Thursday, December 18, 2008


Do you ever wonder if you have been born onto the right planet? I mean, wonder after having survived the angst ridden teen years of egoistic bravura meant to mask the feelings of loneliness that hit us when we become aware that life's an inevitable quick step to dancing with the worms?

I am well aware that I am an oddball on this planet. But every once and while — usually after having forgotten my out-of-placeness for a while — the breadth of my perversity is reaffirmed. This happened the other day. By chance (or a strange twist of fate, if you want it to appear more ponderous and gothic) I happened upon a movie via my new digital TV package called 'Committed.' This was released in 2000 and stars Heather Graham and an excellent supporting cast. I had no recollection, not even an inkling, of this movie from promos or reviews or word of mouth. So I went into it with blind curiosity.
I remember reading, many years ago, a journalist who commented on the value of watching movies without having them contaminated by the pre-judgement of reviews or the false shill of the promos. And I have found from experience that he is absolutely correct — watching movies without any sort of expectation, good or bad, allows for a freer and closer experience between me and the film. I highly recommend that you try it. And this seems to be the single most common source of the critics' negative reaction to the film: it failed to meet expectations of it being a comedy, or a slice of life, or character driven. I had no expectation about the film, and so it was comedic — I laughed several time — without being a comedy because the humour was mostly infused into the film; it was about a person, but so eccentric that it wasn't slice of life; it was about a character, but the character was so intelligently optimistic and trusting of her instinct to life, that it wasn't the angst-driven sentimental melodrama so typical of American 'serious' film — as I wrote that I realized that writer/director Lisa Krueger managed to poke fun at this schlock American sentimentality in the husband! And very cleverly too! And Krueger was able to keep the cloyingly sentimental ending from the screen, when the wayward, not prodigal, husband returned with his tail shrunk between his legs. Bravo, Ms. Krueger, bravo! (Now I will be watching this film again — I looked for it in my nearby all in one super-type store, but to no avail.)

Anyway, without having expectations, 'Committed' exceeded them in a delightfully quirky way. And I found Graham, of whose oeuvre I am almost completely ignorant, capable of a very nuanced performance in a role that could easily have been a flat-lined caricature. I loved how subtly but completely she was able to portray and convey intelligent awareness of her committable commitment to honouring her words and actions — she knew that in keeping her word with a band, or friends, or husband that she was setting herself up to ridicule and/or disappointment in a world that was unable to honour commitment in the way she was able to do. But even with that strength, she was fully connected to humanity, and embraced with a fully committed heart their frailty and failures. The character of Joline was amazingly well acted, and I left the film surprised that I had no recollection of awards nominations for it. Okay, not that surprised, as the American awards go to women in 'serious' roles, filled with angst and the proper amount of nudity, which this film did not have.
The writing was deft, too. Joline was human — she smashed her husband's car window, stuffed a banana in his girlfriend's gas tank when that truth hit her. But she holds herself to high standards, and after lapsing to mere mortality here and earlier, she returned to the essence of her strength after taking a deep breath of her inner daemon. All the other characters were kept from being cartoons, too, with very able writing, direction and acting.
And here I admit to being a bit of a soft touch for eccentric characters who manage their peculiarities while remaining honest and true to themselves as they move through the minefield of what comprises 'proper' societal behaviour and 'acceptable' interpersonal discourse. So, if people must conform to normality in your world, then this film will not be to your liking. And that was, it seems, one of the threads in the critiques.
And I am always a sucker for a good play on words when it raises questions of human behaviour and ethical/philosophical values. Until this movie I hadn't made the emotional connection between being committed (to a cause or honesty or something) and being committed (to an insane asylum). At what point does one's commitment to a personal sense of truth and action in life become a one way ticket to insanity? This sounds like a simple question, or one that is easily dismissed as being rhetorical. But is it? And yet few of the critics — I think maybe two of those I read, commented on this aspect of the film either directly or indirectly. I was so impressed with the movie, and with being surprised that I hadn't the smallest hint of a recollection of it, that I went web trawling to see what others had to say about it. I was surprised that it was largely panned. At IMDb it rates 5.1/10 after 1600+ votes; and at Tomatoes it gets only 46% approval!

I am from a different planet.  And now I will have to make a point of watching films with Graham or Kueger's names attached.  Out of curiosity. Maybe, just maybe, they are from a different planet too.

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