Miramax continues to clean out its vaults, sneaking this B-movie into theaters a couple of years after Il Postino director Michael Radford put it in the can. Mild-mannered schoolteacher Alan (Jared Harris) stumbles into an unlikely relationship with Italian bombshell Beatrice (Asia Argento), a street criminal known as B. Monkey who’s starting to think about settling down. Though she finds Alan charming and decides to build a life with him, her needy, unsavory friends threaten to pull her back in. Continue reading
At this writing, My Best Friend’s Wedding seems poised to become the breakout hit of the summer of 1997. Holy counterprogramming, Batman — it looks like audiences have already grown a little weary of dinosaur attacks, mad bombers, and Nic Cage with his shirt off. Funny thing is, while it seems like My Best Friend’s Wedding could hardly be further from Batman & Robin on the summer movies spectrum, it’s interesting to compare the two. While Gotham City is “dark” by default, My Best Friend’s Wedding suffers from an unconvincing sunniness. B&R has more lame one-liners than you can count, while MBFW is overwhelmingly bland and every bit as silly. In its defense, I should note that MBFW didn’t cost as much as B&R, and doesn’t make nearly as much noise. Choose your poison, gentle reader — it’s just that time of year.
Beautifully photographed by journeyman cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, My Best Friend’s Wedding goes down easily enough, although the early scenes rely on Julia Roberts’ skills as a comedienne and are thus dangerously insubstantial. As our story opens, we learn that Julianne Potter (Roberts) and a fellow named Michael O’Neal (Dermot Mulroney) are longtime friends — and onetime lovers. The love affair was broken off, but the friendship has endured. And, at one of those silly moments that may be familiar to young lovers, they promised one another that if neither of them had walked down the aisle by the age of 28, the two of them would be married after all.
On the verge of her 28th birthday, Jules gets a phone call that she assumes is a desperate Michael eager to cash in his matrimonial chips. But when she rings him back for a chat, she falls out of the bed — he’s calling to ask her to come to Chicago, where he’s marrying the lovely, wealthy Kimmy Wallace (Cameron Diaz, who makes a pretty but otherwise unremarkable bride). Naturally, it’s only now that Julianne realizes how much Michael has meant to her all these years. Overcome by jealousy, she flies to Chicago with malicious intentions — she wants to break up the happy couple and make Michael realize that she, not Kimmy, is the one for him.
Too bad for the movie that it’s hard ever to identify with Julianne’s singlemindedly selfish quest. Instead, she just seems to be in denial from square one — Roberts is actually playing one of the thickest characters in American movies so far this year. You just want to yell at the screen: “Get a grip!” Roberts looks better than she has in years — accordingly, one scene has her standing around in her underwear — but her performance is so flat you wish somebody would jab her in the ass just to get a rise out of her.
As her beloved Michael, Dermot Mulroney has a face that’s about as expressive as a leather glove and a voice to match. Better she should ditch this loser for her handsome friend George — as played by Rupert Everett (Cemetery Man), he’s a sight for sore eyes. Of all the cast members, Everett is the one consummate professional, and when he joins the party briefly in Chicago, he coaxes both Roberts and Diaz to giddy heights — with Mulroney consigned, thankfully, to watch from the sidelines.
Unfortunately for Jules, George is gay. Ever the sensible counselor, he urges Jules to simply confess her abiding love for Michael. Instead, Jules winds up introducing George as her fiance in a desperate bid to make Michael as jelaous of George as she is of Kimmy. Appalled, he decides to get back at her by hamming it up — groping her in the back of a cab and doing lewd things with his tongue — in hysterical fashion. As George fabricates the details of an impossible affair, this romantic comedy soars — until it crashes and burns with a self-consciously “spontaneous” singalong of “I Say a Little Prayer.” (I’ve never seen the director’s previous Muriel’s Wedding, but I’m told it relied on Abba in the same way this movie relies on Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, and, um, karaoke.) The whole movie’s kind of like that, with a full complement of pretty good ideas ruined by sloppy execution. Fortunately, Everett is back to help sew things up in the closing scenes, adding a touch of much-needed elegance that’s likely to make you remember the movie a little more fondly than it probably deserves.
Screenwriter/producer Ronald Bass also wrote the implausible but winning Dangerous Minds. This film has a similar problem — the actual story can’t make good on the promise of the film’s high concept without flipping our common sense switches. For instance: a key plot contrivance involves Julianne’s unauthorized use of Kimmy’s father’s computer to forge an email message to Michael’s employer. (What she types into the computer is very clearly not an email address at all, but that’s beside the point.) Realizing that what she is about to do is spiteful, destructive, and altogether reprehensible, Julianne decides not to send the email after all. The computer asks her if she wants to “delete” the email or “save it for later.” Exhibiting truly incomprehensible stupidity, Jules quite deliberately decides toleave the forged email on the bride’s father’s computer. I was completely baffled. Why would she do that? Maybe that was actually her computer after all? Does she want to wait until after the wedding and send it then? Does she want the computer’s owner to find the forged email and assume someone else wrote it? Or, deep down inside, does she really want to be found out? The answer is none of the above — it is simply essential to the climax of the film that the email be left on the computer. Surely a movie with a forehead-smacker as big as this one could have made use of a good script doctor. (Maybe Bass the producer nixed the idea on behalf of Bass the writer?)
The real shame is that this is ultimately a screwball comedy that’s decidedly lacking in screwballs — Julianne, Michael, and even Kimmy are all so middle-of-the-road it’s impossible to tell whether any of them would really make a good couple. Other things it’s lacking: witty dialogue, winning performances (with the big exception of Everett, who could easily see this turn into an Oscar nomination), and the stripe of ingenious situational comedy that can turn a shallow character into someone worth caring about. What it’s got going for it is a single gentle lesson on a universal truth — we change, the people we love change, and drifting apart can be painful. Of course, if you’re fully cognizant of all that on the way into the theater, the ending of My Best Friend’s Wedding is simply a foregone conclusion.
Francesco Dellamorte has a bit of a problem. He’s the live-in watchman at Buffalora Cemetery in northern Italy, where the corpses are crawling back out of their graves after spending a mere week or so in the ground. As you can imagine, that’s something of a nuisance, but if he reports it to the authorities, he’s certain of one thing — they’ll shut down the cemetery to investigate, and Francesco will be out of a job. Since he can’t have that happening, he keeps a loaded pistol with him, which he carries to the door whenever he answers a knock. It’s usually just one of them coming back, and a single bullet blown solidly through the head — where have you gone, George Romero? — takes a zombie down easily enough. For a misanthrope like Francesco, it’s a pretty good gig.
Surrounded by death, and with only the clumsy and deformed Gnaghi for company, Francesco’s life is pretty stable until he falls for a mourning widow. Anna Falchi plays the object of his desire (known in the credits as “She”), whom he seduces in the Buffalora Ossuary (where the bones of the dead are deposited); the two indulge their strange affections on her poor husband’s grave. Naturally, the old man comes back. The woman dies in her spouse’s ensuing fit of jealous violence, and Francesco is stricken with despair. Naturally, She comes back again. And again.
That’s only the surface of the remarkable Dellamorte Dellamore. You might expect even a stylish horror director to milk these situations for all they’re worth, but Michele Soavi knows that zombie hijinks have been done to death by such precocious directors as Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson. Accordingly, the movie never stops moving, twisting and turning its way to an oddly existential climax. The scenario, written for the screen by Gianni Romoli from a comic book scenario by Tiziano Sclavi, concentrates on the human characters rather than the zombies, and gives as much play to turmoil of the spirit as it does to the carnage that spills from the body. The world of Francesco Dellamorte runs parallel to George Romero’s zombie apocalypse. Like Romero’s trilogy, and quite unlike many of its imitators, Dellamorte Dellamore is a zombie movie with character.
I have to wonder what American audiences are expecting on the way into this picture, given that the normally staid October Films has created a mild cheeseball of an ad campaign to push the film into U.S. theaters. “Zombies, Guns and Sex, OH MY!” reads the tagline, stripped across poster art that may lead audiences to believe that Cemetery Man is actually a cheap horror flick from the 50s or 60s. I find it hard to believe that this campaign will actually attract a discriminating audience, but stranger things have happened, and we’ll just have to see. Rest assured that Cemetery Man/Dellamorte Dellamore is a confident, creepy little horror film with a winning sense of humor, a sure feel for outrageous imagery, and a healthy mean streak.
As played by Rupert Everett (Ready to Wear), Francesco is a misfit and a nihilist. (The main character in the Dylan Dog comic book series originated by Sclavi is based on Everett, and his casting here is something of a coup.) He’s also a remarkable Everyman who commands our attention and our sympathy as he slouches toward the inevitable. Francois Hadji Lazaro’s Gnaghi is by turns irritating and pathetic. (You may have seen Lazaro as the meanest-looking cyclops in City of Lost Children.) By the time he develops a decidedly unhealthy crush on the mayor’s daughter (and the mayor’s daughter’s disembodied head), Lazaro has invited viewers to inhabit his character, and the results are unsettling. The relationship is consummated at the end of the film, but these two are shown early on to be classic codependents. Along those lines, the movie exhibits a well-developed sense of humor that goes a long way toward eliciting the viewer’s sympathy. The characters aren’t very pleasant, but you start to identify with them in spite of yourself. By the time the movie is over, their predicament almost seems to take on mythic proportions.
Herein seems to lie the problem for many American critics, who have been less than impressed with what may be a vigorous political allegory. I guess I’m a little slow, but I didn’t understand right away that the Italian citizens who are zombified — a disquietingly fascist troupe of boy scouts, Buffalora’s highest ranking incompetent bureaucrat — may represent the dead archetypes of Italian society come back to haunt the living. Instead, I fell for the grisly comedy and the sharp cinematic style, which references such influential pictures as Vertigo and Once Upon a Time in the West (on which Soavi’s progenitor Dario Argento received a story credit). And while that bastion of genre reporting, Cinefantastique, had decidedly unkind words for the film’s alleged misogyny, I read it instead as a look inside poor Dellamorte’s head. Francesco, as noted above, is an equal opportunity curmudgeon, and if She is treated as the most maddening of all the characters, it’s because she is the object of Francesco’s most maddening obsessions. At the same time, I think these critics complain a little too much. Stephen Holden, writing in The New York Times, criticized the film’s decision to make Francesco impotent — missing the important joke, which is that he’s really not impotent at all, despite the rumor around town (you have to wonder if Holden left partway through).
The cemetery itself is a triumph of production design, an inhabited world with curious nooks and crannies (the Ossuary, Gnaghi’s cellar in the watchman’s house). It’s also a representation of Francesco’s state of mind, and the essence of the movie rests in the ways he discovers to break away from it. Gory and playful, darkly humorous and flippantly bleak, Soavi’s film is a joyride through a sullen state of mind. After Francesco takes his revenge on the world outside, and sets himself to escaping from the life he’s made, Dellamorte Dellamore finally offers up its own definition of madness.