Friday, February 24, 2012
Two New Cinema Terms
This is Dame Julie Andrews. She's an icon, a legend, Kennedy Center Honoree, Academy Award winner. She always projected a wholesome sweetness, and it's no surprise given her roles: the original Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady, Cinderella in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical (their first ever for television), and her film debut, Mary Poppins. Her role as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music only solidified this image of Julie Andrews as this sweet, almost virginal, creature.
As time went on, her films weren't returning the big bucks they once were. Tastes change, and people weren't gravitating to her movies as much as they were. The culmination was in the critical and box office failures Star! (complete with the exclamation point) and Darling Lili. The best thing, she and her husband Blake Edwards decided, was to change her image.
Therefore, we got a moment where quite literally she decided to make a boob out of herself.
She decided the best thing to do to revive her career was to show us how her hills were very much alive in S.O.B. To quote from Seinfeld, they were spectacular (though I cannot vouch whether they are real). In fact, a friend of mine who saw the copy of S.O.B. that I had rented confessed that the sight so excited him that he performed an auto-erotic exercise to Maria von Tramp.
I confess that the first time I saw Julie Andrews' breasts (now there's a sentence I never expected to write) was on all things 60 Minutes. There they were, doing a lovely profile of Andrews when all of a sudden I'm faced with Julie Andrews busting out all over my screen. What made this moment particularly shocking for me was that they didn't pixilate the screen, they didn't put a black bar over Mary Poppins popping out. They were out there, literally, in all their glory. I was quite stunned because that was the last thing I expected Mike Wallace to zero in on (although perhaps I should have, but I digress).
I have to say that I thought S.O.B. captured Blake Edwards at his worst: his penchants for forced humor and frenetic, broad and over-the-top directing was on full display (along with other things). I didn't think the movie was remotely funny. I also think Andrews did a better job reshaping her 'goody-goody' image her next film, the much better Victor/Victoria.
I imagine that Andrews and Edwards expected her to get better roles after S.O.B. and to be taken more seriously as an actual actress, not this sugary-sweet being. I think it had the opposite effect: people took her LESS seriously. (How odd that when she received the Kennedy Center Honor, they didn't show a clip from S.O.B. as part of her tribute. Wonder why...). We only need to look at her career post-S.O.B. to see that in the end, she reverted back to form. Can anyone imagine her keeping a-breast of things in The Princess Diaries?
As a result of this one moment, I have a new term: any time a woman bares her breast is referred to by me as a "Julie Andrews moment". Perhaps it is unfair to judge an entire career and life from one keep peek at her boobies, but I'm not the one who told Andrews that by baring all she would revive her career. She revived a lot of things, but her film career wasn't one of them.
For me, I always thought that her appearance in this lorno (light porno) film was an act of desperation, primarily desperation to break out of a rut. However, I was not impressed...at least with the movie. I think that Andrews' topless scene was a cultural landmark, only in that women now have no problem appearing topless in 'prestige' films, so long as it is relevant to the plot. As my film critic colleague (and occasional nemesis) Richard Roeper pointed out in his book 10 Sure Signs A Movie Character is Doomed & Other Surprising Lists, it is curious how Elizabeth Taylor to Audrey Hepburn to Grace Kelly managed to become sex icons while keeping their clothes on (I would add Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, and Ava Gardner to that list).
In short, Andrews didn't need to "show her boobies", and I think this is why I refer to these gratuitous topless moments as a "Julie Andrews moment". Her Princess Diaries co-star Anne Hathaway did so in Love and Other Drugs AND Brokeback Mountain (and I imagine in other films both past and present). Maria Bello did them one better. In A History of Violence, she has a brief moment where she is wearing a bathrobe, but it is fully open and we can see her totally nude. To top it off, she in a full-body shot looks at the camera and gives a "What?" shrug, obstensively to her husband, but it might as well be us. I also recall Kirsten Dunst had a Julie Andrews moment plus in Melancholia. I am perplexed as to why we as an audience need to see Julie Andrews moments.
For the record, men can have Julie Andrews moments. This isn't when a man bares his breasts (otherwise Matthew McConaughey would have built an entire career on Julie Andrews moments). In men's cases, it's the showing of the penis. Ewan McGregor is the go-to man for Julie Andrews moments in such films as Young Adam and The Pillow Book. There was a lot of heavy talk (and I imagine a lot of heavy other things) with Michael Fassbender's turn in Shame.
A Julie Andrews Moment: a scene where an actress bares her breasts (or when an actor shows his penis).
This is Justin Bartha. He seems like a nice guy who gained fame for his role in The Hangover. It was not a surprise then that he would appear in The Hangover Part II. I suppose in retrospect we should not have been surprised that we got more of the same. What I was surprised by was just how it followed the exact same story, with nary a deviation.
This is especially true with Bartha's character of Doug. In his character, I think we get the best example of not only why The Hangover Part II was such a disaster but also why it failed so spectacularly. In The Hangover, there was a clear reason why Bartha was not on screen for much of the movie: in short, it WAS the reason for the movie. Doug was central to The Hangover in that it was the search for Doug that was the driving force of the story. Everything the characters went through was in order to find Doug. Despite their flaws, it was the fact that they genuinely loved this one character, and that finding him alive and well was the motivation to continue the search and find out what exactly had happened to him and them.
As I watched The Hangover Part II, I realized just how unnecessary he was in the film. If Bartha was on screen for twenty minutes, it would be a surprise. That made sense in the first Hangover, but in the second, it was ridiculous. This is because the writers and directors decided to be slavishly devoted to repeating everything in The Hangover, and this includes Doug not being part of the main hijinks. This decision is made more bizarre by the fact that Mason Lee's character of Teddy was essentially Doug Redux (curiously, about the ONLY change The Hangover Part II made to their take on The Hangover). This has the effect of making Doug (and by extension, Bartha) totally redundant.
While I would still fault The Hangover Part II for being repetitive, I had a hope that something would have changed. If they had taken the mere premise of The Hangover and decided to throw Doug into the mix and have Stu disappear (a little Ed Helms goes a long way), we would have at least had a different dynamic to The Hangover Part II (and a slightly different story). Teddy takes the place of Doug, so one wonders, 'What's Justin Bartha doing in this film?'
I'll tell you what Justin Bartha is doing in this film: he's getting a sweet all-expenses paid vacation...and even getting paid to lie around a pool in Thailand! That's the 1 Percent for you.
Somehow, I can imagine him reading the script and saying, "I'm not in this very much, and while my actor side is unhappy about a nothing role in a sure-fire hit at least I get to go to Thailand, stay at a lavish resort, maybe see the sights, and have an expense account where I'm actually getting money to do nothing". After all, Bartha is the only castmember of Gigli to survive that fiasco barely scathed by the whole endeavour. (I've seen the movie. If you haven't, get on your knees and that God however you perceive Him and thank Him for that mercy). Perhaps, he thought, lightning would strike twice and no one would note nor long remember he was part of one of the worst movies ever made...or actually, TWO of the worst movies ever made.
Seriously, you couldn't even write a scene or two where Doug is bluffing his way out of having the wives take over the situation the men clearly cannot handle?
I was inspired thanks to him to coin a new term: a Bartha role.
A Bartha role is when an actor takes a part in a bad movie for the chance for an all-paid vacation, or at least for the money regardless of how it will affect their reputation.
Although he has inspired the terminology, Bartha isn't the first one to have a Bartha role. Michael Caine confessed years after the fact that he took the role in Jaws: The Revenge merely because he wanted to go to the Caribbean and money for a new house. Thanks to Jaws: The Revenge, Caine lost a great deal of his reputation. It also cost him the chance to pick up his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters. (When he was nominated for The Cider House Rules, he wasn't about to make the same mistake twice and was on hand to collect his Oscar in person).
I'm sure there are other actors who have taken Bartha roles. The entire cast of Couples Retreat comes to mind. When I come across them (and I will) at least you will know what I mean by a Bartha role.
A Bartha role could also be Laurence Olivier's infamous turn in Inchon or Ben Kingsley in The Love Guru. These two master actors should have, or MUST HAVE, read the script, known it was awful, and decided they could bear the shame of being in something so awful if they benefitted financially from it. That second definition of a Bartha role is tricky, because an argument could be made that they THOUGHT it was going to be a good film. Therefore, the second definition to a Bartha role will be reserved only when said actor admits he/she took a role in a bad movie ONLY for the money.
In short, a Bartha role, though primarily taken for a chance to go on holiday, CAN but not necessary indicate someone took a part strictly and solely for the money.
Again, I don't want people to think I'm slamming Justin Bartha (someone I do think has talent) or Julie Andrews (a legend). It's just they just happened to have done things or been part of things common sense should have told them not to be for the weakest of reasons.
A Julie Andrews moment: whenever a woman goes topless (can also be used whenever a man shows his penis in a non-pornographic film).
A Bartha role: whenever an actor/actress appears in a bad movie for a chance at a free vacation. Only applicable to taking a role for the pay alone when actor admits this was the reason for their appearance in said bad film.