Friday, October 2, 2009

Plausible reviewability

One thing that's clear about this blog: I can't hide anything from you guys.

That's right, the lists on the sidebar keep me pretty damn honest. Whatever I'm seeing, re-seeing or reviewing, I include it there. If my wife were out of town and I watched Debbie Does Dallas (because, you know, porns from the 1970s are the best), I'd have to include it. Sure, I could cheat and leave it off, but what fun would that be?

It's not that kind of movie I'm worried about. Some of the stuff I watch is a lot more embarrassing than Debbie Does Dallas, for entirely different reasons.

Let's take yesterday. Yesterday, I watched New in Town, a romantic comedy starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. (Incidentally, a friend of mine recently described Renee Zellweger in the funniest and most apt way I've ever heard: "She always looks like she just smelled a fart." Brilliant.)

You could rake me over the coals for wasting 97 minutes on formulaic trash like this. And you'd be right.

But aha! New in Town has plausible reviewability. And by that I mean, you have no idea whether I'm watching it as an assignment, or just for pleasure. And you won't actually know until you see the title pop up in my Most Recently Reviewed list. But not seeing it there also won't confirm anything for you, because it's possible I'm seeing it now in the hopes of being able to review it in the future. And even if you watch that list every day until I get sick of writing this blog, you still won't know what my intentions were when I watched New in Town. Maybe I intended to review it, but someone else grabbed it before I could request it. You don't know.

Unless, of course, I rat myself out and tell you.

No, I will not be writing the review for New in Town. The review is already up on the site, and has been since the film was released in January. I did, indeed, waste 97 minutes of my life on formulaic trash.

But I have my reasons.

You see, lately, I've been hitting the gym so regularly, it's like I have no fear of the gym hitting me back. My wife and I have been trying to shed a pound or two in the last couple weeks, which has meant I've been getting to the gym on the average of three weeknights a week. And because I'm a creature of habit, I can no longer imagine passing the time on the stairmaster listening to music, watching the TVs they have there, or reading. The only thing that can mentally distract me is a movie on my portable DVD player.

The problem I have, as I mentioned briefly in yesterday's post, is that I have to watch something my wife doesn't want to watch with me. Since my wife is as big a film fan as I am, and generally interested by the same titles, this limits my choices. Sometimes, even when I think I've found the perfect thing, I'll start watching it, realize it's good, and then be compelled by the rules of film fandom to tell her it's good, that she should probably take the time to see it. We've had a couple times where she catches up on the half I watched at the gym, while I occupy myself doing something else, and then we finish the film together. (I usually give her some kind of visual cue for when to come get me, something that won't be confused for another part of the movie, but also something that won't give away any plot points prematurely. For example, "Come get me when the main character dies" doesn't work.)

So usually I go for middle- to low-brow films that I've requested to review. This is what happened on Tuesday with Crossover -- a movie I sort of liked, though not enough to tell my wife about. The problem is, it's not always possible to have a movie I need to review ready and waiting. In that case, I just need something, anything, to get me through the workout.

Which is how I picked up New in Town on the same library visit where I got Crossover. I also picked up the 2006 kids movie Hoot, which was adapted from a story by an author I like, Carl Hiaasen.

But New in Town had something going for it that Hoot didn't. Namely, it was released in this calendar year, which means watching it would give me one more title for my year-end list of rankings from top to bottom. Now, New in Town had little chance of ending up anywhere but near the bottom. But the theory is, the more of a cross-section of titles I see, the more relative worth my rankings have. Your best movie of the year carries a lot more weight if you saw a hundred movies, than if you saw ten. Better to achieve one goal by watching New in Town than to achieve none.

But just because I will not actually be getting paid to review New in Town, does not mean I won't actually review it.

That's right, kids, you've come to The Audient on just the right day. For the first time ever, I am going to write a review as if I were getting paid for it, but not submit it. It'll also be your first chance on this blog to see what my reviews actually read like. And just for this exercise, I've held off on reading the review that's already posted on the site -- it's a little ritual I have after finishing a movie, in order to compare notes with other critics. But I don't want my own "review" to be biased by that one, so I abstained until after I publish this post.

One other thing: Don't forget that the film is synopsized on a separate tab on my site, so I don't have to include plot synopsis in my review.


If you looked up "fish-out-of-water comedy" in a glossary of film terms, Jonas Elmer's New in Town might be the picture next to it. Unfortunately, the same picture might also appear next to "cookie cutter" and "ultra-formulaic." Not a single thing that happens in this Renee Zellweger vehicle is the least bit unexpected; the film's structure pokes through at every turn, with this particular story draped over it to make the world's most predictable romantic comedy. The familiar Hollywood concerns are all here: a big-city striver reevaluates her priorities after being purified by small-town life, falls for the scruffy local guy (Harry Connick Jr.) with whom she initially clashes (but who ultimately has a sympathetically tragic story), and helps the town fight to save its factory when the parent company wants to shut it down. Along the way there's plenty of room for slapstick set pieces appropriate to the Minnesota environment, like Connick's character getting a buttock full of buck shot when Zellweger's gun accidentally goes off on a hunting trip. If any of this sounds like a spoiler, you've vastly overestimated New in Town's capacity to surprise. This is not to say the film is utterly without value. As we all learned from Fargo, Minnesota accents are a lot of fun to listen to, and Siobhan Fallon and J.K. Simmons get theirs down perfectly. But if you go to the movies for actual content, turn elsewhere. New in Town is hardly new. In fact, it's one of Tinseltown's oldest tricks in the book.

Okay, so I spent only about 10 minutes on it, and came up about 45 words short of my usual 300.

Then again, maybe New in Town just doesn't inspire 300 words worth of commentary.

So if you ever find yourself wondering in the future "Why the hell did Vance watch that?" ... well, I may just be reviewing it.

Or -- heh heh -- I may not.

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