-cloth slippers under the double bed are waiting in adulterous proximity. Following a grotesque trail, he and Kay find even the Chesapeake Bay cottage in which the cheating couple used to play house away from home.
The maniacal frenzy with which Dutch hopes to discover heaven knows what (used prophylactics?) makes him a less than sympathetic character, not helped by Harrison Ford's brutish stolidity yielding only now and then to brutish fury. Once a pleasantly easeful actor, Ford has gone earnest by turning as stiff as any log floating downstream to the saw mill, his hedgehog hairstyle, if anything, even less perturbable. Under the circumstances, Kristin Scott Thomas, who manages to play a woman touchingly falling in love with this lug, or log, is downright amazing. Sydney Pollack, a good director, has not only directed routinely, but also contributes a supporting performance matching in stodginess the one he gave in Eyes Wide Shut.
Highly touted as the film of the season, Fight Club is actually a movie that could perhaps be used as an insect repellent if it did not also assault human sensibilities. The director, David Fincher, who scored with Seven and wobbled with The Game, now plummets to what, in better times, might have been deemed rock bottom. Fincher features weird gimmicks in his movies, gimmicks that have steadily gotten gimmickier. The one wagging Fight Club is so outlandish as to demonstrate how indistinguishable excessive cleverness can be from stupidity.
What regrettably shields Fincher, the screenwriter Jim Uhls, and Chuck Palahniuk, author of the underlying novel, is that no reviewer can, in good conscience, give away that preposterous gimmick. Too bad, too, that the film begins with a storyline that, though far-fetched, is not without interest, but is soon dropped in favor of matchlessly sadomasochistic virulence combined with perfect incredibility.
We start with Narrator (no other name is given), a mid-level white-collar worker so bored with his job as to become addicted to amassing IKEA furniture he cannot use. To ease his malaise and insomnia, he seeks out all conceivable nocturnal support-group meetings, and, under an assumed name, pretends to be a fellow sufferer, just to feel something. His troubles begin when he meets Marla Singer, an attractive but hyperneurotic young woman who plays the same game, yet, at first, harshly snubs his attempts at co-conspiracy.
Soon, worse befalls both him and the movie. Tyler Durden, a young man who sat next to him on a plane, leads Narrator on night-prowling expeditions on which the two fight each other, or get a growing legion of fellow nightcrawlers to engage in bloody brawls. They form a fight club, heavily laden with overtly macho and covertly homoerotic symbolism, eventually leading to the unspeakable, or at least the not-to-be-divulged.
Do not, however, hold out the hope that if the whole is absurd, the parts, at any rate, might satisfy. How seriously can you take, for example, a reputable office-worker arriving on the job every day more bloodied, disfigured, and disreputable-looking without being fired by his prissy supervisor? If the more improbable stretches of Fight Club could be marketed, they might put rubber bands out of business. Also, bits of dialogue are so unintentionally laughable as to keep the wrong side of your mouth working overtime.
As Narrator, Edward Norton continues his recent predilection for unsavory roles well played. As the bisexually heartthrobby Tyler and the daintily dirty Marla, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter also do their damnedest in a hopeless cause that, given current audience and critical tastes, may not be all that hopeless, alas. Conspicuous among a rogue's gallery of supporting players is the musician Meat Loaf, whom the New York Times once referred to as Mr. Loaf, and who here qualifies as Mr. Oaf. And let's not forget the Dust Brothers, whose music adds its not inconsiderable bit of wormwood to the rest.
Having barely recovered from Fight Club, I was hit with Rob Reiner's The Story of Us, which not only mates the soggy and the sappy, but manages to carry them conjointly to yet unplumbed depths. Purporting to be a mature look at what derails a 15-year-old marriage, the film itself becomes unhinged as it tries to be both searing and cheering, both honeyed and honest. This is not to say that drama and comedy don't mix, only that if you don't know how to mix ingredients for a cocktail, you had better not tend bar. Reiner's comedy, in any case, is leaden; his tears, pure glycerin.
Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer as Ben and Katie Jordan live in a model home with model teenage children (one boy, one girl), and play happy games at the dinner table. But it's all a sham: The moment the catered-to kids are off to camp, the infighting begins and divorce lurks around each cozy corner.
As co-authored by the television sitcom-writer Alan Zweibel and the actress-turned-filmmaker Jessie Nelson, the screenplay puts two potentially interesting actors through embarrassing routines, such as Willis running around the kitchen naked save for a skimpy apron, and Pfeiffer consulting with two ditsy matrons in a restaurant on how to ward off one's husband's connubial ardors. Willis, you see, is the kind of clod who does not notice when the family car's dashboard indicator points to low windshield-wiper fluid, while sensitive Pfeiffer notices acutely. (Unfortunately, there are no needles to point out when authorial invention is running low.) When the Jordans take a trip to Venice to rekindle their marriage, they are sabotaged by a couple of cliché ugly-American tourists, goons who block the lagoons.
The movie ceaselessly switches periods, indicated by giving the balding Willis more or less fake hair, the lovely Pfeiffer one more exaggerated coiffure after another. This is, of course, of tremendous interest to the wigmakers and hairdressers in the audience, but leaves the rest of us sadly out. The climax is reached in an endless, bathetic speech wherein Pfeiffer suddenly pleads for keeping the marriage together, which the hapless actress rattles off with the film's only convincing emotion: embarrassment.