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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 26, 2003

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Up With Bruce, Down With Love, Sidewalks, and a Real Man's Mag

I had every intention of staying away from Bruce Almighty.

I mean, how many times do I have to watch Jim Carrey wreck a movie before I learn?

Yeah, he's funny -- in a vehicle like The Mask or Ace Ventura or Dumb and Dumber, where he's not supposed to resemble anything like a living human being, who's better?

Jim Carrey: A great clown ... but an actor?

When the movie depends on the main character being believable -- when it's a Jimmy Stewart kind of role -- Jim Carrey is the kiss of death.

Liar, Liar needed somebody we could care about and believe in. Carrey went for the sight gags.

The Truman Show's whole premise was that Truman had no idea he was performing in a show every moment he was alive. But Jim Carrey is never not aware he's performing -- and so the show collapsed in tatters around Carrey's incompetence as an actor.

And it wasn't just Carrey, either. I don't have a very high opinion of movies about God. Leaving aside incompetent-angel movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Heaven Can Wait/Here Comes Mr. Jordan, what do we have?

George Burns and John Denver in Oh God! Which was entertaining because Burns and Denver were both likable; but which was also offensive, to me at least, because the writer's idea of God was so lame.

I mean, if God really were as purposeless and thought in such cliches of feel-good I'm-OK-You're-OK psychobabble as Oh God! suggested, why should any of us care whether there's a God or not?

A God who expects nothing of us and offers only warm fuzzies (except to people who actually care about obeying commandments, who are always chastised) might as well not exist. What difference would it make either way?

So why in the world would I go to see Bruce Almighty?

Because of Groundhog Day. Bill Murray's career consisted of playing repulsively vain and cowardly characters -- sort of a charmless Bob Hope. And he was cast opposite actress-on-a-stick Andie MacDowell, who has never had a pulse in a movie.

But somehow Groundhog Day was an unforgettable, wise movie that I can watch over and over.

If the script is good enough, and the director knows how to coax acting out of limited actors, and those very actors happen to give the performance of their lives, sometimes you can indeed get a couple of hours of silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Which brings me, finally, to Bruce Almighty.

It was funny. It was truthful about human nature. Jim Carrey confined his extravagances to appropriate moments, and when honesty was needed, he faked it pretty well.

It helped, I think, that Jennifer Aniston is turning into a girl-next-door kind of actress who somehow manages to be warm despite the sharpish angles of her face. (I hope she never goes off in pursuit of edginess, the way Gwyneth Paltrow has, making herself ugly just in case somebody might think she was a star only because she was beautiful.)

And Morgan Freeman acted the part of God as if he had nothing to prove -- and without the smug ain't-I-cute attitude that ultimately defeated George Burns's run at the role.

Mostly, though, this movie works because Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe, and Steve Oedekerk, the credited writers, pulled off a lovely balancing act between truly funny comedy and a human touch that keeps us caring what happens and how things work out.

It's not perfect, and I don't know whether it will earn a place, as Groundhog Day has, on my list of movies-I-can't-stop-watching. But I know I enjoyed it more than my seven bucks' worth.

*

Down with Love, on the other hand, gets more of a mixed review. As a pastiche of the old Rock Hudson-Doris Day comedies like Pillow Talk, it's dead on. It has the look, the feel, the flair, and the humor. The costumes are terrific, there's plenty of genuine humor, and the sixties film techniques don't get annoying.

The trouble is, Pillow Talk isn't a very good movie. So getting it exactly right doesn't get you quite as far as you might have hoped.

Compare Pillow Talk with a much better Doris Day comedy of the era, Please Don't Eat the Daisies (this time with David Niven), and it will be clear. What Rock and Doris filmed were smarmy little sex farces made clean enough for children to watch them in those pre-ratings days. But never does a character act like a real human being.

So that was a strike against Down with Love going in -- it was too faithful to an empty genre. And where it wasn't faithful, it erred -- the double entendres aren't clever, they're simply obvious and crude, making it feel considerably dirtier and less charming than the originals.

Then add in the fact that slump-shouldered, hapless Ewan McGregor is a weak replacement for Rock Hudson's savoir faire, and Rene Zellweger is better suited to playing mousy-but-tough characters than the kind of women that make men go goggle-eyed ... and you begin to wonder if they couldn't have found somebody better for these parts.

Never mind. McGregor and Zellweger aren't actually bad -- they're good enough if you don't remember the originals. And David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Paulson absolutely dazzle -- indeed, their energy does far more to sustain this movie than either of the leads'.

I had a good time. But I wouldn't bring the children. You'd have to explain too much. I saw Pillow Talk when it first came out in 1959. I was eight, and the double entendres were subtle enough that I didn't know there were any jokes I didn't get.

It would have to be a dim kid indeed not to know he was being left out of this one.

*

The Rhino isn't the only paper with good humorous writing (though Scott Yost is the best). In Sunday's News & Record, Allen H. Johnson's "horoscopes" for the county commission were dead on, funny, and fair. Many days he's the only reason the N&R editorial page is worth reading.

*

I couldn't believe the beep that whined about putting sidewalks in as Friendly Avenue is widened. Sure, cars go fast on that road, and yes, a traffic light or two would be a good idea. But that's precisely why you need sidewalks.

I mean, please remember that right now, with the cars going way too fast, pedestrians have to walk in the street.

I've walked that road before -- using the "southern sidewalk" (i.e., the gutter) -- and putting sidewalks in can only be an improvement.

Remember the lady who wrote in a few months ago complaining that when sidewalks are put in on her street, it will bring the street noise four feet closer to her house?

Well, folks, sidewalks aren't put in for the convenience of the owners of the property they front on. They're put in for the safety and comfort of the people passing by. You know, the "passersby," who have the "right of way."

In fact, property owners have the legal responsibility to keep the sidewalks clear for those passersby. They need to keep the bushes trimmed, the surface clean. Or those passersby have the right, under common law, to clear the pathway for them.

Because the roads belong to everybody. And it's about time Greensboro got serious about putting sidewalks on them.

Now if we could only get them to put sidewalks on both sides. On Elm north of Pisgah Church, the sidewalk runs down the west side of the street -- but all the stores are on the east side.

So if you want to walk from, say, Harris Teeter to Mexico (the restaurant, not the country), you don't even get a crosswalk, let alone a sidewalk, to help you along your way. Doesn't anybody in city government actually go look at these roads before making their decisions?

*

You know why Men's Health is the best of the men's magazines? Because the editors actually treat their readers as if some of them were grownups living real lives.

Take the June issue. Great, witty writing, as always; lots of health and body-building stuff, because that's what it's officially about.

But there's also a funny-but-true essay on the price of adultery ("Anatomy of an Affair," p. 121).

And a wise and touching Father's Day "guy list" about 23 things you can pass on to your kids that are worth way more than money ("Hand Me Downs," p. 146).

What, a men's magazine that suggests fidelity and fatherhood are important to a man's happiness?

And check out the powerful article "In Defense of Deadbeat Dads" (p. 149) that exposes some of the absurdities in the system that treats all fathers who fall behind on payments as if they were secretly rich and their kids were starving.

When that's true, then of course the law should pursue them. But what about the father whose business is failing? How does it help his kids for him to go to jail because he doesn't have enough money to keep up the payments?

What about the guy who was held hostage in Kuwait for months back in '90 -- and wasn't home a full day before he was arrested for being behind on his child support?

What about the guy who is still being forced to pay child support to the state -- even though his kids, and his wife, are living at home with him again?

Reform of the system is desperately needed. At the minimum, it should not be administered by companies or government agencies that skim off money from the child support payments.

Those who receive the payments should be strictly accountable for proving that the money is actually going to the children.

And the payments should be adjusted to reflect the real earnings of the father and the mother. If the mother has remarried or has a well-paying job and doesn't actually need those support payments, then it's sheer meanness and spite for her to keep sticking it to an ex-husband who is broke for reasons beyond his control.

Especially when the divorce was the woman's idea in the first place. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

Right now, it's pure bigotry, this assumption that every father who falls behind is evil and should be punished.

But read the article yourself. And if you happen to stumble on the tips on how to talk to a woman during moments of intimacy ("Talk to Her!" p. 114), I bet it won't do you much harm.

*

At the risk of shameless self-promotion, this Saturday night, 31 May, at 7 p.m., I'll be giving a talk (at the LDS Church, 3719 Pinetop Rd., Greensboro) on the topic, "Why I Believe."

No, I won't be explaining why I belong to my particular church -- I won't be discussing doctrines.

Instead I'll be talking about why I believe in God at all in a culture where organized religion is regarded as dangerous, and the faithful as old-fashioned, unsophisticated, or maybe kind of dumb.

Admission is free; no donations are asked for or accepted. Believers and skeptics are equally welcome.


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