27 February 2008

Friends with Money

I didn't really like this movie, but I really can't tell if it's because it's not a good movie, or just not a good movie for me. Chick flicks often have this effect on me - I really can't evaluate them well. I can't tell if they're unrealistic/poorly written, or if it's just that they're true-to-life representations of the subdivision of humanity that I have a hard time understanding and am not particularly fond of. 

This movie is part chick flick, part depressing "indie gem", in that nothing really happens, and it features intensely self-absorbed characters trying to find happiness while questioning if it's even possible, but that quest mostly involves women dealing with relationships. There's an attempt to add some profundity by contemplating class issues in the process - 3 of the women are extremely wealthy while the other one is poor in the Friends kind of way, ie, despite the fact that she works a low income job and scams free samples, she also lives in a fairly nice apartment and strikes one as being pretty bougie. 

So, the characters have some interesting conversations, I guess, but I ultimately couldn't really relate to any of them. I especially had a hard time relating to their relationship problems, because most of them, it seemed to me, suffered from a problem that I think is all too common these days, namely, this notion that one's feelings matter in some kind of fundamental way. I'm not saying that feelings don't matter, but jesus, do people have to talk about them all the time? And this sense that if one is feeling unhappy, that indicates a problem with the world that must be solved, and whoever it is that's making you feel bad needs to not do whatever it is they're doing. I just find it sort of petulant and irritating. Maybe it's a kind of squeamishness or prudery on my part, but I feel like there are things in the world that people should just keep to themselves. I dunno. 

The main critique I've heard of this movie, which I think is valid, is that the friendship between the women is totally unbelievable. Most people seem to think this is because of the class divide, but to me, it was because honestly, they didn't really seem to get along that well. I mean, they weren't very kind to each other. This connects back to the point above, in that the cruelty often masqueraded as caring, or some kind of tough love, but to me, it ultimately seemed like it came out of people being unsatisfied with their own lives and dealing with it by meddling in that of others. Maybe this was the point of the film, to illustrate this casual cruelty, or reflect on narcissism camouflaged as caring, but I dunno, I mostly just found it kind of depressing. 


Russell said...

I think that it is a mistake to dwell too much on what the characters say in this film, and their apparent disregard for each other. The movie is easy to dismiss because it "feels" like a standard indie flick, but while that pejorative usually is applied to talky, somewhat sophomoric projects with little deeper content to commend them, I think that this movie really has a lot more behind it than one might initially think. This is more like what indie films want to be.

I think that the movie is more about the way that power manifests in interpersonal relationships, how fluid it can be between people given social context, and the ambiguity of where it comes from. It's true that the characters are unhappy, but I think that the ways in which they are unhappy are subtle and complex, and the way that their unhappiness is transformed into behavior is interesting in that the film portrays their behavior as an interplay between conscious and unconscious personal needs that are to the characters poorly difined. I think that the ending is particularly strong, because it tricks the viewer into thinking that the movie is turning into a standard wish-fulfillment fantasy, and then completely subverts that conclusion by essentially rejecting the apparent thesis of the movie in the final scene.

It also helps that the acting is uniformly excellent, that the characters (with only a few exceptions) are well-developed, and that the cinematography is strong. Watch it again.

culture_vulture said...

Heh. A Foucauldian chick flick. Awesome.

Personally, I didn't find the ways in which they were unhappy to be all that subtle, or particularly complex. Especially given that they were ALL unhappy, and dealing with it in mostly dysfunctional, unproductive ways. While I grant you this interplay between conscious and unconscious needs and behavior, which indeed was well done, the only character who manifested that in an interesting way, I thought, was Frances McDormand's. But her emotional breakdown was completely lost in the sea of dysfunction.

Also, I didn't think that the characters were well-developed - especially Catherine Keener's. Her character was basically moping for the entire film. Which was a pity, because she could have been an interesting character, a bright woman who is somewhat clumsy and occasionally slightly naive/thoughtless, but given that all she really got to do was be miserable, her character ended up seeming like a hopeless case.

Actually, to me the most interesting characters of all were the male ones, and most particularly, the "he's not actually gay" ones. The rich snob husband was a total caricature, as was the personal trainer guy.

I guess the problem was that the movie almost tried to do too much, and ended up half-assing most of it. It couldn't find a balance, for instance, between scenes where the characters were a total mess, and ones where they were doing relatively ok, which made it seem like they were all just disasters except for the occasional scene where one of them could temporarily pull herself together by focusing on another someone else's problems.

Ultimately, the real problem for me was that the movie failed to tell a compelling story. It was more like a character study, but by trying to capture all of these women, it failed to really get any of them, and in attempting to create some kind of plot arc, it made the Jennifer Anniston portion way too focal. Just not a very well balanced film, although I agree that there were some good aspects to it. Still though, I don't particularly want to watch it again.