Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A fabulous Woman

Writing about the "Late Film" program at BAM got me thinking about how formerly disgraced pictures go from the lower depths to becoming overrated. I think it may have something to do with younger cineastes looking for something to call their own that hasn't already been claimed and lionized by the old guard. If that's the case, then maybe instead of raiding the vaults, we (and I count myself; I'm not Rex Reed's age, yet) might instead to turn to lost, or at least orphaned, pictures, that never got their proper due and could use a champion. Exhibit A: Amy Heckerling's I Could Never Be Your Woman, which was supposed to debut in 2007, went straight-to-DVD a year later, and is now on cable, where it completely charmed me.

That strident title didn't help, but this is Heckerling's show all the way and I can live with it. The film was also a victim of bad timing: If only it could have waited for male lead Paul Rudd, her Clueless discovery, to emerge as a more of a marquee, thanks to his successful run of Judd Apatow, or Judd Apatow-like, comedies. The shame of it all, and why it's definitely worth catching (Cinemax has it in rotation), is that a spectacular Michelle Pfeiffer performance has gone unseen. She's looser, funnier, and more beguiling than she has been in years, and the film comes just as she seemed about to fall into caricature mode, via Hairspray and her fantasy witch in the underrated Stardust. She's good in those parts, but she really scores here playing a normal human being, a producer of an urban tween TV show whose inner child is feeling a bit beleaguered, as her daughter (Atonement's Saiorse Ronan) clambers into adolescence and she begins a tentative romance with a rising young comic actor (Rudd) who's a decade younger. Even her personal advisor, Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman), can't help her through an unexpected midlife crisis.

The movie is a lot of fun. Heckerling loves all the showbiz stuff and doesn't satirize it, though the movie implicitly comments on the silliness of ageism: Pfeiffer, Rudd, and Stacey Dash, as Pfeiffer's secretary nemesis, are all older than the parts (Dash, the star of TV's Clueless, a good 20 years older) but play them comfortably, and there's a good scene where Pfeiffer gives hell to a cad (U.K. Office co-star Mackenzie Crook) who's commenting on the alleged deterioration of actresses of her generation. I liked all the actors who flit in and out, particularly Jon Lovitz, as Pfeiffer's implant-obsessed ex. Lovitz and Pfeiffer as husband and wife is enough to blow a hole in the continuum of plausible movie marriages, yet they click. Working with comedians like Lovitz and Fred Willard brings out the best of Pfeiffer's timing and instincts, and on the more dramatic side of the scale she and Ronan are thoroughly believable. I'm making I Could Never Be Your Woman my cause; what else is out there that needs nurture and support?

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