' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Thursday's Old Fashioned Flashback to the 80s Freeze Frame

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Friday's Thursday's Old Fashioned Flashback to the 80s Freeze Frame

Cameron Crowe’s typical cinematic forecasts are laden with optimism. You always know things are going to turn out okay, even if for a moment or more it seems like clouds might be gathering. Jerry Maguire hit rock bottom only so he could come out on top. Even when Penny Lane’s heart was broken, Crowe couldn’t help but bathe her in the most beatific light, writing her a line sure to engender empathetic laughs more than simple pathos. It wasn't necessarily that he refused to acknowledge the shadows as much it was that he preferred to look on the bright side of life.

Yet anymore that optimism too often completely obscures the shadows. God knows my affection for “Elizabethtown” but even I can see through the rose-colored glasses to confess the suicidal nature of Drew is just a screenwriting put-on, never rendered, not even for a moment, in the filmmaking or accompanying Orlando Bloom performance. And maybe Crowe’s most insulting moment in his increasingly insulting canon thus far arrives in the recent “Aloha” when a visit with a Hawaiian independence activist grows genuinely terse before collapsing into a smiley face sing-along where...uh, I dunno? Everything is okay now, I guess?

What makes it doubly disappointing is that Crowe does know to capture pain and sadness on screen. Even if Orlando Bloom could not quite convey it in “Elizabethtown”, Paul Schneider, playing Bloom's character’s cousin, could, never more so than in an immaculate moment when his father decrees “You can’t be buddies with your own kid.” The sad-eyed smile Schneider submits in response is absolutely incredible, expressing an expected disappointment cultivated over a lifetime of his father’s sentiment being enacted.

But that shot involving a father reminds me of another shot in a Crowe film involving a father. “Say Anything”, Crowe’s directorial debut, is primarily known for its honesty, the genuine insight into a teenager’s existence, the decency of its famed boom box-toting protagonist and the forthrightness between a daughter and father. Of course, that father, Jim Court (John Mahoney), is eventually revealed to be a liar, a monster wrapped in chivalry co-opting his daughter’s success like he’s a father from “Friday Night Lights.”

Crowe isn’t often heralded as an inventive visual stylist, but then sometimes all you need in a frame is stillness and an effective coupling of locale and situation taken in the context of a character’s preceding arc. That’s what we get when we find Jim Court locked inside his bathroom, sitting in the tub, where Mahoney’s expression of understated terror acknowledges having dug his grave with a shovel of financial malfeasance. It’s one shot in Crowe’s oft-optimistic canon that is stripped of even the slightest hope, implicitly encapsulating a feeling familiar to anyone who’s reached not a fork in the road but the beginning of a dead-end street. No one feels the world closing in on them until it already is, and by then it’s too late to make an escape.

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