Romance is in the air this week, along with some sadness and regret as Will Smith stars in the drama Seven Pounds. Also opening, with another take on romance, Jim Carrey stars in the comedy Yes Man, about a work-a-day guy who tries to change his life with one word: Yes. Plus, the animated children’s story The Tale of Despereaux debuts, while The Wrestler and Gran Torino open in select theatres.
The words “Oscar bait” come to mind with the release of Sony’s Seven Pounds, starring Will Smith in one of those all-too-recognizable films that debuts at the end of the year just to give it a shot during awards season.
Smith is Ben Thomas, an IRS agent with a very big secret that not only changed his life, it has also left him with a quest. As Ben searches for particular people, with a motive we won’t understand until the end, he meets Emily Posa, played by Rosario Dawson. Among the troubled and sick people he has met, Emily stands out as a beacon to Ben, drawing him into a relationship he can’t fully accept, but can’t ignore either.
While all of the performances in Seven Pounds are compelling, the story is contrived to the point of exhaustion. Early on it becomes fairly apparent what Ben is doing, and why, and every step along the way is an obvious jab at getting audiences as weepy as possible.
Despite the obnoxious gotcha near the end, which plays out like a public service ad, Seven Pounds is definitely moving. Smith plays Ben with a fierce realism, managing both an elegance, and a brutal sadness that permeates the film. While Smith gives the film the power, it is Dawson who gives the film its heart, practically playing Ben’s tender opposite.
In the end, Seven Pounds is hindered by its style and the flawed storyline, but I’m still recommending it for anyone who likes a weepy drama, mostly because I was a big fan of the performances.
On the other end of heart and romance comes the latest Jim Carrey comedy about a guy who says no to everything.
Carrey plays Carl, a banker with a bad attitude who is still recovering from losing the girl of his dreams. When he meets up with an old co-worker though, who is apparently living life to the fullest, Carl gets dragged into a cult-like group who convince him that from that point on he has to say yes to everything life has to offer.
Much like every other Carrey comedy, there are hijinks aplenty. Carl gets into a bar fight, sings a man out of killing himself, and makes a lot of funny faces. It’s kind of standard Carrey fair, except that Zooey Deschanel is a treat as Carl’s zany new love interest, Allison. Even though she plays the real oddball, she ends up being the grounding force that stabilizes the story, not to mention Carrey.
Director Peyton Reed, who previously gave us the wonderful comedy The Break-Up, turns an otherwise silly script into something quite charming. He reins in Carrey’s usual overabundance of energy to make Carl into only a mildly insane individual.
Also opening in theatres…
The Wrestler (Limited)
After the disaster that was The Fountain, I wasn’t sure we would ever see another film from director Darren Aronofsky. Based on the buzz for The Wrestler, it looks like Aronofsky is back in form with a film that is getting a lot of great reviews.
Mickey Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a sad, and cornered man who only knows one thing in life, and that’s the attention of the masses when he’s wrestling. Working other jobs just to pay the bills, Randy has a tough life, made worse by a rocky relationship with his daughter, as he tries to start a relationship with his dear friend Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei.
“Present in every scene, if not each shot, Rourke gives a tremendously physical performance that The Wrestler essentially exists to document,” wrote J. Hoberman for the Village Voice.
The Tale of Despereaux
A mouse with a gallant heart is shunned by his community, but forced into the life of action and adventure that he so dearly dreams of in The Tale of Despereaux. This animated adventure features the voices of Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Dustin Hoffman, and Richard Jenkins in a story for both the young and old.
Reviews are split, but there are more than enough positive comments to suggest this would be a good diversion for families this weekend. As Claudia Puig of USA Today says in her review, “While the story does not quite come to magical life, the themes of courage, hope and decency are sweetly inspiring.”
Gran Torino (Limited)
Lastly, and maybe most oddly, Clint Eastwood stars and directs a film about a prejudiced old man who becomes an icon for the people he seems to hate. When trouble happens in his own front yard, the aging Walt (Eastwood) doesn’t hesitate in dealing with a local gang that is making trouble for the family next door. As the community celebrates him, he will however have to come to grip with the changing world around him, and the threats of the enraged gang.
The trailer for Gran Torino is an odd mix of things, and I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the bravado Eastwood pours into the character of Walt. Despite the oddity of it all, the film has a lot of support from critics, most notably perhaps, from Roger Ebert.
“Gran Torino is about two things, I believe,” wrote Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s about the belated flowering of a man’s better nature. And it’s about Americans of different races growing more open to one another in the new century.”