No, its not an oxymoron. In the midst of some spectacular turkeys, there are
three four very good films out in movie theaters right now that you can take your wife to without risk of embarrassment: Dan in Real Life, Enchanted, August Moon, and, of course, Bella.
Dan in Real Life is set against the backdrop of a large family fall get-together at a resort cabin in New England. The relationship between the parents, the grown-up children, and the assorted nieces, nephews and grand-children forms the matrix against which the romantic misadventures of Dan are set. I’m becoming a real fan of Steve Carrell. I really liked him in Evan Almighty, and he gives a great performance here as well. He’s that rarity in Hollywood (and real life?), a decent likable guy. Trying to be a father to his three daughters, trying to do the right things for his extended family, and trying to sort out his feelings about the very attractive woman he bumped into at the bookstore. The action and the resolution is both entertaining and encouraging – and funny!
Enchanted is a delightfully entertaining movie from Disney, with a wry twist. The tone is similar to Shrek, but with just a tad less edge – and its perhaps a better movie for that. The premise is the sudden transference of a princess from her cartoon fairytale kingdom to New York City (where she complains that no one has been very nice to her!). Her charming prince follows to find and rescue her and the resulting comic opportunities, clash of cultures, and hilarious misunderstandings are quite entertaining. There is a hilarious send-up of the princess charming the cute little forest creatures with a song as they clean the household cheerfully together. In New York City, the princess sings — and a crowd of pigeons, rats, and well-choreographed cockroaches clean the apartment to her lyrical directions. On a more serious note, Enchanted, like Dan, gives us a leading man who is a single dad – and he’s an intelligent, thoughtful, caring decent guy. He loves his daughter, and is trying to do the right things. There is of course, a happy ending, after a number of comic misadventures and plot complications. Oh, and there’s a great big musical production number in central park that is a hoot – part Busby Berkley, part Rogers and Hammerstein, and part Ferris Bueller. We walked out of the theater smiling and feeling refreshed. It is so unusual to watch a movie with a hero (rather than a bad-boy anti-hero) that the effect is novel, surprising, and quite enjoyable.
August Rush is the richest (and perhaps most moving) of the current crop. Since Cyndy and I have two adopted daughters from China, this one REALLY tugged at our hearts and played with our emotions. All those parents who know about the story of the “Red Thread” will immediately recognize the plot. In China, there is the widespread belief that all those who’s lives you are destined to be a part of are connected to you by an invisible “Red Thread.” In August Rush, the “Red Thread” is music. August is the name of the eleven-year-old boy who is the film’s protagonist. He is in an orphanage, but is convinced that he will be reunited with his parents. He hears music, and believes that the music is his parents calling to him. He believes that if he can write the music down, and play it to enough people, that his parents will find him. August, as it develops, is a musical prodigy. Ten minutes after picking up a guitar he’s doing harmonics and complex chords. The first day he sits down at the piano he ends up composing pages of music – a la Mozart, to who is cited by name to describe August’s abilities.
There are several subtle nods to a Christianity and the belief in God’s providence in the film – and they are all the more powerful for their being not too overt. At one point, August seeks refuge in a church, where he finds authentic Christians who care for him and a pastor (strong, sympathetic male figure) who goes out of his way to help him pursue his music. The pastor provides one of the great lines of the movie. August has mysteriously disappeared and one of his friends, an adorable six year old girl wants some reassurance that he’s ok. “Of course he is,” says the pastor. “I’ve prayed for him. Have you prayed for him?” There’s also a very subtle beat at the end, where August sees his parents, realizes that his music has succeeded, looks upwards towards the sky, smiles and then looks back down towards his parents. A very powerful moment – without a spoken word.
August Rush is also refreshing in having several strong, decent male figures. In addition to the pastor mentioned above, there’s another strong male figure in the social worker assigned to August, who demonstrates that he really cares for him and goes out of his way to try to help him. Finally, its clear from the movie that its just as important for August to find his father as it is for him to find his mother — and just as important that his mother and father find each other. And both August’s mother and father are equally intense, decent, and thoughtful as their desire to find each other and their son grows.
Finally, I should say a word about Bella. The word is “go see it!” It is being marketed as a pro-life movie – which it is – but it is also a rich, subtle, character study of two strong individuals and a celebration of family and life. The subtitle that the film-makers put on the ir website speaks volumes – “true love goes beyond romance.” Bella won the “People’s Choice Award” at the Toronto Film Festival , which should have assured it of distribution and wide release. But, surprise, surprise, all the studios passed on picking it up – several complaining that it lacked an “edge” – code for not any sex or violence. There’s a reason it won the award. Its a wonderful film.
So there you have it. For those of you who go to the movies, let us give thanks for having so many good choices! And let us hope that Hollywood gets the message from the popularity of these films and gives us many more films with characters as rich (and as decent) as these.