' ' Cinema Romantico: A Scene To Go Home With You

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Scene To Go Home With You

(And now, for the fourth year in a row, I will lift the exercise of the esteemed New York Times and write about the one cinematic scene from 2010 that I found the most memorable.)

Screwball movies pretty much went out with Truman and, thus, screwball couples went with them. My generation has no Nick & Nora, no Walter & Hildy. Oh, we have some cool couples, don't get me wrong - Jesse and Celine were striking and Rob and Laura were pretty badass and Jack and Karen straight up sizzled - but we've never had a bonafide screwball couple to call our very own. We've tried. Lord knows, we've tried, but we keep failing and usually we fail miserably. Why just this year we managed to take the un-unlikeable Amy Adams and make her unlikeable by trying and failing in the mighty miserable "Leap Year". We really tried with "Date Night." It seemed like a good idea on paper. Take two high wattage stars (of the small screen, admittedly), Steve Carrell & Tina Fey, stick them in a bunch of farcical situations stemming from a misunderstanding and wrap it all up in slapstick and fast-paced, witty repartee.

"Date Night", directed mostly gracelessly by Shawn Levy, stars Carrell and Fey as Phil and Claire Foster, trapped in the doldrums of marriage and who therefore decide to spice up their traditional date night by venturing from the cozy confines of Jersey into the "city" to have dinner at a sushi restaurant called Claw, so chic that reservations are booked weeks in advance and, thus, when the reservation of the "Tripplehorns" is called and the Tripplehorns don't respond, Phil and Claire take it. Oops. Not long after two men pull Phil and Claire into the alley and then pull guns and then demand a "flashdrive" that apparently the real Tripplehorns possess. So after some hijinks, Phil and Claire find themselves sneaking up a fire escape to the Tripplehorns' apartment in hopes of finding this mysterious flashdrive. On the way up the fire escape Claire says a funny thing to Phil: "Everything you're doing I'm doing in heels."

This is the line Ginger Rogers used to say about all her Fred Astaire movies. "I did everything he did backwards and in heels." Fred and Ginger, of course, were staples of the screwball era and here is a film trying desperately to awaken the echoes of the screwball genre for a whole new generation and, of course, failing miserably. Why? The pace is slack. The pace is like that miniature outboard motor on the boat in the Central Park lagoon in which Phil and Claire make their four mile an hour getaway. The dialogue is severely less than rapid fire and rarely clever, dependent on far too much improv from its stars. And what's with that crummy lite/singer-songwriter rock montage as Tina Fey gets dressed at the beginning? Ugh.

So anyway, back to the fire escape, Phil and Claire sneak in through the window and run into things and make noise and so on and so forth and the lights turn on and we get our first glimpse of them the "Tripplehorns".......Taste (James Franco) and Whippit (Mila Kunis). "Who's there?" Taste asks and Phil replies that "It's not what it looks like" which leads to Taste slugging him in the face. Claire dives in: "I can explain!" So Whippit grabs her by the hair and howls: "Then start talking whooooooore!" Taste yells some more and Whippit yells some more and so Phil pulls the Civil War-era pistol he lifted from Mark Wahlberg's house (don't ask, it doesn't matter), sticks it in Taste's face and orders them both to sit down. They do. 

Phil: "So you must be Thomas Felton?"
Taste: "People call me Taste."
Phil: "I bet people also call you....Tripplehorn."
Taste: "I'm a big Jean Tripplehorn fan."
Phil: "Yes. She is a fine actress." He points to Whippet. "Who's this?"
Whippit: "I'm Whippit."
Claire: "Whippit? Like the dog?"
Whippit: "No. Like when you suck nitrous out of a whipped cream can."
Claire: "Okay, okay."
Whippit: "Stupid skank."
Claire: "Oh my god. Do you have any contact with your mother at all?"

The look Kunis gives Fey here, with the gun - the gun that Kunis doesn't even act like is there - hovering in the foreground of the shot, is hysterical and perfect, this look that says "Really? You're gonna try and make this about mommy issues?"

Taste: "That's a nice piece. What are we gonna do, have a duel at ten paces?"
Phil: "Hey, zip your face!"
Taste: "Zip my face? Are you serious?
Whippit: "Yeah. He said zip your face."
Taste: "That's your best tough guy line?"

Awhile back I, of course, named Franco's lines here as my favorite movie line of the year and I admit on its own they might not sound that funny but part of it is Franco's indignant delivery. He's insulted by this pitiful attempt at bravado.

Phil: (quieter) "You heard me. Zip your face."
Taste: "Why don't you zip your vagina, Raymond Burr?"
Phil: "I have no idea how to respond to that." (Searching.) "Eff you." (Note: He really does say "Eff.")
Taste: "Eff me? Eff you."
Phil: "Eff you!"
Taste: "Eff you, man, what are you doing here?!"
Phil: "Eff you, mother-effer."

Now Phil turns the gun sideways which is a reference to earlier when the two thugs searching for the Tripplehorns turn the gun sideways on Phil and Claire which leads to Phil shouting "Kill shot!" which makes it funny when, seeing the gun sideways, Taste and Whippit calm right down. 

Taste: "What do you want?"
Phil: "You have no idea what you've done to us. When you missed your reservation at Claw you ruined our lives."
Whippit: "We didn't miss anything, ya dumbass. We saw the two goons casing the place so we took off. What's it to you, anyway, are you the reservation police or something?"
Taste: "Yeah? What's it to you?"

Notice the way Franco and Kunis play off one another right here. This is the sort of magnetism in cinematic couples that has all but gone extinct. It would seem surefire, wouldn't it, to take Carrell and Fey and put 'em together but the entire running time of the film they feel like nothing beyond a couple aspiring comedians at Second City asked to do a sketch about a bored married couple on the run from bad guys. There's comedy in the air, sure, but there's no chemistry. None. And then Franco and Kunis turn up and then she says "What's it to you?" and Franco, not wanting to miss out on the action, adds his own "Yeah, what's it to you?" and, sweet Jesus, they just blow Carrell and Fey off the effing screen.     

Clare: "As it happens we didn't have a reservation and so we took yours and now they think we're you."
Taste: "You just took our reservation? Who does that?"
Whippit: "What kind of people are you?"

Now is there is arguing from both sides.

Whippit: "How did you find us anyway?"
Clare: "I stole your number from the reservation list."
Taste: "That's smart."
Clare: "Thank you."
Whippit: "You used our home number to make the reservation?"
Taste: "I didn't use the home number. I used the cellphone."

Franco's line reading here suggests he is rather infatuated with what he perceives as own brilliance. Whippit ain't havin' it.

Whippit: "Ooooooh. Wow. That's brilliant, Taste. You're just a god damn criminal mastermind, aren't ya?"

And now Taste is like the pre-schooler sent to the corner of the room to wear the dunce cap.

Taste: "This is about how I'm an asshole all the time, isn't it? How you have no trust that I can pull things through? How I can't do anything right? I buy the wrong soda. The wrong beer. The wrong nipple clamps."
Whippit: "Those clamps hurt me!"

I can't even describe how Kunis says that line.  You have to hear it.  Amazing.

Taste: "And then you come home and you don't even look at me. I have to beg you to have sex with me. Like it's a gift. And forget about the backdoor! Forget about that!"
Whippit: "I'm sorry if I'm a little tired after working all night to just come home and jump on you and give you a free lap dance. I was perfectly happy stripping and tricking at the Hippo! It made me feel good about myself! I got a ribbon!" ("I got a ribbon!"  God, I love that line, and I love the way she says it. So proud.) "But no, you had to go and get greedy and start stealing everything from everyone!"
Taste: "Excuse me for dreaming! Like I want to spend the rest of my life selling stolen wheelchairs!"
Clare: (to Phil) "I feel like you're losing control of the room."

This line speaks volume because not only is Phil losing the control of the room but Carrell and Fey are losing control of their own movie. The problem is, Carrell and Fey never really sold us on their marital discord. They're too self aware. Everything's at a distance. They're basically the same couple you saw presenting at the Golden Globes. Nothing more, nothing less. This is where you truly see the line between comedians and actors. Taste and Whippit are absurd but Franco and Kunis are so honest. They throw themselves into every single line - not just the one liners - with such gusto. These two are dysfunctional but they are in love and, thus, we love them, too. Movie couples no longer have 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 martini lunches and they are no longer squabbling newspaper reporters (since, as Egon Spengler noted, "Print is dead"), they are ex strippers and guys selling stolen wheelchairs to make ends meet.

Whippit: "But what about my dreams?!  What about me?!"

Phil waves the gun, shouts a little bit and gets them to quiet down.

Phil: "Listen, these goons are after us. They think we have a flash drive that you stole from us so you're gonna go to them and tell them you're the Tripplehorns."
Taste: "Wait a second. Are you telling me these goons are tracking you right now?"
Phil: "Have you not heard a word I said? That's why we're here! You need to help us out of this!"
Taste: "No. We need to get outta here right now. Whippit, baby, two minute drill! Ready?!"  Kunis nods vigorously.  She knows.  She's ready.  "Go, go, go, go!"

And so Whippit begins tossing things in a suitcase as Phil and Claire object to no avail.

Taste: "Forget the latex! Only the essentials! Two suitcases?! You're always overpacking! What's the deal? Nothing you can't walk away from in thirty seconds! Bobby DeNiro! 'Heat!' Classic!"  (The thought of modern day thieves operating off Robert DeNiro's code in "Heat" makes me laugh a lot.)

Phil waves the gun, telling them no one's going anywhere and then starts hollering about the flash drive and so Taste tosses the flash drive to Phil and he and Whippit hurry to the window. But Whippit gives pause.  She looks around sadly.

Whippit: "Maybe leaving isn't such a great idea. This is our home."
Taste: "No, it's not." He opens his shirt, revealing a Whippit tattoo over his heart. "This is your home." He pounds it a couple times for good measure. "This is your home."

Whippit smiles, nods, takes him in his arms and they make out, with a ton of tongue, before vanishing out the window. End scene.

And as Taste and Whippit vanish we realize that everything Carrell and Fey have been trying to do and will continue to try to do for the remainder of the film's running time, Franco and Kunis just did backwards and in heels. Uh, figuratively. A couple that is jerked out of its element, forced to confront its staid nature, before being jerked out of its element a second time at which point they realize that despite all the crap, yes, they really are made for one another. Franco and Kunis steal an entire movie and they only need five minutes and one scene to do it. This is why I am now down on my knees - literally!  down on my knees! - beseeching the movie gods and Hollywood and whoever else to please - please! - pair up Franco and Kunis again, and soon. They deserve it. We deserve it. At long last we no longer need to hold our heads in shame when older generations brag on Powell & Loy and Grant & Russell. At long last we have our answer.

This is our screwball couple.


Simon said...

Wow. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

Really is a great scene in a movie that everybody kind of has forgotten about.