' Cinema Romantico: The Merry Gentleman

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Merry Gentleman

A ways into this film I came to the sudden realization that it was happening, that I was in the midst of a miraculous movie going experience, the kind for which I so dearly pine when the movie leaves the screen and merges with me. I wanted to stop the projector, if only for a minute or two, so I could just sit in my seat and smile and soak up the feeling, the moment. "The Merry Gentleman" is Michael Keaton's directorial debut, yes, but it is also the finest film I have seen since "Atonement."


Have I built it up too much? No? I haven't? Phew. I was a little worried. This is a gentle, still film that will not, under any circumstances, be rushed. This is a poetic film that has so much to say about faith, about friendships, about happiness, and all without shouting it from the mountain tops. This is a film where the direction (Keaton stepped in for screenwriter Ron Lazzaretti who fell ill before filming which is why, I assume, Keaton nobly allowed the written by credit in the title cards to be last) never disrupts, never calls out for attention, but still manages to find beauty in so, so much. This is a film at the center of which stands Kelly Macdonald's performance, even though Keaton, of course, receives top billing (and he's fantastic in his own right). Macdonald is....well, I could spend the rest of this review merely listing adjectives to describe how good she is. Let me put it this way: the Performance of the Year begins right here. And it quite probably is going to end right here. This isn't just quality (though let it be known this is quality acting of the highest order), this is personal. This is Hilary Swank in "Million Dollar Baby" territory for me.

Now have I built it up too much? No? I still haven't? Thank goodness! This is a film that evokes the golden age of moviemaking. It is driven by its characters. It is in possession of heightened material - a hitman, suicide, a woman on the run from an abusive ex-boyfriend - but presents it matter-of-factly, weaving it beautifully into the fabric of its narrative. The story the movie tells, regardless of that story's subject matter, is told flawlessly.

Macdonald is Kate Frazier. We receive a few initial glimpses of her painful past at the start and then we find her settled down in Chicago. She has a huge bruise on her eye. She makes up various lies about its origin. Keaton is Frank Logan. Yes, he's a hitman. We see him at work. He seems cold, calculated. After one job he climbs up on the roof of the building across from the one where the person he just shot lays. He intends to jump. But that same building across the street is where Kate works as a receptionist. She steps outside and because it is snowing, which makes her happy, she looks up to watch it fall. She sees him. She yells out. He slips and falls...backwards and onto the roof.

Two detectives turn up and inform Kate of the person who was shot dead in her building. They think the man across the street had something to do with it. But it was too dark and she didn't really see him. One of the detectives (Tom Bastounes) thinks he might ask her out but he's not sure. "I'm a divorced alcoholic," he says. But he does ask her out. Well, sort of.

But all these are the particulars, understand, and you have to see the film to feel its ambiance and the profound ways it quietly evokes character. Consider the fashion in which Kate and Frank meet. Is it Cute? Sure, but focus on those sorts of things and you're bound to miss the film's riches. The build-up to the Meet Cute is perfectly constructed. Kate is at her office party. Drunk, stoned, stupid men are making pathetic passes at her. She flees. Her taxi passes a little place selling Christmas trees and she lights up. She wants one. Here's a person, the movie says, who will fight, tooth and nail, to not let the world suck away all her joy. If Kate Frazier is not a true movie heroine then I have no idea what a movie heroine is and I don't ever want to know.

Then she takes the tree to her apartment but it is so towering she can't make it further than the entry way before collapsing under its weight. Enter Frank, visiting "friends" in her building. He helps her take it upstairs. He is beyond reserved, he talks quietly, haltingly. He says, "I found a girl under a tree."

Inevitably they form a friendship, under circumstances I will not reveal. And that's precisely what it is - a friendship. A friendship that exists because at their core they are distinctly similar. "We're two private people," Kate observes of them in a quiet, tender scene in a hospital that is sooooo amazing I'm fighting off the urge to stop typing and go do a cartwheel.

Look, here it is, I know these people. I do. That he's a hitman has nothing to do with anything. It is his occupation. That's it. Character is developed through action, and in "The Merry Gentleman" through interaction, though sometimes with people like these it is a bear to get them to interact. A co-worker of Kate's mentions how she tells Kate everything about herself and Kate tells her nothing about who she really is and, well, damn, I've had that exact conversation several times with several different people at several different offices.

The movies so often give us characters who need saving. In life, real life, we sometimes need saving too, even if we don't admit it. We'll look anywhere to find a savior - God, a beautiful woman, a sweet man, a fantastic Ryan Adams song that Michael Keaton apparently likes as much as me. But "The Merry Gentleman" knows that while other people can help, and often help in a considerable way, ultimately it's on our own shoulders. No one can decide for us. We have to save ourselves.

1 comment:

teejay said...

Got this movie from Netflix three weeks ago and have not sent it back--I can't yet. Just can't. One of my favorites of all time--friend calls this a slice-of-life film.

Being shy myself, I can feel the awkwardness,and I remember times of incredible leaden silence on dates with other shy ones. One thing that strikes me about Kate'ss character is that when she does say something--it's absolutely pairfict. And she has more minute facial expressions than anyone I've ever watched on screen. She talks with the muscles around her eyes and the wrinkles on her forehead. Wish I could see it on a theater screen.

The music is so perfect-- when it happens. No soundtrack was released, so I've played the movie over and over just listening to the music.

The bonus of being in love with the music is it sent me to your blog while searching the Jingle Jangle song. And your writing is just wonderful. Merry Christmas. Found a blog under a tree.