' ' Cinema Romantico: Spring Forward

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Spring Forward

In "Adaptation" there was a scene in which legendary screenwriting guru Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox) advises Charlie Kaufmann (Nicolas Cage) regarding his latest script. "Wow them in the end," says McKee. Well, that's true. You can get your audience with the ending. You can lose them, too. You can lose them like Nebraska coach Bill Callahan lost the 2007 Cotton Bowl when he chose to run Marlon Lucky off-tackle for, perhaps, the 107th time in the game on 3rd-and-frickin'-8 when we were down by 3 points and out of field goal range with less than a minute to play (not that I'm still ragingly bitter).

To sum up "Spring Forward" (which was released all the way back in 1999) in one of those tidy little phrases you could say it's like "Before Sunrise/Before Sunset" but with a father/son situtation rather than a boy and a girl. It's like a play filmed outdoors. The dialogue is substantial and the plot, well, don't get this DVD off Netflix (as Cinema Romantico did) if you're in search of some measly plot.

Liev Schrieber is Paul, an ex-con, though an exceedingly small-time one (he held up a Dunkin' Donuts on a whim), who comes to work for the Parks Department in a small, northeastern town. He is paired with the older Murph (Ned Beatty). The film is then presented as a series of extended vignettes that "spring forward" in time as the relationship between the two men deepens and we learn more and more about them through their conversation.

The dialogue is simply exceptional and struck a deep chord with me, and most likely will with you too. The talks cover everything - life, and love, and God, and Christmas ornaments that can be purchased at Walmart. None of it sounds forced. And the two actors - Beatty, in particular - are astounding. The speech patterns, the way the words flow, is authentic to the hilt.

There's a scene the two men share almost entirely at a park bench, in which Murph enjoys the wonders of pot for the first time, and with fall foilage hovering in the background, is so perfect and so true that I wanted to stand up and cheer. It will overwhelm you. There are some scenes which will re-affirm your faith in the movies. This is one of them.

Much like "Before Sunrise/Before Sunset" had the balls to never make Jesse or Celine say "I love you", this movie never has Paul say to Murph anything in the realm of "You're like a father to me". Or Murph say to Paul, "You're like a son to me". The movie clearly wants you to draw this conclusion but chooses not to force-feed it.

And as what appeared to be the final scene, with Paul and Murph in their truck during the Christmas season, played out I felt the Unforced Smile coming on. What a movie, I thought to myself.

But then something happens. Oh, dear God in heaven, does it happen. And a movie that had avoided cheap drama, grandstanding, heavy-handed symbolism, and - for the most part - artificiality suddenly reverses direction and includes all of that in one sequence that is the cinematic equivalent of taking a shot of Old Crow (gag, gag, then vomit).

I don't how to describe it. I have no clue what writer/director Tony Gilroy was thinking. It's wretched. It's horrendous. A screenwriting professor would have made Gilroy stand in the corner after reading it. Even Michael Bay (who wouldn't know subtlety if it bludgeoned him over the head) probably would have read this passage, scratched his head and wondered aloud, "What was that supposed to be?"

I haven't felt this sucker-punched by a movie ending since "Changing Lanes". That was an excellent, four-and-a-half star piece of cinema right through the "ending". The only problem was that it chose to end again. And it was clearly an ending tacked on at the idiotic request of some clueless studio exec who got back the results from the even more clueless test audience. It's still a great, great film and I highly, highly recommend it - just make sure you immediately turn it off when it "ends" (and, believe me, you'll know right when it does).

The problem with the turn "Spring Forward" takes is that - unlike the second ending of "Changing Lanes", or Lindsay Lohan turning up suddenly as a business-woman at the end of "Prairie Home Companion" (which I didn't mind so much, but everyone I know did) - it fatally damages the film. A lot of times a poor turn in the end won't do that but it does here. It changes the characters' perception of everything - everything that would have happened and that is going to happen.

My first inclination is to say Gilroy must have been forced by someone else involved to add this sequence to, I don't know, give it a more slam-bang ending. But I don't know if that's the case. This appears to have been a true independent movie and therefore one must assume Gilroy would have had final say and if he had final say and said this, well, it just gives me stomach aches.

If the rest of the movie had just been so-so, if it hadn't been such a revelation, such a miracle, it wouldn't upset me to such a scorching degree. But because the rest of it was so refreshing, it makes me want to pound on walls and run through the streets screaming obscenities.

In "Adaptation" Robert McKee followed up his above proclamation with the following one, "Find an ending, but don't cheat, and don't you dare bring in a deus ex machina. Your characters must change, and the change must come from them. Do that, and you'll be fine." Well, Gilroy didn't do that. Didn't do it in any way, shape or form.

And guess what? It wasn't fine.

1 comment:

david said...

you need hope