Finding joy during grief.
I haven’t read the book yet, but what the film has going for it was how it opened: The right song playing as the studio logos are presented. Then we’re taken into Gerry and Holly emerging from the subway. It instantly brings up questions. Is he a creep? Did you by any chance grab the wrong film? You probably wouldn’t be asking both questions because of the tone already gives you a clue (it’s not a stalking issue). After all, ‘Promising Young Woman’ still won’t be released in another 13 years, so its unlikely that Richard LaGravenese will do that to us while The Pogues’ ‘Love You Till The End’ plays. The downside is the film loses points on how it wraps up the argument. It becomes quite cheesy compared to well written (if you’ve got the captions on – it’ll make quite a difference) and executed section before it.
The Setup: Holly (Hilary Swank) and Gerry (Gerard Butler) have been married for nine years. He’s sloughing away building a business while she is still unsure about what she wants in life. Fortunately, it has nothing to do with her husband (who she married when she was 19), and it’s all to do with the lack of not taking the time to be a whole person before sharing it with another. If you look at those who keep trying to nudge singles to find their life partner, it’s usually because they are dissatisfied with an aspect of their life. Maybe it’s even their own marriage (or lack of a relationship that is going towards that direction). This is the biggest challenge we have in our society: Alonement isn’t looked upon favourably. Another reason I avoid watching films from cultures that vilify those who are steadfast in waiting for the right person. Usually the films that are able to speak to me come from where diversity is celebrated, because they know that the more time they work on themselves, the more successful their marriage would be.
The Inciting Incident: Holly receives a voice recording and letter from Gerry on her 30th birthday letting her know that ten letters are on their way. It’s a slightly dark turn, but it works well for our protagonist that somehow she’s more open to her husband’s suggestions (because how can you argue with a dead man?). The letters arrive from various individuals in addition to the ones that come through normally through snail mail. Her husband’s death puts a hold on her life and we find her weeks into her grief unshowered and belting out classic film songs (Judy Garland’s ‘The Man That Got Away’) like her apartment was a stage. It’s rare that grief enables a person to find themselves (at least while the one doing the grieving), because if a loss is suffered, no matter the effort to run away from it…it eventually catches up.
The Stakes: Holly forever losing her connection with her late husband. I understand every spouse goes through grief in their own way. For Holly, she has to somehow have that proof that the connection was as real what she felt when she met her husband for the first time. It’s a challenge because her mother, Patricia (Kathy Bates), was not particularly fond of him. Her friends Sharon (Gina Gershon) and Denise (Lisa Kudrow) are in the process of moving on with their lives. Though they are they to support her, it seems to be something between her and her late husband. It’s odd that the antagonist of the film has passed away, but the flashbacks help us stitch the missing pieces while Holly reads and follows each letter.
It probably should be established that I think Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler are two very capable performers. The former showing more range than the latter (maybe just because he has yet to be given those parts), so I think the ‘duds’ in this film might be more of an editing issue. If there was some sort of a bridge to link up Holly jumping in Gerry’s arms (8:08) after their fight to Gerry’s dance (11:00), it might mesh better. Then instead of having us watch Holly sing along to Judy Garland the entire time, we could have been taken outside (at 26:35) with Denise, Sharon, Patricia, and Ciara as they approached the front door, unsure if they should enter and wonder about what’s happening inside. The reveal could happen as we stay behind their shoulders for the last bit of the performance as the door opens to show that last bit of Holly singing.
I pondered a similar question when looking at why the pairing of Joan Watson and Mycroft Holmes didn’t work in ‘Elementary’ (there were viewers who were not crazy about it – even if Lucy Liu is just a year younger compared to Rhys Ifans). The answer could have been withholding scenes. Of course I couldn’t be 100% sure, because I haven’t visited that particular universe which has it. One approach was to axe the scenes that happen behind closed doors. I thought they had good chemistry, aside from that one scene (pillow talk). There’s a note from a viewer who points out that we don’t really get why Holly is a catch (or at least why Gerry gets so attached to her), and I definitely agree that the addition of that information would ‘level up’ the story itself. But even if Holly did not deserve this man, the truth is that we pick our partners for reasons that sometimes we are unable to convey. Gerry picked her and is determined to make her happy (so it also helps that they ended up married – as it would definitely be quite creepy if there’s this guy that is hanging around…just to be there for her). But in looking at when they first met, it seems to confirm that Gerry is a ‘carer’ and derives satisfaction in helping Holly find herself (as writes in one of his letters).
- The challenge of choosing who swims to shore
- Denise’s questionnaire for future husbands
- Holly embodying being a fictional Princess of Finland
- The dangers of Karaoke
Roger Ebert has ‘The Lake House’ and I was surprised that Manohla Dargis has hers. No, it’ isn’t Richard Curtis’ 2013 masterpiece ‘About Time’. Maybe it is, but it’s probably something that could come up in a Q&A as A.O. Scott got that particular assignment. Since reviews in The New York Times are as formal as they get (individuals are addressed as Mr./Miss/Ms/Mrs), it was quite a surprise to read that Manohla was touched enough that she teared up during her initial viewing of this particular film. I’m making a note to search for her appearing in podcasts as I still have that image of her as this rigid and dismissive person (based on her piece about the flood of films to review). If faced with choosing between a conversation with her or a colleague, I’m bound to choose Anthony as I had come across him sharing his love for ‘Ratatouille’ in an episode of ‘This Movie Changed Me’.
There has been talk that other actors (like Sandra Bullock or Meg Ryan) could have done a better job playing Holly, but what these viewers fail to account is the chemistry between Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. Since it’s a feat to get all these things working together in addition to film financing, it is also a similar feat to be able to pull of scheduling of the cast. Will getting someone specifically from the Rom Com world be a better option? I would definitely like to see that play out. But I like that both aren’t really from that world. It could have helped if certain scenes were rewritten for both leads. Maybe even turned to Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Sunset’ on building up character and scenes. Particularly their meeting for the first time. It kind of comes across as creepy and I’m not sure it’s the best example to show young people about walking off by yourself (I mean it would have helped if there was a tour group nearby). I thought it was odd that Holly didn’t at least have her guard up (given what we know about how protective her mother is).
So if you had read the book and by the first couple of minutes (maybe even the trailers?), think that Hilary and Gerard lack the kind of chemistry you’ve envisioned between Holly and Gerry, then I would have to agree with you. However, if you think you can approach the film without any expectations (I was lucky that I hadn’t read the book prior to viewing it), then this might end up being one of your classics (as other IMDB users can attest to).