Movies: One a Kiss, One a Miss
A Five Star Life
A Film by Maria Sole Tognazzi
A film that seems like a travelogue, but helmed by a lovely European actress, Margherita Buy, with an airy story, is well named for the subject matter. We all travel, to some greater or lesser extent, many of us guided to our bed and board by the star system. The best and most sumptuous, which goes in all directions of stay (or should, for the prices charged) is the star system, 5 down to one. There is a 7-star hotel in one of the oil duchies, which we will sample sometime -- affaire a suivre. Remains to be seen whether the extra 2 stars are merited or just the untrustworthy jazzed-up Pivenesque promo copy of the eager and unchallenged.
Irene has a dream job most (me) would throttle for -- a “mystery guest” at the world’s most revered and respected hotels. She is constantly on the move, along with a select round robin of similar women and men we do not see but know by virtue of their occasionally bailing, for marriage or other valid b-b-bye.
Hoteliers quail at the prospect of their last-word judgment, as a diminution of even one star means a calamitous fall in earnings, prestige and selection of guests. Big-city eateries have the same fears of mystery diners and food critics, as the film Chef demonstrated earlier in the year.
Stylish, independent, Irene’s surprise guest arrives incognito at the world’s finest hostelries to assess their standards, meticulously judging every detail from the concierge’s manner to the temperature of the food to the cleanliness of the carpeting under the fluffy linens. Like virtuosi in music who dissect and analyze every nuance of a performance of Rigoletto, she has a sophisticated checklist to observe and demarcate, as she sails through the verandas and pergolas of the magnificent beds of Europe and Asia.
While for many this would be heaven, mixing the better parts of Eat Love Pray without Julia Roberts or the homilies, and some of the perquisites of Up in the Air without Clooney, it’s evident that the air mileage life has its downsides. Her sister Silvia (Fabrizia Sacchi) is married to a brooding, handsome musician, with two kidlets, though the marriage is not the halcyon one outsiders might suppose. Her best friend and former lover Andrea (Stefano Accorsi) is now enmeshed with his latest girlfriend, who wants not only a child but more involvement with him as live-in father.
A chance companion on one of her stays shakes up her worldview further. She’s pushed into reexamining her choices and path-charting to her formula for happiness despite others.
Several of my male colleagues thought it a screed on women not being able to ‘have it all,’ and were unimpressed. We are not of that mindset, exulting in the lushness.
Is the film a jaunt, with loneliness as dismissible hors d’oeuvres, or is it a cheap way to visit the costliest watering holes of the globe for the price of the ticket.
Wish I Was Here [sic]
Directed by Zach Braff
You know when you’re lazily browsing ancient magazines in your dentist’s office, and you come across those puzzle pages? Often, the saving grace of these ancient texts and gnarly curled pages is one that challenges you to find all the ‘mistakes’ or irrational elements in an outwardly normal-seeming picture.
That’s what this 2-hour waste of time seems like. The strong desire to leave before 30 minutes have elapsed is vanquished by a game with yourself. How many things are wrong with this movie that apparently was scotch-taped together by Zach Braff, the writer, director and star, and his more than 46,000 (‘way more than the rounded figure, even) Kickstarter extensions. Hollywood gave a few token helps, but it’s clear no one would touch this with major studio bucks.
Is it the egregious early scenes where Zach, a 30-something father of two photogenic children, curses consistently despite the wife (Kate Hudson, far better than she is required to be) and the kids’ reminders not to swear? The unbelievable father then lets his kids swear as much as they want to, without any having to put a dollar into the Swear jar.
Is it the scene where Braff does not know the commonest Jewish words, though we learn from his father (the great Mandy Patinkin), wife (Kate Hudson) and brother (Josh Gad) that they were kosher for decades as kids and clearly had at least a Conservadox upbringing?
Or is the offensive and tacky scenes where the two kids, one boy and one lovely girl, supposedly attend a Yeshiva, but they are like aliens to the culture of the place, and the boy has to don a kipa and tzitzit in the car en route? Offensive as some of the early Woody Allen film canon, where because he was brought up Jewish, he thinks he can burgle the religion for mockery and snark opportunities? The writing here is not Allen-quality, however, but lazy, low-hanging insulting fruit all the way.
Or consider the road trip the three kids (Zach being one, too) take to the painted desert. They arrive at noplace in particular, where the loser/actor dad declares this the place he had had an epiphany years ago. They leave the car with the doors still open. Is that continuity people forgetting their jobs? Or just astonishing dumb film-making.
He and his wife decide, in the absence of yeshiva fees, to home-school their two kids, but Braff as dad knows almost ludicrously little, even in elementary math, history or language.
Likewise, when Braff gets hit in the eye by a male colleague of his wife, his huge jar full of money smashes to the floor of the convenience store. The next minute, he and the kids are leaving the frozen-food section, ice cream ice-pack to Braff’s right eye socket -- but no one has remembered to scoop up the hundreds of dollars in the smashed Swear jar. And the colleague has disappeared. As well as the toothy babe he’d been trying to seduce.
He realizes his father is on a downward track, and stares intently. But it does not turn him around and make him more, heaven forbid, more responsible.
Too many scenes feature ridiculous, and utterly out of place, Hebrew greetings. The Yeshiva seems to feature no actual classes, just prayers and singing. Having attended Yeshiva most of my school years, I can promise you lots of learning takes place, and scarcely any group singing.
Somebody goofed in terms of the research, or the script was revised down, because it is offensively unrealistic.
The key protagonist, Braff himself, is clueless, an unlikable self-involved slacker whose long-suffering wife supports her family as he “pursues his dream” as an actor. From the auditions he attends, he has no discernible talent. How did he get and marry the smart, sentient Kate Hudson as his wife.
In its favor, late in the film we are moved by the scenes with Braff and Josh Gad’s father, played by Patinkin, a thorough, believable actor who earns our respect as he partakes in this annoying if scenic California story about a nothing man struggling against his own ineptitude. The coast, desert and suburban eye candy are lovely.
A comic scene or two with the excessively bearded rabbi is capped with a typically Cali madcap moment as the elderly Rav leaves the hospital room of the dying and mounts the Segway parked in the hospital corridor. Unlike most products of American film, the rabbi seems among the few in the film (aside from Patinkin) who has common sense advice and delivers a few strong homiletic sermons to an unresponsive Braff.
Even the family Scottie has an incontinence problem we are supposed to find funny. His name, which has nothing to do with the dog’s looks or breed, is Kugel. (A Yiddish dish of agglutinated noodles, eggs, flour and brown sugar, served in a square glass Corningware vessel.) Ha. Ha. The audience I saw it with did not get the joke. Nor did I, though I at least got the ref.
Served me right: Notice was served with the very name of the film. It should of course read I wish I were here.
At least with the recent buddy film, Land Ho!, audiences enjoy the film enough to forgive its hyperbolic punctuation. And next to Dog Day Afternoon, Wish is among the year’s worst.