Saturday, June 2, 2007

movie magic

When I first began this blog a few months ago, I was musing about what it is about cinema that is "the magic of the movies." Though I had concluded it had something to do with the illusion caused by light shone through static images, I recently proved to myself that that is only a part of it. Last Friday night I went to the AMC theater in Burbank, whose walls are festooned with the slogan, "where the people who make the movies, see the movies," and settled in to watch Waitress. I didn't think much of the popcorn smell and cushioned seats that we're all so used to, but when the lights went down and the screen lit up, I realized just how long it must have been since the last time I saw a movie in theaters. I'm such a bad film studies major sometimes. Come to think of it, I think the last one I'd seen was 300. That is way too long ago.

Sidenote: there were many excellent trailers shown before the movie began, but one that particularly caught my attention was for Evening. Based on a novel by Michael Cunningham, and starring many of the same actresses that were in the adaptation of his moving homage to Virginia Woolf, Evening looks even better than The Hours. It has the same focus on mothers, daughters, long-lost remembered romances, generations, and sadness, but what can I say? Claire Danes has a much more prominent role this time, so I am bound to think it's better! Also, her love interest is played by Patrick Wilson, and their chemistry has already proven captivating...

The opening credits of Waitress set the tone for the experience to come. It is so clear how much love Adrienne Shelly and her D.P. had for the film and its characters, as is evidenced by the beautiful portrayal of pies. Our main character, Jenna, was raised by a mother who loved making pies, and carries in herself that same passion. The pies in the film are caressed and kneaded and made with the most spectacular panoply of colors and fillings. It actually made me go home and make a very simple pudding pie. Because Jenna and her pies are so inextricably linked, it is a pleasure to see Keri Russell's radiant onscreen presence treated with the same care and closeness as her pastries.

Performances were excellent across the board, as Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, and Shelly were always pleasant to watch. But the most incredible performance for me had to come from Andy Griffith. Portlier now than I ever would have thought he'd be, he cut such a perfect figure as Joe, the crotchety old pie-shop owner. Ruddy cheeks above a snug bowtie, white, wing-like eyebrows, and a maw that never stops flapping. He was perfectly cast. Other perfect casting was on display with the minor characters of Ogie and Cal. Jeremy Sisto, as Jenna's abusive, smothering husband Earl, must have done a great job, because I keep thinking of the Six Feet Under alum as a greasy creep, which keeps me from wanting to compliment him too much.

I think what pleased me the most about the film is that every time it had the chance to take a turn for the trite, it never gave in to temptation. In a movie about adultery, that's a pretty difficult thing to do. I don't want to spoil the denouement, but it managed to strike a clean balance between realism and fantasy. Certain expectable conventions were present, but they were tempered by the frank look into our characters' lives.

Though it is not directly related to the viewer's experience of the film, I think it is important to say that watching Waitress with an understanding of the awful end to Shelly's life is a bit painful. Clearly, a lot of love went into this film, and I admire so much people who are able to dedicate themselves to the one thing that makes them feel alive. As another non sequitur, I must say that it is a pleasure to see Nathan Fillion onscreen. As much as I love him as Captain Mal Reynolds in Firefly, he is much more than a one-note actor.

As the film came to a close, it became evident to me that I had really been moved by the experience of witnessing a universe unfurl itself, allowing a roomful of willing spectators to get a peek at its minutiae, only to close up and hide its future from us as we move along to our own. This is a big part of the magic of the movies, I think. Man, I just love watching them... does collective escapism make anyone else praise Xenu as much as I do?

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