Monday, December 08, 2014

Going, Going, Gone.

The weekend that came to known as “anniversary weekend” was inaugurated with a viewing of Gone Girl, the new movie by David Fincher, that guy I used to think was a genius.  My wife and I had the rare day off together, so we opted to take in an afternoon movie, always an indulgence tied to the sense—real or imagined—that we’re playing hooky.  We had lunch first and strolled through some stores like a couple of people with no concerns.  A few hours later, when the lights came up and ushers arrived to clean the nearly empty stadium theater, we turned to each other and, through laughter, confessed that it was a good thing this movie wasn’t made four years earlier.  We might never have gotten hitched. 

This is bullshit.  (Not the story—the part about us never marrying had we seen Gone Girl prior to tying the knot.  Pardon the cliché (two already and I’m barely into this thing), but it seems fitting to use clichés when discussing Gone Girl, a movie that revels in them.  If you have seen the film, you’ll likely be thinking that a movie with so big a twist can’t honestly be accused of delving into cliché, but, of course, the big crazy twist is itself a Hollywood cliché.  Anyway, I thought we’d collectively tired of twists in our post-M. Night Shyamalan world.)  We would still have gotten married, as evidence by our remaining together after seeing the film, despite Fincher’s prediction that his movie would launch fifteen million divorces.  That we even joked about the movie in this way (this prior to reading Fincher’s statement) makes me angry; that goddamn Fincher—he got me.  I may not be divorced but I still, in a small way, succumbed to his designs. 

I doubt very much that Fincher truly wants to cause anyone to break up.  No, his intentions here are standard: he wants to entertain and evoke, engage and amuse.  And what’s wrong with that?  Nothing, I guess, but I can’t help but feel that the director responsible for The Game, that most underrated of films, and Seven, that most successful of thrillers, is now more inclined to standard craftwork with a dash of smarts, just enough to make audiences regard three star fare as prime rib.  To a culture hooked on Candy Crush Saga, that’s about the best you can expect. 

Gone Girl is not a smart film.  This is not an insult.  When I regard any piece of art as “smart” I mean that the film/book/song asks the viewer/reader/listener to engage with the material in a way that is more active than passive.  Tall order for a movie, but more than possible.  Gone Girl only asks that we sit back and watch smart people (well, one smart woman, her dupe of husband, and scores of rubes so inconsequential one hardly notices their passing from the story) do interesting things.  This is fun and distracting and even engrossing, but the critics who imply that this is a smart film are full of shit.  This is better than average Hollywood fare made by a talented director starring a very talented actress and an occasionally talented actor who should direct more movies like Gone Baby Gone.  Again, there is nothing wrong with the film on that level.  The world can always use movies of this kind, movies that are fun and full “Holy Shit!” moments and nifty plots.  The good old devices work well-- twists (sure, why not), sex, murder, crazy women with sharp objects-- but creaking mechanics are too frequently celebrated.  It makes me wonder why the same critics who laud this film are so turned off by horror movies. 

Gone Girl is, in a sense, a damn good horror movie.  Okay, a thriller if you prefer that term.  But I don’t.  To me, it’s horror—it has some blood, some sex, and a damn scary villain, though some might regard her as the hero.  Why not?  I tend to root for Freddy Krueger.  As a horror film (let’s just call it that, okay), it is quite good.  But the confines of the genre can be a little tiring, and in this case they threaten to strangle the whole thing right around Act IV. 

If you’ve seen the movie, think back to when Amazing Amy comes back to Naughty Nick.  (If you have not seen the movie, be prepared for spoilers, though who gives a shit?)  She’s covered in blood and faking panic.  She’s just contrived and executed a perfect murder.  She’s onto plan B as her first scheme hit a rough patch after a trailer trash couple got the jump on her (some evil genius she turns out to be).  She’s committed to her sociopathic ruses in a way that should be the envy of any Stanislavskian.  But things have gone too far, for Amy and for the story.  We’ve seen too much.  Nick knows too much.  But he stays with her because… Actually, I’m not quite sure.  Some metaphor here, right?  And maybe a good one, and actually this may be the point where the audience is asked to use their head a bit, but the leap from exciting thrills to deeper analysis comes late and requires too great a leap from passivity to really elevate this genre exercise. 

Gone Girl seeks to subvert gender norms and fails when it embraces them.  Too bad-- I'd love for a horror movie to fuck around with bullshit gender roles.  It is possible to play with racial and gender politics in horror, though it’s rare (name a horror movie not titled Dawn of the Dead where the only survivors are a black guy and a pregnant woman).  But Gone Girl flirts with the idea and basically takes a giant shit on it.  Much has been made of Amy’s rant about the cool girl, the one every guy wants.  While I enjoyed the speech, the categorizing does little more than distinguish Amy from the woman her husband is fucking, dividing women into two very clichéd categories.  And her litany of complaints is hardly new, sapping some originality from what is supposed to be an original character.  A blonde writer with a genius brain and murderous tendencies… have we seen that before?  Well, to be sure Gone Girl will likely hold up a bit better than Basic Instinct, though not much.  But we might at least cut Basic Instinct some slack.  All it wanted to be was trashy entertainment.  You gotta respect the honesty.