Suburban Commando: Burt Kennedy | Born Yesterday: Luis Mandoki | Brain Donors: Dennis Dugan | Sibling Rivalry: Carl Reiner | Alex and Emma: Rob Reiner | Don't Tell Her It's Me: Malcolm Mowbray | Taking Care of Business: Arthur Hiller | Pretty Woman: Gary Marshall | Junior: Ivan Reitman | Jingle All the Way: Brian Levant | Fixing Pete: Michael Grossman | The Makeover: John Gray
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
I have some reservations about the film's emphasis on Lloyd becoming "Manly" by learning to take risks with his career, and by learning to fight. Men are under so much pressure to succeed in our society, in very tough times, that they don't need any of these macho strictures. Proving one's masculinity is a poor way to succeed as a human being.
By contrast, I enjoyed the early scenes of the Hulkster having a stress problem. Stress has gotten so bad that it has even reached outer space! These scenes are unusual in action pictures, whose clichés normally show men being able to handle the most outrageous problems without turning a hair. This realism is both welcome and unusual.
Now Mandoki has returned with his first big budget, Hollywood production. Relatively big budget that is; by Hollywood standards it is a modest movie, a little comedy with three stars and no action sequences or special effects. It is charming and delightful. Mandoki is a people-oriented director: his characters and their development are what interest him most. Both of his films are woman-centered, and focus on social outsiders who are trying to make friends and penetrate into society, often with great difficulty. Both protagonists are also desperately, determinedly eager to get an education, which they believe will allow them to make a meaningful contribution to society.
The film Mandoki made between Gaby and Born Yesterday, White Palace, is not as good, but it has thematic similarities. Once again, we have the story of an uneducated woman trying to break into society, but handled much less well. Among other problems, this movie is much less pro-education; it seems to imply that the man should just accept the woman the way she is. This might be true, but it doesn't leave the plot of the movie any place to go. Similarly, the man's well to do friends are characterized as simple relentless snobs. Is this really realistic?
It is a loose remake of A Night at the Opera, wherein the Marx's sabotaged an opera performance. Here the plot similarly centers around ballet. The two leads, John Turturro in the Groucho role, and Nancy Marchand in the Margaret Dumont role, are remarkably good at recreating the acting styles of their predecessors and role models. (The phrase "role model" is so often used in a sociological sense that it seems oddly strange to apply it to someone on whom an actor is modeling their role!)
This film is remarkably detailed and imaginative, and is clearly in some sense a labor of love by its creators. The gag-laden dialogue is often slightly off color, in the tradition of the Marx Brothers, but it seems very funny, at least to me (taste in humor is so personal.)
A good cast of mixed TV and film comics helps make this a funny film. Everybody gets to play a little bit against type:
Just as Providence owes a lot to screen writer David Mercer, so too does Alex and Emma show the signs of its screenwriter Jeremy Leven. Leven was responsible for the romantic extravagances of Don Juan DeMarco (1995). His characters tend to be far more interested in love, and in expressing their flamboyant and romantic inner personalities, than in any monetary goals. They are inner-directed people, who are resistant to pressure from the outside world, instead trying to make their own feelings influence events.
A filmed interview with Reiner exists, in which he talks about carefully coaching Tom Cruise for his role in A Few Good Men (1992). Cruise had never made a comedy film before, and Reiner built Cruise's whole performance from the ground up, training him in comedy acting and timing. Reiner was influenced by his years of comedy experience on All In the Family, and elsewhere (my favorite Rob Reiner performance is as a ferocious looking but actually gentle and sweet biker who develops a crush on Laurie in The Partridge Family). Both Wilson and Hudson here show a lightness and deftness of playing that seems Reineresque. Both their contemporary scenes, and the romance novel sections, recall traditional stage drawing room comedies.
The writer here is a gambling addict, one of the mainsprings of the plot. The film commendably shows the dark side of gambling. It always leads the hero to disaster. This realistic view is a welcome contrast to the glamorization of Vegas and gambling seen in many movies today. Despite its increase in social respectability since 1950, gambling is still a huge tragedy that ruins countless lives. But the film does not confront the hero's need for therapy and/or a twelve step program to counterbalance his problem. At the end, he just swears gambling off - a good thing, but inadequate. Perhaps the filmmakers did not want to darken the romantic comedy mood of the film too much. This is always a dilemma when any real life problems enter the world of a comedy. One wants to tread a fine line between a serious realistic look at the problem, and a desire to give an entertaining story to viewers.
When first seen, the hero is wearing a T shirt. I confess I cringed. Is this how far movie glamour has fallen, that leading men play films in T shirts and jeans? However, when the historical novel sections of the film kick in, the characters start wearing glamorous costumes. There is perhaps a lesson here, in that even Hollywood sees modern day America as a land without any sort of style. People have got to start dressing a little bit better. In Billy Bitzer's brief documentary Westinghouse Works (1904), we see the workers leaving the factory. Everyone is wearing a suit, and is neatly groomed. If factory workers in 1904 can all wear suits and look decent, people in the far more affluent America of 2004 can do the same!
The reputation of both Reiner and films like Alex and Emma probably suffer from today's anti-Hollywood sentiment. Many cinephiles today have written off Hollywood entirely, feeling disgust for its endless war propaganda movies and shameful glorification of violence. Hollywood has worked overtime to earn this disgust - if it makes one more ultra-violent, war-and-killing-are-fun movie we will all scream. However, innocent films like Alex and Emma get caught up in this problem. It is a good movie, even if it did come from Hollywood.
The film benefits from the location filming in Charleston, South Carolina. As filmed by cinematographer Reed Smutley (The Long Hot Summer, Gleaming the Cube), a specialist in glowing, sun-drenched, exterior scenes, Charleston's historic architecture and summertime fertility casts a beautiful glow over the proceedings. Even among today's virtuosic color cameramen, Smutley's work is distinctive. His interiors are not bad either, with their bright lighting and rich colors.
Here he's hit pay dirt again, with a comedy that gets in some sharp jabs at the yuppie lifestyle and the business world.
Pretty Woman marks Marshall's return to successful comedy. It is a very uneven film. It has been much criticized in the press for reviving the "Cinderella myth", in which a poor woman finds all her problems solved by marrying a rich man. This criticism usually focuses on the sexism and lack of respect for woman's abilities inherent in this plot. But I can also testify from first hand that it is hard on the men in the audience, too, who have to wonder how they can ever measure up to the success level of the men in the film. Or even like being reminded of the difficulty and anxiety of making it in the business world. I had similar trouble enjoying Mr. Destiny's look at men's success fantasies, too.
If the overall structure of Pretty Woman offers difficulties as a picture of men's and women's lives, many individual scenes offer considerable charm. It is good to see Elinor Donahue (Father Knows Best) gainfully employed, even in a small role.
The hero's social confusion and puzzlement on his place in the world and relations to other people is interesting, and a welcome relief from the endless smirking social confidence exuded by screen heroes. Even with all of his money and "success", the hero does not really know how to relate to other people, and his job as corporate raider is immoral. Both the man and the woman in this film are social outsiders, and their struggle to find a meaningful and moral relationship with society is the emotional core of the film.
Schwarzenegger is very gentle throughout most of the movie, unlike the more aggressive characters he usually plays. His violence is only unleashed once in the film, and then to make a remarkable statement. This scene is one of the great coups de theatre of the modern film, and shows remarkable strategic planning.
Men who get made over are a long time movie subject: maybe longer than most people realize. Key examples:
Both of the actors cast as slob men are playing against type and their previous films roles. Hero Pete is played by Dylan Bruno, best known as the dapper FBI agent in the TV series Numb3rs. He was part of a long tradition of slickly groomed FBI men. See other such characters in the TV series White Collar and Battle Creek. And sidekick Charlie Schlatter was very well-dressed as the young doctor and amateur detective in Diagnosis Murder.