One year later (and one father shorter)

It’s been well over a year since my last post. Yet despite this passage time, now, after all these months, I feel as though I need to offer some explanation. I can’t say why, exactly, since I don’t “owe” the Internet anything and I expect that any followers of this blog have flown the coop ages ago. Maybe it’s an explanation of facts that I need to type out for myself, so that they seem real. Because for the past year, I’ve had the feeling of living a nightmare out of space and time.

My father died on Oct. 12 after a 20-month battle with small-cell lung cancer. He lived 14 months longer than any of his doctors thought he would, though of course at the time of diagnosis no one would put such a firm expiration date on his life. Perhaps it was a way to encourage him to fight that much harder; perhaps it was honesty on the part of his oncologist, who had no cancer crystal ball and could not, really, predict how long it would take the cancer to destroy his lung capacity. At any rate, Dad stayed on chemo and occasionally radiation for much of those 20 months. In fact, he was overdue for his next round of chemo when he was hospitalized two weeks ago. It happened this way: He was doing well, he was doing pretty well, he couldn’t breathe, he got a little better, he died. Just that quick, after one excruciatingly bad night in the hospital, he was gone. And even though my family had 20 months to digest the idea, his death happened so fast that it flattened our lives like a tornado; we were grabbing up photos and papers while the sirens went off, even though we knew it was too late. One minute I was kissing my father goodbye in his hospital bed, and the next I was in a funeral home, surrounded by rows and rows of urns, reeling at the thought of having to choose one as his final resting place.

So much of the past year has been devoted to coming to terms with this pending loss. The process more or less paralyzed my writing ability, and I found myself, every time I sat down to compose a review, at a loss for words. So many words gone unwritten, just like so many words gone unspoken, words I should have said to my father but did not. Now the “pending” part is gone, and I suppose what’s left is grief. Plain, ugly, painful grief, the kind there’s no way of getting around. The work of accepting a life where someone who was a constant fixture is missing. Accepting this surreal, strange new world where it feels as though the rug has been ripped from underneath me only to reveal that that floor is missing as well. Accepting a new normal far less appealing than the old one. I’ll be candid: I have no idea how to do any of this. But I think writing will have to be a part of it. Because I shared a love of movies with my father, and because he was always proud of my reviews, no matter how many or how few people read them. Dad may have been a man of few words, but I knew that much. And I’d like to think that coming back to these reviews, however slowly, is a way of honoring him, of honoring his memory.

Stress

Once again I’ve done my best Willy Wonka impression: as quickly as I came, I vanished.

I could make some noise about the stress of changing jobs (true) and dealing with family issues (also true), but I’ll spare you from hearing that tune again. Let’s just say that right now, in the battle of blogging vs. life, life is taking names and kicking ass. And one of those asses, I’m sad to say, belongs to this blog.

So bear with me, folks, while I get through these next few weeks of big changes and stomach-tightening anxiety, and I’ll get back to scribbling about movie films directly…

Film roundtable, take 2

Rich “I don’t review films, I relive them” at Widescreen World asked me to pitch in my 2 cents for his latest film roundtable discussion. Univarn from A Life in Equinox, Andrew from Encore’s World of Film and TV and I weigned in on the future of chick flicks (let’s hope they go the way of “Bridesmaids”), the change in the number of Best Picture nominees and more. Read our rap session online or click on the graphic. Enjoy…

My thought on today

My thought on today

Carell, Gosling a fine, funny pairing in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

Cal (Steve Carell) gets his groove back in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”

“Bad Santa” fans, prepare to meet a kinder, gentler Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Indeed, “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” is far removed from the booze-soaked, potty-mouthed desperation of “Bad Santa” (Ficarra and Requa penned the script) or the all-out insanity of “I Love You Phillip Morris.” Maybe one too many ass jokes prompted the duo to venture into calmer waters with “Crazy, Stupid, Love.,” a romantic comedy with strong performances and several tongue-in-cheek jabs at rom-com gimmicks.

Casting Steve Carell as Cal Weaver, a nice-but-oft-befuddled 40ish father and husband, was the first smart move (if not a stroke of genius, because who could play Joe Husband better than Carell?). He’s got the best face in the business for communicating bemusement and heartbreak, and rare is the actor who can locate humor in a moment of complete emotional devastation. For Cal, that moment is the dinner where his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) announces she’s cheated on Cal and wants a divorce. It’s one of those inherently human situations where the shock is too great to predict the emotional fallout. Cal’s so dumbfounded he can’t speak, leading him to roll out of a moving car to avoid any more of Emily’s confessions. Within a few days he’s moved into a grim little apartment and parked himself at a chi-chi local bar, yammering drunkenly about his troubles (Carell’s “I’m a cuckold” speech is hysterical) to anyone within earshot. Suave ladies’ man Jacob (Ryan Gosling, who proves adept at comedy) takes pity on this unfortunately dressed soul and offers him lessons on how to rediscover his masculinity (step one: ditch the sneaks-and-khakis getup).

 
Jacob and Cal’s unlikely friendship is a high point of “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” because it gives Carell and Gosling, both choice character actors, ample opportunities to play off each other’s quite different comedic styles. Carell is never better than when he’s playing a character who’s miles outside of his comfort zone (see “Date Night” or “Dan in Real Life”), and Cal Weaver is never less comfortable than when he’s trying to pick up women (Marisa Tomei has a fun cameo as Cal’s first post-breakup “score”). On the other end of the spectrum is Gosling, who tends to pick dramatic roles and do amazing things with them. His comedy comes from a place of self-confidence and trends toward random observational humor, such as his sheepish admission to new love Hannah (Emma Stone, delightful) that he stole his big “close-the-deal” move straight from “Dirty Dancing” (he uses the Bill Medley/Jennifer Warnes song and everything). That, really, is the appeal of Carell and Gosling as pals: They’re so dissimilar you’d never match them up as a funny guy pair, but together they’re terrific.
 
Not all the pairings in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” work quite so well, though. The subplot involving Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bob) and his infatuation with babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) is sweet but not particularly interesting, especially considering that Jessica has a raging crush on Cal. (The whole bit with her snapping nude photos to prove to him she’s not a kid is just awkward.) Kevin Bacon doesn’t generate much heat with Moore as David Lindhagen, the man who effectively broke up Emily and Cal’s marriage. Moore and Carell do have the sometimes weary chemistry of a long-married couple (their scene outside Robbie’s parent-teacher conference is wrenching). Still, even they can’t quite hold a candle to Stone and Gosling, whose budding relationship essentially runs away with “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” These two are dynamite together, and they develop a believable, tentative first-love kind of intimacy that’s a nice juxtaposition to Emily and Cal’s well-worn but deep affection for one another. Even when Dan Fogelman’s script takes a few missteps (like the Big Speech Ending), it’s these two relationships — one winding down, the other gearing up — that make “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” a cut above most romantic comedies. 
 
Grade: B+

My thought on today

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