By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
As Lisa, Angelina Jolie makes a grand entrance in the film Girl, Interrupted. She's dragged into a cushy hospital for the emotionally and mentally disturbed kicking, swearing and tossing her unkempt mane. She glowers at the other inmates, mocks the nurses and leaves a trail of glamorous chaos behind her. It's a masterful performance not of a character but of a type, one that Jolie's been doing variations on ever since her break-out role in HBO's Gia. Even as she skirts caricature, though, Jolie shames the movie's lead, Winona Ryder, perhaps the worst acclaimed actress currently working. With appliquéd shadows under her eyes, Ryder struggles hard to illuminate Susanna, the center of the movie, with her usual off-key line readings. Suicidal and spiritually fatigued but with no idea why, the 18-year-old has been urged into the hospital by her baffled, comically middle-class parents. Though she protests at first, Susanna slowly settles into a groove of cool female bonding through insanity.
Directed by James Mangold, the film is based on the autobiography by Susanna Kaysen, who was committed in 1967 to McLean Hospital. Famous alumni: Sylvia Plath, James Taylor, Ray Charles. Kaysen's prose is brave and forthright, framed in dry humor instead of sentimentality. She pulls poetry from harrowing experiences, and it's a hypnotic read. Mangold and co-writers Lisa Loomer and Anna Hamilton Phelan capture some of that quality in the film's voice-over and in a few bits of dialogue, but as a director Mangold hasn't been able to coax a fitting performance out of Ryder. She has nothing of the transcendent bruisedness that the role calls for and is too weak an actor to fake it.
Girl, Interruptedis a big movie about indefinable sadness and grief, and it's fine on those terms. Funny in parts, it milks your tear ducts and builds toward a showy emotional face-off between Ryder and Jolie. Mangold cleverly conveys flashbacks and the fluidity of Susanna's time line by having the blink of an eye or the turn of a neck transport her to some past episode in her life, then uses an equally innocuous gesture to bring her back. He lets the camera caress Vanessa Redgrave as she gives a luminous performance and clears space for Angela Bettis' moving, layered supporting turn as an anorexic. But Mangold can't escape the fact that instead of someone in the throes of a genuine existential crisis, his star comes off as -- to paraphrase nurse Whoopi Goldberg -- a spoiled, lazy girl who's afraid to face life.
MAN ON THE MOON
A comic more indebted to Andy Warhol than Henny Youngman, Andy Kaufman took comedy's golden rule -- that Timing Is Everything -- and stood it on its ear. Ever ready to torment audiences' desire for punchlines with the distinct, and distinctly tedious, possibility that he might never actually deliver one, Kaufman was standup's milquetoast de Sade. "Wait for it," comedians like to say; with Kaufman, you might as well be waiting for Godot. That he managed to parlay such high-concept hijinks into well-paid telecelebrity as Taxi's mousy Latka Gravas remains the central anomaly in his career. Never comfortable with his success, Kaufman continued to taunt his public to the bitter end, effecting a series of creepy and frequently boorish forays into professional wrestling, born-again redemption, and the possibility that his (very real) death was actually just an elaborate setup for a punchline still to come.
Milos Forman's Man on the Moon, sad to say, thoroughly negates Kaufman's final gag, convincing us that the comedian really is dead by dumping cement all over his grave. It's no surprise, really, given the cuddly hagiographies the film's screenwriters, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, have previously furnished for the equally untidy lives of Ed Wood and Larry Flynt, or the contingencies implicit in hiring $20 million funnyman Jim Carrey to nail Kaufman's vocal tics and nervous mannerisms. That Forman would completely forsake and diminish the radicalism of Kaufman's aesthetics by rushing every gag and sweetening every intention is, given the wearing drone of "market forces," altogether predictable. That he should flood a scene depicting the comedian's funeral with the crocodile tears of actual Taxifossils Marilu Henner and Judd Hirsch when, according to Kaufman collaborator Bob Zmuda's recent biography, in reality they didn't bother to attend, is the sort of sick humor even Andy Kaufman would have recognized as well beyond the pale.
PLAY IT TO THE BONE
One of the most fascinating ongoing projects in Hollywood has been the Ron Shelton Sports Movie, a type of film so singular in its form that it nearly qualifies as its own genre. Although the game and the players usually change, the Ron Shelton Sports Movie remains exceptionally consistent where it matters most -- in its fast, funny dialogue, in its writer-director's love for the athletes, especially those grinding away beyond the periphery of fame, and in his great distrust, even hatred, of the organized sports that they play. Shelton's latest contribution to the genre he has more or less invented is Play It to the Bone, about a pair of out-of-title middleweights who get a shot at the big time. Summoned to Las Vegas from L.A. by promoters, Vince (Woody Harrelson) and Caesar (Antonio Banderas) hop a ride with Caesar's girlfriend, Grace (Lolita Davidovich), in an effort to resurrect their stalled-out careers. The usual male bonding and Hawksian-inspired banter ensue, with both men vying for Grace's attention while she takes turns playing big-mommy nursemaid, post-feminist harridan and va va va voom pinup.
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