Monday, October 27, 2014

A microcosm of getting it wrong

If you think the title of this post indicates an imminent episode of ragging on the much-ragged-upon The Monuments Men, you're only half right -- and you aren't looking at both posters.

Actually, it's me that's been getting it wrong, perhaps even more so than George Clooney in his limp World War II variation on Ocean's Eleven.

As is my custom, I will lay the groundwork for my argument and then back up a scootch.

My wife has seriously curtailed her movie-watching tendencies lately. Once she was game for three or four a week, but a second baby and a job that involves reading sub-par scripts has left her topping out at about two. And usually that's only if I make sure to present it as an option. Left to her own devices, she could let two to three weeks pass without consuming a single movie.

Me, I'm still at five or even six a week.

It's incumbent on me, then -- especially when picking up something on a whim -- to find that perfect match between something she's said she wants to see, something I haven't already seen, and something we might both be in the mood for that particular evening.

Usually, I fumble this responsibility, but not without good intentions.

Because my wife is a lovely person, she will still watch whatever I've picked. She knows that I have it only one night, and if she doesn't watch it with me during primetime, then I'll have to stay up past midnight to watch it after primetime's over. Return it unwatched? Keep it a second night? Those are not options.

What makes this problem worse, though, is that after bringing home a dud for us to watch together, I will invariably then watch something incredible by myself -- something that would have more than satisfied her precious quotient of time allocated for movies. (Not using the loaded word "precious" sarcastically here, in case you were wondering.)

This past weekend was a perfect encapsulation of that phenomenon. I did, in fact, rent The Monuments Men on Saturday, knowing that our Saturdays are one of our rare surefire movie nights. She said, some months earlier, that she wanted to see it. At some subsequent time, she learned it wasn't supposed to be great -- as did I, but that's never stopped me. Anyway, I didn't know she had heard it was bad, so I rented it with a clear conscience.

True to form, she said she'd be happy to watch it despite her misgivings about its quality. What a sport. In the meantime, I checked it out on Metacritic just to positively spin a decision she'd already made, and discovered that it had a respectable score of 52. Okay, maybe not respectable, but "mixed or average reviews," in any case.

For about ten minutes, I had hopes for the movie. At about the 11-minute mark, the corny patriotic score (what were you thinking, Alexandre Desplat?) started to bother me. At about the 13-minute mark, I realized that the tone was off. About about the 30-minute mark, I wondered if these characters were going to anything other than stand around and talk. And guess what? They never did.

I could go off on a lengthy tirade about the numerous sins committed in The Monuments Men, but I want to save some of your attention for the flip side of the particular coin I'm discussing.

On Sunday I was allowed an afternoon of convalescence after getting a tooth pulled that morning. (Yes, I went to a dentist that has Sunday hours. I had never heard of such a thing either.) I put the two-hour Japanese film Like Father, Like Son on my agenda, knowing that it could suffer in my estimation from the throbbing of the vacant hole in my gums, but surmising that it might suffer more if consigned to that sleepy 9:45 ghetto in which I end up watching many other films. Subtitles and drooping eyelids are not good partners.

And even though I was in a strange combination of numbness and pain, and even though the internet was dropping out on me every ten minutes, and even though my kids were making loud noises in nearby rooms for much of the time, I soon realized that not only was this one of my favorite films of the year, but that it would have been perfect for my wife. Not only is it a beautiful film executed wonderfully, but it puts a terrible, Sophie's Choice-type parental dilemma front and center, meaning that it would specifically speak to us as parents of young children. This is where my wife should have spent her weekly movie budget.

But if you are trying to convince an exhausted mother of the potential worthiness of a movie neither of you has seen, you are a lot better off putting forward the option that includes a likable cast of recognizable stars, and is in English, than the one that will require that exhausted mother both to fully engage her brain, and to read.

Now that I've seen Like Father, Like Son, though, I can confidently recommend it for a second viewing. And that's a second viewing I'm definitely going to make at some point. That's how good this movie is. And since part of the purpose of my blog is to make actual recommendations, I think I should let you know a little more about it in order to entice you into a viewing you certainly won't regret.

Like Father, Like Son starts with a tabloid premise and takes it somewhere thought-provoking, moving, and thoroughly profound. Not long after their son's sixth birthday, an ambitious Japanese architect and his wife learn that the hospital where they gave birth needs to speak to them about an important matter. It turns out that a mistake was made shortly after their son's birth, and the son was confused for another infant. That means that their biological son has actually been raised these six years by the middle class owner of a hardware store and his wife, while they have been raising that couple's son as their own. While the ambitious man and his wife have been pushing their son to achieve, they now have an explanation as to why he's not the gifted musician they might have expected, and they start to contemplate the unthinkable -- whether to swap the children in order to correct the mistake that was made six years earlier. Meanwhile, their biological son has a brother and a sister in addition to parents that he has always thought were his own.

The movie tackles all sorts of issues related to nature vs. nurture, the parameters of unconditional love, the expectations parents have for their children, the expectations parents have for each other and themselves, and the deep patrilineal tradition in Japan that would cause the couples to even contemplate making this swap in the first place. The scenario is dramatized with an eye for every possible shade of gray, making it impossible to condemn any of the players and enabling a sense of sympathy for all of them -- even one who had a nearly unforgivable role in the mix-up.

Is next week too soon to correct my own mix-up, and show my wife something good for a change?

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