February 13th, 2012

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Movie Monday: Something Borrowed

Since I finished a round of revisions on Friday, I decided to give myself a weekend off. I got the second season DVD set for Downton Abbey and had myself a marathon on Saturday, so I've now seen the whole thing ahead of PBS and without all the PBS edits. I watched the PBS broadcast last night, and they went after it with a razor blade, not really cutting scenes but cutting individual lines or the beginnings and ends of scenes. Now, though, I have to wait a year for the next season. Boo.

Sunday afternoon was cold, so I made some popcorn and snuggled under the electric blanket to watch Something Borrowed on HBO. After all, it's the weekend before Valentine's Day, so it's the perfect time for a romantic comedy. I've read the book it was based on, but that was years ago, so I don't remember it well enough to be able to do a book-into-movie comparison. I kind of liked the book but didn't love it madly, but I'm not sure I can make myself read it again after seeing the movie (and I have an autographed copy!). I had some issues with the events in the book, but the book was well-written enough that I could still sympathize with the characters, even as they were doing things I found despicable -- I think that was the point of the book. It was like an exercise in "make the character do something she'd never do." But while the movie followed the book's plot, something about it just highlighted the issues without generating the sympathy, and I'm afraid I'd bring that back to the book if I re-read it.

Anyway, the story is about two young women on the cusp of 30 who have been best friends since childhood. There's Darcy, who is blond, rich, self-centered and shallow, and then there's Rachel, who's a mousy, brainy brunette. When Rachel's in law school, her study partner is Dex, The Perfect Man, who is gorgeous, wealthy and intelligent, and she has a mad crush on him. But then when she introduces her best friend to this guy she's been talking about non-stop, Darcy turns the flirt up to eleven and is all over him. Rachel figures she can't compete and gives up entirely. But that's all backstory. In the present, Darcy and Dex are engaged, with their wedding a few months away. After a birthday party for Rachel that somehow turns into an engagement party for Darcy, Rachel and Dex are talking and she lets slip that she used to have a crush on him. It turns out he felt the same way but thought he didn't have a chance when she set him up with her best friend. One thing leads to another, and soon they're having a guilt-inducing affair. Rachel has a dilemma -- she can either have the man she loves or her best friend. Not that she has much choice in the matter because Dex is still playing lovey-dovey with Darcy and hasn't done anything to call off the wedding. Fortunately, we're saved the trouble of having to yell at the screen because the filmmakers have taken care of that for us, in the form of Ethan, yet another friend from childhood, who says everything we've been thinking about how insane this situation is. He noticed how self-centered Darcy is when Rachel doesn't seem to have figured it out. He figures out the affair because he has eyes and a brain. And he gives good advice that no one takes. I don't recall this character playing that big a role in the book, although he's a major character in the follow-up. But since the movie can't get us into the heroine's head the way a book can, she needs a confidant character to talk to, and so they beefed up Ethan's role.

One of my issues with the premise may come from my background as an Army brat, since none of the reviews I saw on IMDB mentioned this. I don't have any friends from childhood who are still in my life. We moved around so much, and my friends moved around so much, that I was always moving on and making new friends. I'm now Facebook friends with one elementary school friend and some of my high school friends, but I don't have enough in common with any of them anymore to want them to play a bigger role in my life. So I may not understand the importance of someone who's known you since elementary school. I figure if you can break off a romance that's not working for you, you can break off a friendship that's not working for you. I'm not even sure why Darcy and Rachel ever were friends. They don't seem to have anything in common. The big bonding moment in the movie is when they do a dance routine they did for some junior high talent show. I don't know what they talk about other than Darcy. It strikes me as a very unhealthy relationship. If they were romantic partners instead of just friends we'd probably call it an emotionally abusive, co-dependent relationship. It seems more like a case of a Queen Bee and her sycophantic adorer, the only girl it's safe for the Queen Bee to be friends with because she's no competition. Darcy bosses Rachel around, tries to dictate her life, never even acknowledges that she might have needs, and then just when she goes too far with the selfishness she'll come out with the "oh, you're my best friend and I love you so much" talk. If Rachel had any self-respect, she'd ditch Darcy regardless of the guy. But most of the criticisms of the movie (and the book) have more to do with how awful it is to let a guy come between friends. I don't see them as really being friends.

Where the movie has problems is in the casting. Ginnifer Goodwin (Snow White in Once Upon a Time) plays Rachel, and she's supposedly the girl who can't believe that an attractive man would ever be interested in her. I think she's absolutely stunning, far more attractive than Darcy (Kate Hudson). If she's got that bad a self-image while looking like that, we're at pathological levels of self-loathing. Meanwhile, Dex is supposed to be deeper and more substantial, so that it seems that all he and Darcy have going for them is that they look pretty together, while he really has more in common with Rachel because they're both smart and have deep thoughts. I'm not familiar with the guy playing Dex, and he is hampered by a script that makes his character essentially a MacGuffin -- an object to be attained that isn't all that important in and of itself -- so he may have read the script and figured that "bland" was what they wanted. He's reasonably attractive in a young Tom Cruise way, where his features are all just right but there's something kind of plastic about him that makes him rather uninteresting. To make matters worse, Ethan, the best buddy, is played by John Krasinski, who may not be classically handsome but who I find very appealing. His character not only gets all the good lines and gets to be the comic relief in this so-called (but not very funny) romantic comedy, but he infuses the role with a lot of personality and makes good use of his full repertoire of reaction expressions honed on The Office. Even worse than that, Rachel and Ethan spend a lot more time together and interact more than Rachel and Darcy or Rachel and Dex do. For a mad moment (spoiler alert) I thought they were going to do something crazy and change the ending of the book, since they had the more famous actor in the "best friend" role and beefed up that role so significantly. I know that the girl realizing that her best buddy has been right there all along after she's wasted so much time chasing Mr. Wrong is a romantic comedy cliche, but the reason that the cliches become cliches is that they work. It's actually rather dissatisfying when they break with the trope, especially since Dex is such a useless waffler. I do know that if they do make the sequel, I'll have to avoid it. I actually liked the second book better, but I'm not sure I could stomach seeing that story with these actors in those roles after having seen this movie.

Now I need to find something good to watch on Valentine's night, or maybe something so bad it's good. I'll have to see what Lifetime Movie Network OnDemand has available. I could use a good "my husband's trying to kill me" movie.