It’s movies today, so let’s get started.
First, it’s Junior. This is, undoubtedly, not a good film. So why do I enjoy it? It’s not like it’s a film I seek out, but I’ve watched it two or three times now, and I’ve enjoyed it each time. What could the reason possibly be?
Well, OK, maybe it’s true I’d watch Emma Thompson in almost anything. But the rest of the cast are all likeable. The main draw is the reuniting of the pair from Twins. Arnold Schwarzenegger has no problem playing the stiff Austrian scientist, but he’s also good at the humour.
DeVito could play his part in his sleep. He’s perhaps a bit softer than he often is, not written to be quite as abrasive, although, as we’ll see, there’s a huge dark centre to his character.
Plus the supporting cast are great. Frank Langella plays the evil University administrator.
Pamela Reed, returning from Ivan Reitman’s Kindergarten Cop, plays DeVito’s ex wife.
There’s even a tiny, uncredited appearance from Phyllida Law, Emma Thompson’s mother, as a doctor.
All this being said, I’m not sure the film on its own is very funny. Thompson gets a lot of slapstick, which isn’t bad but feels like an excuse for fewer actual gags. Is there really any reason why her first introduction is rolling at speed into her new lab on the top of a cryogenic freezer?
Slightly better is the moment, much later, in a restaurant, the scene starts with a waiter picking up a crab claw from a table as the diners look surprised. This is a nice subtle reference to Thompson’s constant slapstick, but the film has to underline the gag by following the waiter to Thompson and Arnie’s table, and having him give the crab claw back to Thompson with “I believe this is yours”. I feel it’s funnier not to labour it so much.
There are some genuinely bad things in the movie. Like when DeVito has to procure an egg for implantation, and rather than go through proper channels, he steals one from Thompson’s freezer. He knows nothing about whose egg it is (we find out later) so for all he knows he might be stealing the one remaining chance for a woman to have her own baby. This is unbelievably immoral, regardless of where you stand on fertility experimentation. But there’s no real discussion. Even when Schwarzenegger finds out the egg is Thompson’s it’s more like a social faux pas than a horrific moral lapse.
I feel like the conversation they have when DeVito thinks it’s time to stop the experiment is rather cold. I can’t remember if there was much controversy around the film at the time, but I definitely feel like the matter of fact discussion of what is, after all, terminating a pregnancy, might have a bit more nuance.
Arnie posing as a woman is far less offensive, but it still feels slightly transphobic.
And the film has one genuinely excellent line, when Thompson has found out what the men have done, she says “You think men don’t hold enough cards you have to take this away from us as well.”
Before I finish, I should mention my theory that Ivan Reitman has no sense of humour and no idea what’s funny. He has, undoubtedly, made films that are funny, but they rely a lot on the quality of the writing. I wonder if I’m influenced by the stories Douglas Adams used to tell about trying to develop a Hitchhiker’s Guide movie in the 80s. I believe Reitman was one of the people involved, and Douglas didn’t have a high opinion of his comedic sense. And his films do feel more like light dramas with some funny scenes. Even Ghostbusters is not exactly high on the laughs.
The next thing on this tape is another comedy. It’s The Hudsucker Proxy, from the Coen brothers. It’s a strange old film, like many of theirs. It’s not one of theirs that I love, like Raising Arizona. It’s more one to appreciate.
I like the magic realism aspects of it. Like the newspaper with the job ad and coffee ring that chases Tim Robbins up the street.
Paul Newman plays against type as a ruthless businessman.
Tim Robbins is good as the young schmuck chosen to be the CEO in order to tank the company stock. But I do get annoyed that he’s just so useless.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is brilliant as the super-fast talking Amy Archer. But because Robbins is so dumb, I don’t really buy her falling in love.
John Mahoney is her editor.
Bruce Campbell has a small role as another reporter.
I like the echoes of Brazil in this film, with the awful corporation, which docks workers pay for the minute’s silence they have to observe when the boss dies.
And I do like “You know, for kids”. Not remotely funny until it’s repeated, the mark of true comedy.
The tape ends shortly after the movie.
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