Trivial Post #1: Sideways and Closer

We saw Sideways (last night) and Closer (a couple of weeks ago). Both are Oscar-contenders, and both can be placed in the "arty divorce drama" genre. I liked them, but was left feeling a little hollow in both cases.

On the positive, I appreciated the quality of both films. They are unquestionablly intelligent and nicely shot. Closer has some beautifully taut dialogue, and an interesting play between symmetry and asymmetry in the plot that would do Tristan Todorov proud. And Sideways has moments of neurotic, offbeat genius, usually involving the spilling of wine or the travails of flabby middle-aged masculinity. Also, Paul Giamatti's performance as the depressed wine aficionado and failed writer is a pretty classic -- the schlemiel sublime. (There were half a dozen moments when the dialogue reminded me of my own life: "So what's your book about? When's it coming out? Can I read it?" Argh)

That said, I found both films a little depressing. In contrast to romantic comedies and bildungsroman (coming-of-age) stories, divorce dramas are about coming to terms with a life that is somewhat less than expected. It's an important lesson, to be sure, but I still recoil from this type of film at an involuntary, emotional level.

I'm not sure where my faint sense of disdain for these films is coming from; three years ago I'd probably be raving enthusiastically. It's possible I've lately been corrupted by too many sunny Hindi films, which are almost always "comedy" (in that they end in a marriage), even when they have a serious component. Or maybe the American art house obsession with chronicling squandered intelligence (a tradition that goes back to Woody Allen, and before) has always been basically a waste of time, but it took me until now to notice it.

I prefer Before Sunset -- which I would happily watch again -- to either of these films.


chutry said...

I found Sideways to be a little disappointing for reasons I can't quite articulate, but in my case, I don't think it has anything to do with the film's downbeat message. In part, I'm reacting to the aclaim being given to a film that I find somewhat mean-spirited in places, especially towards the overweight couple. I liked Closer more than Sideways, but like you I'll take Before Sunset over both of them.

Rob Breymaier said...

Just saw Before Sunset and loved it. It makes you feel everything in some way or another. Sometimes it felt maddening that they didn't meet again. It also felt maddening that they did meet again. And, it also felt good that they met again.

jeet said...

[C]oming to terms with a life that is somewhat less than expected [is] an important lesson, to be sure, but I still recoil from this type of film at an involuntary, emotional level.Have you seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or High Fidelity yet? They deal with the same theme but end much more optimistically.

Closer was so depressing I couldn't even enjoy the naked Natalie Portman. That's a whole 'nother level of depressing.

electrostani said...

Jeet, I've seen both (and I've actually also read the Nick Hornby novel on which the movie is based).

Eternal Sunshine was definitely pretty impressive as a film, and as a work of imagination. I think you're right to place it in the same category as Closer and Sideways, and I also agree that it was more optimistic in a sense: Jim Carrey's character slowly comes to realize what he's lost, and there's some hope for restoration.

But in another sense it's just as dark, as it points out only too clearly the dangers of our impulse to completely amputate our experiences of injury and suffering (the metaphor of erased memory). I would also happily watch that one again to think over some of these things a little more.

As for High Fidelity, I must confess when watching it (and reading it) I was too preocupied with worrying about my similarity to the John Cusack character [as a somewhat obsessive collector of music, I probably have some of the same anti-social tendencies] to really think about the film!