Just Wright (2010)

Just Wright (2010) – How did Queen Latifah get that scar? Is it common knowledge?… She’s 40+ playing a realistic 35. Makeup! She’s another entry on the long list of women working after 40 (along with Pam Grier in the movie), once a rarity, now a commonplace… Common, btw, plays an NBA all-star. The cameraman in several shots makes him look shorter than Queen herself. With Rajon, Dwight, Dwayne, and Jalen all in the frame with him, it’s important that Common not look too small. Plus, in the romance scenes, it’s best not to have Queen’s head look 50% larger than his. And how come at 38, a top NBA player and future Hall-of-Famer, he’s still single, but then falls hard for a transparent gold-digger like the Paula Patton character? And… and… wait a minute… “Common”? Who the heck is “Common”? My God, life is passing me by. I wouldn’t know Common if he snuck up and bit me on the ass. The man had a feud with Ice Cube in the ’90s. How could I not know that? Somebody go update the man’s Wiki page. I think that it stops three or four years ago.

Well, I wanted rom com and I got rom com, because Latifah and Common have chemistry and whatever that means, whatever that is, it’s all you need to make the long wait for the final clinch worthwhile… I liked the movie. It’s got a great example of the it’ll-be-a-while-before-we-smooch-but-now-our-lips-need-to-get-accidentally-close-to-each-other’s-and-we-both-need-to-look-a-little-shocked-with-a-hey-i-think-i’m-in-love-expression-stealing-over-our-faces. In the final clinch, the skinny muscular dude has  got an armful.

Movie notes:

I need to watch Chris Rock’s Good Hair (200), wherein Rock “explores the wonders of African-American hairstyles.” Latifah, Patton, and Grier don’t have a single curl among them.

Nice touch: the 40-year-old’s parents counseling her about meeting the  right man.

Class: the piano scenes feature a Steinway.

Checking the producers: Queen’s got her own money in it.

Common’s mother is described as “a pill.” I’m glad to see that the expression is still used.

The meet cute happens at a gas station where Queen and Common are pumping their own gas; you can’t pump your own gas in New Jersey.

I checked out that scar. Happened when Queen was three, playing with her brother. She tripped over a phone cord and bonked her head.

You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

You know how directors film Tom Cruise and Pacino and other short guys so that they seem of normal height? Jimmy Stewart was 6′ 3″ and Jean Arthur was 5′ 3″ and in You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Stewart looks like he could dribble Arthur down the court if he wanted to. Did Capra shoot them that way, the tall and the short, on purpose, or  had he not learned how to do the framing trick that would make them seem more equal? Fast forward to something like The Stratton Story (1949) and I’ll bet you don’t see Stewart looming over June Allyson, who was 3″ shorter than Arthur. Something to look into.

YCTIwY is based on the Kaufman and Hart Pulitzer-winning play and it’s Capra at his life-and-America-are-grand best, and offhand, I can’t think of a sadder and more dispiriting movie to sit watching, if while listening to Barrymore’s speech about “isms” or his disinclination to pay any taxes since they’ll only be spent on battleships,  you happen at the same time to be pondering the fact that the movie was made in 1938. Like attending a wedding one day before the groom’s regiment leaves for the front.

But assuming that you’re not brooding about the past in that way while you watch, YCTIwY carries you along like the Rapids Ride at the Manhattan Water Park. Watching it at the same time as She’s Out of My League (2010), I realized how tightly it’s made. The two movies: one, knitting, the other, crochet. In the time that it takes Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve to consume their dinner outdoors in downtown Pittsburgh, YCTIwY has run down the rails from a xylophone number to a gunpowder accident, with Arthur’s visit to Stewart’s parents thrown in.

(Parenthetically, as indicated by the parentheses, there is a scene at the beginning of SOoML in which Alice Eve walks through the Pittsburgh airport, stopping all male traffic as she strides along in her red high heels, preceded by her cleavage and posterierceded by her flowing blond hair. We’re required to suspend our disbelief just a tiny bit because, although she is looking mighty fine in the scene, and is backed by a supportive musical soundtrack, maybe she’s not… quite… that fine. But we get the point. The thing is, I was reminded of my first job after college, wherein I sat at a desk in a very large room filled exclusively with men of all ages dressed in short-sleeve white shirts and dark ties. Every afternoon at two, the boss’ daughter pushed a mail cart through the room. We knew that she was coming because there was another room just like ours through the doorway to the south and we could hear the silence fall there at one fifty-five. This young innocent with her cart and Virgin-Mary blank stare and exaggerated secondary characteristics, dressed like a Burger-King hooker, was the prototype, the ur-babe, the apotheosis of show-stoppers. No one, including yours truly, could get enough of her. Then when she had passed on to the next room to the north and the cone of silence moved out with her, we all  slumped back in our chairs in unison, shaking our heads, rolling up our fingers in our ties, spent.)

Watching Barrymore also brought me down somewhat for another reason, as I was reminded of his brother’s downward spiral into terminal alcoholism, whereas I was drinking Pepsodent-flavored Mogen David out of the kids’ Donald Duck bathroom cup because there was nothing else in the house but the Everclear we use to cook pork-chops flambe.

But whatever else, the movie did jerk some tears, happy tears, in the end.

Movie notes:

– The best thing that ever happened to Capra was hooking up with Stewart.

– Back in ’38,”giving 110%” was already in the dialog.

– So was “arrested for selling dope.”

– I wonder if the saying-the-blessing-at-the-dinner-table scenes carried a different resonance in ’38 than they do today?

– Kaufman and Hart have the wise old Barrymore in the end sell his house, causing the whole neighborhood to be dispossessed without him saying boo about it. Odd? Or does all come right so quickly after that that the playwrights considered themselves off the hook?

– The best part of the movie for me was Edward Arnold demonstrating his powerful onscreen presence whilst throwing his weight around.

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

I like to go to plays. Not Broadway extravaganzas, but community and university theater productions. Unfortunately, my spouse doesn’t share this interest, which cuts back on my dramatical attendance, except when our daughter comes home for a visit. Fortunately, stage plays find their way onto the silver screen, and found their way to it even more in the 30s and 40s than today. Modern examples of the play-on-film would be Bug (2006) and Doubt: a Parable (2008), which I have reviewed. Unfortunately, we are not living in the age of Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, and Tennessee Williams, except insofar as revivals and remakes allow us to do so. With all due respect, John Patrick Shanley, Tony or no Tony, is no Kaufman or Hart, the two who wrote the play from which  The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) derives, via the Epstein twins’ screenplay(the Epsteins of Casablanca fame).

TMWCTD is a comedy of great verbal energy, many fun cogs and wheels and conversational gizmos, jokes, gags, all done on the level of a New Yorker parlor drama. They don’t make them like this anymore – so dense, so many moving parts. As I watched Married Life (2007) the other night, I detected faint echoes from those lost days. Do I subscribe to the theory that civilization is headed downhill because of this and other portents? Nope, and besides, weighing and judging civilization and its components is far beyond my capacity to grok, at least in 1,000 words or less. (Do I believe the planet and the human race are headed downhill? Ulp!) But just because I don’t expect another TMWCTD to roll off the assembly line in 2010 doesn’t mean that I’ll have no chance to laugh at a movie. I watched Reno 911:Miami (2007)  again the other night with my spouse, and because she liked it, perhaps I’ll get to watch all 5 seasons again. Yay! In my defense, I think that the Marx brothers would like it too. And She’s Out of Your League (2010)? Not in TMWCTD’s league, but still, life is still good on the couch.

Most of  the topical content in TMWCTD has aged out, evaporated, leaving behind in the dialog a foundation of basic comic ideas: gone for most of us are an appreciation of Lucius Beebe’s penguins and octopus, Lana Turner’s sweater, Zazu Pitts, Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, and the larger-than-life Alexander Woolcott, who spent a weekend with Moss Hart, prompting Hart to wonder out loud, My God, what if he never left? and the play’s premise was born.

In TMWCTD, Jimmy Durante is funnier than I remember. Younger, too. Who fills the Durante niche in comedy today?  There’s bound to be someone. Early Jim Carey? It’s got to be someone who mugs outrageously and with unflagging energy. Vintage Robin Williams? Durante, suddenly seeming more  modern to me, makes me doubt the trope that some classic aspect of  screwball stage comedy is gone and isn’t coming back; perhaps it’s all just cycles and cycles and only a matter of time before we’ve gone in retrospect from Touch of Mink to Mash to Airplane to Knocked Up and back to Coconuts again. An extra four billion folks have arrived on the planet since TMWCTD was written. Even if they simply act like monkeys with typewriters, lost or missing dialogic brilliance ought to crop up now and again, out of the chaotic randomosity of crowds. Or will we just keep getting more video games instead? Great Britain bans EA’s Medal of Honor because it allows you to play on the side of the Taliban. That’s comedy, isn’t it?

Glenda the good witch works in TMWCTD without her wand.

Anne Sheridan plays the whole movie overdressed, but shows up 30s style for one scene in a thin silk blouse, confronting the camera face-to-face, so to speak, and proving without a doubt that she’s a mammal.

I’ve noticed more than once that watching two movies at the same time, interleaved as it were, or one after the other, offers perspectives that might otherwise go unnoticed. For example, I saw Ameracord (1973) one Friday night in San Diego, followed by The Godfather (1972) on Saturday. Fellini’s artistry made The Godfather, seen so soon after, seem rather amateurish to me. Now that The Godfather has entered the pantheon of great films, any crudeness in its fabrication goes largely unnoticed. Every so often, when I stop to think about this, I feel privy to a cinematical secret, just because of that Friday and Saturday a long time ago. In the present instance, the two overlapping movies are TMWCTD and Repo Men (2010). Sure, there are chuckles in both, but in this example we learn that just talking at each other real fast can pack a punch greater than that felt by  cutting the other guy open, reaching inside him, and hauling out his mechanical stomach while wise-cracking about it. Just sayin.

My Favorite Brunette (1947)

Bob Hope was 44 when he made My Favorite Brunette (1947). He lived to be 100, which gave him plenty of time to get old and then older and then move into “Wow. Is he still alive?” territory. Sort of like Woody Allen, only worse. Bob Hope, money-making canny real estate investor. Bob Hope, going blind, blinder, blindest. Bob Hope in Southern California and Bing Crosby in Northern California, both growing increasingly crusty, crabby, inveigled in family feuds. So forth. I lived in the same area as Bing and the celebrity chatter was a pain in the ass. Crosby was born the same year as Hope but died at 74, so the aggravation didn’t last as long.  And ditto for Dorthy Lamour, sitting in cocktail lounges and grousing over her drink about getting old and how Hope and Crosby dropped her like a hot potato when the first wrinkle creased her brow.

But now all three have moved along to that big movie studio in the sky and we can sit back and enjoy their movies without feathers. Although come to think of it, those of us who put up with their travails in later life are now ourselves beginning to follow the three of them, heading as we are one-by-one for that celestial loge seating – with  The Sound of Music (1965) being the only movie playing up there, as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman point out in their novel  Good Omens. And speaking of The Sound of Music, huzzahs to Julie Andrews for playing Queen of the Fairies in Tooth Fairy (2010), wherein she sets Dwayne Johnson straight in that regal way of hers, even if the movie wasn’t as funny as it could have been, according to Mayo and Kermode  (hello to Jason Isaacs). Hey, Mark, most comedies aren’t as funny as they could have been,  so does your range of consideration encompass the complete distance between Not Funny At All and As Funny As It Could Have Been? Because that range includes everything from One Chuckle to That Was Just About Perfect But Not Quite.

So, My Favorite Brunette. Not as funny as it could have been, but had some chuckles in it. A clever bit of slapstick between Hope and Peter Lorre.  Hope’s timing and comic turns kept reminding me strongly of someone but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who till 3/4 through, at which point Hope’s timing, moves, and self-deprecating patter seemed pure Woody Allen. Allen was 14 when this movie came out. Allen says that Hope was a big influence on him until he (Hope) moved to TV and got lazy; Allen sold his first joke to Hope when he (Allen) was a teenager; he could have used the quips in My Favorite Brunette as models later on, and probably did. (Hope ended up with 89,000 pages of jokes – a million punch lines. Is that weird? A giraffe walks into a bar – the punch line is something about high balls.)

On a personal note, the movie includes a shot of California near Stockton in San Francisco. I would have been 3 and my older sister 5 at the time. I scanned the pedestrians on the sidewalk for signs of us with our mom and dad. We were living in the Outer Sunset on 46th at the time. No luck.

Movie moments:

– Hope and Lamour are shown flying relaxedly from S.F. to Washington on a DC-3.  The last trip I took on a DC-3 was like going through a car wash in an oil drum.

– Hope breaks the 4th wall twice.

– Whenever a closeup of Lamour would come on, I’d try to remember what the closeup situation is in movies today.

– Hope secretly records a conversation using a modern (for ’47) device, which recorded onto a blank 78 record.

– Multiple use of peering through keyholes, including a hotel-room keyhole.

– Hotel windows that open. I dropped a thing or two out of those back in the day.

– Hope discovers an empty whiskey bottle in a chandelier and says, “Hmm. Ray Milland was here.”

This was the first movie made by Hope’s own production company. Hope was  a Top Ten star into the ’50s. He gave Peter Lorre a role in this one because the man needed money. I just noticed that Lorre appeared in a five-part episode of 77 Sunset Strip, one of my faves in the late 50s.

Caro Diario (Dear Diary) (1993)

dear diary, i just watched a movie that has your italian cousin caro diario in it. now don’t be jealous that caro diario appears in a big old color movie, whereas you’re just a little bitty blog diary. don’t be jealous that nanni moretti puts his little diary up on the big screen and and then writes into it there, or that nanni’s so popular and witty and a real know-it-all, whereas you are typed into every day by a nobody who got caught one time with panties on his head. and finally, don’t be jealous that whereas i lie to you all the time so that the wife and kids won’t find out, nanni includes himself and his wife silvia right up there on the screen along with his little diary, and if he works up a heavy sweat, if you know what i mean, in a movie like quiet chaos, he can always tell silvia that he was just acting. although i hope that his twelve-year-old son doesn’t see him doing what he did in that one, at least not until the boy grows up a little bit more. and when, i mean if, i ever do some heavy sweating like that, i’m keeping it to myself, dear diary! you won’t need to know and neither will the wife.

besides, d.d., nanni is sort of like me – popular where he lives but who else knows him? whereas i’m popular in my backyard, but only when i’m throwing buddy his rag bone or pouring purina into his dinner bowl. so hold your head up high, dear little diary, because you know why? eyes are reading you right now! whereas in the big city down there on the flats, with its i-don’t-know-how-many libraries, caro diario is to be found only in the old carnegie free branch over by the cooling towers, on a vhs tape in a cardboard box! so sad.

nanni made caro in three parts:

part one – while he putt-putts around rome on his vespa, i am cruising pea gap on helga’s old huffy. nanni shouts beautiful slogans and that makes him grow beautiful (he says), whereas i squawk at the pickininnies and they pull on my sheet. just kidding. i pass harry and leonard sitting on harry’s porch. one day harry and leonard will be inside with the door closed and after that they’ll either be back on the porch or off to discover the world, who knows which? dillian is planting lillies in front of the church. leonarda is in the cemetery lying down on a yellow tablecloth, practicing for when she goes there and doesn’t come back. when i was in high school, there were scooters all over the place, mostly cushmans. where are they now? nanni says that there is a bridge in rome that he needs to cross twice a day (well, he can’t cross it just once, i guess, and still get back home); so i’m crossing pea creek on the huffy, dear diary, on those two-by-fours that the noxapater clan laid down after the last storm washed away their sorry little excuse for a bridge.

in part two, nanni travels around the aeolian islands with a friend who hasn’t watched tv in 30 years. my nanny never watched tv. she could stand on the tail of her bear rug and expectorate a stream of tobacco juice into a hills bros coffee can balanced on the nose of the bear, making the can ring like a bell. she would dunk the head of the bear in a pail of water once a year on easter to clean off the residue of her misses.

in part three, nanni gets sick. tumor. it don’t look good for nanni. mild spoiler: 15 years later, at 55, he’s still kicking. at first he just itched, dear diary, whereas i’ve got this godawful boil that makes me wonder how the hell i rode around the hamlet on that huffy all afternoon. nanni goes to doctors, whereas i use my special “medicine” from the pine grove half a mile up the hill. then nanny applies a poultice to the area and gives me a high colonic, though she don’t call it that. so don’t get sick, and if you want a horror film, forget saw or hostel and go find a documentary about cancer. also, quit watching so many movies and go help somebody who needs your help.

what a thinker nanni is, d.d.! you won’t catch him doing analogy or metaphor in this movie, no more than i do in you. he spits out the facts, straight onto the subtitles. although come to think of it, when he was riding around rome, there was no traffic, whereas on one of the islands that he visits, traffic is gridlocked and honking about it. could that mean something? can irony be metaphor?

anyway, thank you to duder for recommending the movie. it was good and it got me going. tomorrow, dear diary, i’m watching guadacanal diary and then taking my .22 out into the field to plink varmints. then i’m going to italy for three weeks to visit cinquefrondi, mammola, and grotteria on a rented vespa. ciào for now.

The Invention of Lying (2009). I liked it. What does that prove?

I was on Ricky Gervais’ wavelength from frame one to fadeout of this film. I laughed when I was meant to laugh, I teared up when cued by the score. I sat imagining a movie starring Jennifer Garner and Hilary Swank playing sisters, but that’s just a jaw thing. I enjoyed the movie.

When it was over, it occurred to me to wonder whether there was any connection between my enjoyment of it and its artistic merit, if any. Does liking something make it art? Of course not. So is artistic merit 100% orthogonal to enjoyment? Or can there be some relative connection? If, for example, I like a movie but 99 others don’t, does that lessen the possibility that cinematic art has been created? What if all 100 of us like it? I mean, the director sets out, in many cases, to make something we’ll like; if he succeeds, doesn’t art play a part?

I suppose that questions like these reflect aspects of the larger “What is art?” question. I remember nothing from my art-history and aesthetics courses. A visit to Wikipedia would probably provide me with lots of answers, but I’d rather just think about it for a couple of minutes and then move on.

Because it does bother me a little that I could watch, laugh, cry, enjoy, knowing that my reactions may have nothing to do, probably have nothing to do, absolutely have nothing to do (which is it?) with the artishness of the thing. Doesn’t seem right.

I mean, could I love a movie that is absolutely devoid of artistic merit of any kind?

Later: ok, after a lot of thought on the matter, I have concluded that if I like a movie, it automatically has artistic merit, even if I watched it in an impaired state or at a time of severe mental disequilibrium. This would include Norbit and The Love Guru. If I don’t like a movie, I allow that it might still contain some artistic merit. This would include Metropolis and Sunrise. As I said to Roger Ebert the other night while explaining how all this works, if you like a movie and I don’t, then artistic merit is not automatically conferred upon it. Who knows what weird stuff you’re liable to like? But now if you can explain to me why a movie that I don’t like has artistic merit, and I buy your explanation, no matter how wrong-headed and tinfoil-hatted it may be, then that’s ok, unless I change my mind later and decide that your explanation is actually rubbish. I feel a lot better having cleared this up for myself.

You ask, what if I (me, not you) love a movie but decide in my heart and mind that it is trash, or at least trashy? Doesn’t matter. In that case it has artistic merit that I can’t see right off the bat, or I wouldn’t have loved it in the first place.

What if I have a love/hate thing going with some movie? That means artistic merit. Probably even more than I would ever be able to know.

Finally, if a movie has twelve tons of artistic merit but I’d hate it if I watched it, then you go watch it and report back. You’ll probably love it.

Homo Erectus (2007)

aka National Lampoon’s Stoned Age. NL has produced a closetful of clunkers over the years, but Adam Rifkin gets this genre film right, the genre being Movies To Watch While You’re Drunk. I was and it was.

It’s all here:

David Carradine as MooKoo, proving once again that he will do literally anything for a paycheck. He’s especially good in the scenes where he’s carrying his head under his arm. (Ed.: Written before the man checked out. RIP. Loved you in Hell Ride. Nice callback to Dennis Hopper in Modern Romance.)

Talia Shire as his wife, mother of the clan, who will do anything for a fur, even if it’s off an australeamoustisimus.

Ron Jeremy as Oog, who doesn’t show it, but at this point doesn’t really have to anymore. Anybody who cares has memorized it by now.

Gary Busey as Krutz, who doesn’t have to act crazy to be crazy.

Ali Larter as Fardart, showing off the best set of prehistoric choppers in film history, although Raquel Welch still beats her from the neck down.

Carol Alt as Queen Fallopia. “You turn me down?? Every Neanderthal between here and the volcano wants to get into this lizard-skin thong!”

Kansas Carradine as the pregnant cavewoman. David’s daughter adds her oiled belly to several of the scenes wherein the women drop their pelts.

and Adam Rifkin, who gets hit in the head by large rocks twenty, no, twenty-two, no… I was too far gone to keep track.

The movie poses the question, If you paste large shaggy patches of fake pubic fur over the female actors’ actual areas, is that still full-frontal, or what?

Music and Lyrics (2007)

Age is adding a touch of gravitas to Hugh Grant. His good looks, which have limited him throughout his career, are fraying in the same good way that Pacino’s did when his bloom wore off. Grant is no Pacino, but looking at him now I can understand how he got caught in a car with a hooker in L.A. That understated, self-deprecating yet subtly superior British style is aided immeasurably in his case by the signs of wear on his puss.

Here, he carries on the Cary Grant/Eva Marie Saint tradition of older guy (Grant is 47) scoring with the beautiful and nubile young woman (Drew, 32).

Grant plays an aging, ex-rock star reduced to singing at state fairs. (Refer to Bill Nighy in Love Actually for more on the subject.) By a remarkable stroke of luck, he is given the chance of a comeback. However, to succeed, he must write a great song “by Friday”  that is, by soon enough to introduce tension in the film but by far enough for him to meet a girl, work through a few plot points,  and win her heart before the deadline. With the date set, a meet-cute immediately follows: the has-been’s plant sitter is on vacation and Drew Barrymore, ditzy but still lovable in spite of her age – although the clock is ticking on this – shows up to fill in ith the watering chores. May Drew only grow up sooner than Diane Keaton did (if she has). Hugh writes the music; Drew is a lyric poet savant. The next Roger and Hammerstein is born, though hopefully R and H didn’t wake up in the sack together after a night of collaboration.

For those on product-placement watch, Baldwin and Yamaha are given equal, lingering time for their grand pianos.

Extra credit to Grant for performing not only on film, but also onstage in front of a full auditorium of children, teens, and their parents. He also does a love duet on stage; I’ve had a soft spot for these ever since Willie Nelson and Amy Irving did theirs in Honeysuckle Rose and then Dyan Cannon came onstage to announce her divorce.

This movie also produces a credible hit song that helps keep the romantic vibe afloat. No oscar-winner about the hard life of a pimp, but hummable.

Somebody should do (or has already done) a study of couple chemistry onscreen. Hugh and Drew have it here like Clooney, Brad, and Matt have it in Oceans 11, 12, and 13. It has nothing to do with the characters and everything to do with the stars. You’ll need to want that in order to absorb all the Hollywood vitamins that this flick provides.

The film steps up to PG-13 when Hugh and Drew wake up in bed togeher the morning after. This, we know, in a movie paced as energetically as this one, means that the subsequent breakup is only minutes away. (Note to self: watch A Touch of Class again sometime soon.) Other than the moment in bed, the film is squeaky clean. The stars let it loose in the out-takes but even there they are relentlessly beeped out.

If you require an edge to your romantic comedy, you won’t find it here. The movie is smooth, all edges and corners rounded. The conflict is painless. Boy meets girl, loses girl, gets her back again for the finale before you’ve reached the bottom of the popcorn bag. This is not a bad thing if you want to sit back and watch Hugh and Drew do that thing that they do, this time with and at and on each other, while your brow remains unfurrowed. Then tear up for a second at the melodic, heartfelt climax. Nothing wrong with that at one in the morning on the couch in the family room.

Tillsammans (Together) (2000)

Tillsammans is a well-made sorta-comic sorta-serious feelgood ensemble drama about a communish collective located in a Swedish suburb in 1975. The collective, Tillsammans (Together), includes your couple experimenting with an open relationship in a building with thin walls, your newly-minted lesbian, your gay man, some unhappy kids, a woman taking refuge from her abusive husband, neighbors of antithetical mood looking on, politics, a woman airing out her apparatus due to a fungal infection, a man airing out his apparatus because the woman is airing out hers, so forth. Ironically, these folks become less and less together at first, but then the plot does a volte-face, with togetherness increasing amongst the group now on a deeper level than before, new connections made that everyone in the movie, kid and adult, has been missing, wants, and needs. I cannot vouch for the verisimilitude of the representation of this collective; writer/director Lukas Moodysson was only six in 1975, but perhaps he was present at the scene at that age, now revisiting his memories through his script. Perhaps that’s the reason for the movie. Perhaps Moodysson interviewed his parents for insights into the 70s.

I’ve seen Tillsammans three or four times over the past nine years and it holds up. The characterization is paper thin: all that you need to know about each member of the ensemble is sketched in moments as the soapish plot advances. But given that the dreaded staring-off-into-space motif is so often used these days to signify unknowable depths in a protagonist, who needs characterization?

Several quick points about the movie:

– It was made in Trollhättan. Which I thought was located on Discworld or in Middle Earth.

– Trollhättan here is standing in for a Stockholm suburb. It also stood in for rural Washington State in “Dancer in the Dark.” Moodysson isn’t doing dogme here, but the grainy photography, close-ups, and handheld photography remind of Von Trier and Scandinavian guerilla filmmaking, at least until the humor in the film emerges, a minute or two in.

– The writer/director’s first film was titled “F**king Amal.”

– A line about Baader Meinhof was left out of the subtitles. Conspiracy???

– It’s possible that throughout the 50s and 60s, and maybe the early 70s as well, the only Swedish movies I saw were Bergman’s. I skipped “I Am Curious Yellow,” reports of boredom outweighing my prurient interest. So now, years later, the sound of onscreen Swedish dialog still triggers Pavlovian expectations in me of conversations that plumb the depths of the human puddle of the soul. So maybe I invested the collective members of Tillsammans with more gravitas than they actually had earned during my viewing. I remember going out on a dinner date once with a young woman who had a strong Swedish accent, and it was the weirdest thing. As I sat across from her, I kept dropping into monologs about winter, Olaf Palme’s murder, Fårö, the bare trees with their bare branches, my chilblains, the cold drafts in the empty chapel where I prayed in the face of the stubborn divine silence, after cracking the ice on the water bowl in my bedroom, only to abrade my thighs with a frozen washcloth. And this was at a luau on Kauai, mind.

– I don’t recall shopping bags having paper handles yet in the 70s, as depicted in the movie. Also, the VW bus looks like it would look now, not then.

– I’ve heard it said that Eva, the fourteen-year-old in the movie, is the most adult of all the characters – an opinion that evidently originated with someone who has never lived with a fourteen-year-old girl, and mistakes angst for insight.

– It is not good to hear your partner experiencing her first orgasm when you aren’t in the room with her but she isn’t alone.

Anyway, a collective is a group the members of which share a common goal. In the case of the Tillsammans collective, the goal is political, or was in some year or other before the action begins. Hence the opening scene of joy at the news of Franco’s death. Hence one of the collective’s children being named “Tet,” after the offensive. Meanwhile, a commune is a group the members of which share a common purpose and join together to be with others who share similar tastes, thoughts, and desires. Tillsammans, though the point is never made explicitly in the film, seems to be transmogrifying from collective to commune as the movie progresses… or no. Now I’m thinking that Moodysson simply chose the collective setting as a convenient way to stage an ensemble drama, or a soap opera. The commune truths that I personally experienced are barely nodded to in the movie. (Moodysson has gone on to write/direct five more movies, none of which I’ve seen.)… Or no. Now that I come to think of it, many of the interactions in the movie actually do hinge on the facts of collective life. E.g., reassigning the relaxation/meditation room for use by a non-collective outsider; dealing with the group member who won’t do the dishes; solidarity in the face of opposing opinions… But hey! Wait a second. I just realized that this movie, made in 2000, presents the 1975 collective as if the whole concept of collective action, born in the 1960s (actually it’s been around since humans were fighting off the tyrannosauruses), has past, so that these guys are, well hell, saps for soldiering on, though Moodysson obviously cares for them (music by Abba) and probably didn’t mean for them to seem like saps. No, they aren’t saps; it’s hard to make a Swede look like a sap; a dolt, maybe, but not a sap.

What’s the difference between a soap opera and a legitimate dramatic creation based on solid characterization, anyway? The characters in Tillsammans grow and change in the course of the film; most evince conflicting characteristics within themselves, so forget what I said above about their paper-thinness. Most of the characters embody opposing ideas within themselves, automatically making them seem more real. And they deal with emotional issues emotionally, but with enough restraint to avoid bathos. There are plenty of characters, though, so a cinematic lick and a promise must often suffice in defining them via the action.

I was 16 when the 60s began and 26 when they ended. At the time, the creation and growth of communes in the U.S. seemed like a natural development in the cultural evolution of human society – a cultural maturation of 50s on-the-road into 60s pulling-off-onto-the-shoulder-and-then-taking-a-hard-left-out-into-the-Upper-Sonoran-wilderness consciousness.
I began my part in this by sharing peyote at a hot springs with a lot of other naked sojourners, thence moving on to communal life. I take the subsequent history of the togetherness movement, from the 70s to the present, as a metaphor for my life. My time in the commune began with my participation in a triangle-type relationship, but it turned out that the legs of the triangle were of unequal length. Also, it seemed that we kept slipping into two-against-one mode, and for this reason I reached out within the community to transform the triangle into a square – well, a trapezoid really, because once again I didn’t properly address the leg-length issue before acting. This caused the two-against-one dynamic to transmogrify into a three-against-one situation. Then, the fifth leg that we (I) added created, switching metaphors, a healthy hearty four-legged beast with an unhealthy unhappy wagging tail. Neurasthenically wagging, a downhearted drooping wag-twitching tail. Long story short, for every individual in the commune, multiple relationships are possible, but for one or two of the individuals it can be difficult finding a grouping that doesn’t leave you shucking the damn corn and shelling the damn peas while your groupmates are noisily making the sign of the multi-sided yam out back in the yurt.

So how could communes and ashrams seem so natural, so normal, so necessary to one generation only to then practically evaporate, leaving hardly a trace in the decades that followed. What, it was only a fad? The ideas wore out? Who’s to blame? Reagan? The rise of the NFL? The defeat of Communism? How have the young gone about dropping out and rebelling since then? As per mumblecore? Or by scoring high on their SATs and leaving for college, only to return home after graduation to clear the stuffed animals off the bed and move back in until those darned lagging unemployment indicators turn around again? The communes were wiped out by the materialism of the 80s? They were simply impractical? These experiments in cooperative living – all failures? Reagan did turn off the community-action spigot in the first year of his reign; that didn’t help, but it didn’t surprise anybody, either. And how come we’ve got to live through yet another set of stupid wars without even getting a summer of love to go with them? It’s an outrage.

I googled for area communes and discovered one listed right across town, out beyond the tank farm. I went over for a visit after reading the commune specs online: one man, one woman, one boy, one girl. If I join, we will share labor, take our meals together, start a garden after breaking up the concrete covering the backyard, and share spiritual searchings and mingle our chakras after the kids fall asleep at night. The man asked me if I had a sledge hammer and wheelbarrow. I said yes. The woman asked me about my seeds.

So if you grow up in a decade, does that make it, and the decades just before it, seem special? Do the 50s and 60s just seem special to me because that’s when I was young? Do the 80s and 90s seem unique and distinct to you now, dear reader, if that’s when you were young? While to me, the years from 1980 to 2009 are mostly an undifferentiated blur? The young, as the communes died out, abandoned free love, extended group families, and radical democracy in favor of what, the blur? Not in favor of the weblike internets, which took a while to arrive; though I did send my first email in 1981. Whole Foods? Drowning polar bears? Facebook as the new commune? Or, wait, did society just subsume everything that used to make a commune seem unique? By Jupiter, am I sitting here in the middle of it? The Big Commune?

How can there be no hippies but the proverbial “aging” hippies? What currently replaces the hippie urge? I googled “internet commune” with high hopes, dashed. The “Internet Collective” is, ugh, incorporated. Drug use? No, that’s so high school. Clothing easiness? Hey, I’m at work as I finally write this and you should see me. Those glimpses of commune life in “Into the Wild,” are they just Sean Penn’s surmise? Times are supposed to be hard; doesn’t that mean that there are plenty of post-college youth out there with nothing to do, not to mention boomers flashing back to their youthful roots, and disaffected x- and y-gen unemployed? Are intentional communities and unschooling programs and suchlike anything more than just notions?

And my God, I just realized something else. The greatest literary influence of my youth was “On The Road.” I hitchhiked to school every day. I hitchhiked back and forth across the U.S. and Canada multiple times. I hitchhiked up and down Mexico. “Two-Lane Blacktop” resides in my Top 5. But where have all the hitchhikers gone? Not to communes, that’s for sure. The only hitchhikers left are the serial killers, and they’re just doing it until somebody makes a movie about them after they’ve been executed. The nation has lost its way.

Why no hitching? Hitchhiking can be an important rite of passage. How many hitchhikers in “Into the Wild”? One. Emil Hirsch. What’s getting in the way? Improvements in mass transit? I don’t think so. Affordable gasoline? Nope. Rattletraps you can buy for peanuts? They hardly exist anymore outside of Cuba, not like the “iron” you could used to buy. Bicycles? Nope – those helmeted, costumed figures peddling along in the bike lanes are not lapsed thumbers. Freeways? And who is more afraid of whom now, between driver and hitcher? These days, as the hitchhiker climbs into the car or truck that has pulled over and sits idling, with its ominously tinted windows, will that passenger climb out later still in one piece?

An hour later: OK, I called my friend Jane. I’ve known Jane for ten years and was sort of aware all that time that her living arrangements were somehow out of the ordinary, but I never asked her for details. Turns out that she lives in a house with a name like Glow Lobster Aura or something, owning 1/8 of it and dedicated to a type of community living that involves sharing a variety of things that I for one tend to keep to myself. As I asked her about the current state of collectives, group homes, and communes in the area, she took me on a verbal tour of co-housing and alternative lifestyles locally that amazed me. Turns out that I know more folks involved in non-traditional lifestyles than I would ever have guessed. Dreams endure, though transmuted by time into modern forms. Dreams, but also the reality that living together is not easy, like married life is not easy.

But I digress.

When Moodysson made “F**king Amal,” Ingmar Bergman announced that a new master had been born. Tillsammans strengthened Moodysson’s reputation. Since then, he’s written a TV movie and written and directed five more films. After two additional arthouse flicks, he brought forth a couple of real head-scratchers (“A Hole in My Heart” and “Container”), and most recently, his first English-language effort, the globe-trotting “Mammoth.” Tillsammans won various awards, including the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Moodysson is always interesting, but I’d say that at 40, we all hope that his future still ahead of him.

The movie’s lesson: let’s all move to Sweden, where everyone, no matter how nutty he or she may sometimes seem (refer to my next review for an analysis of Elin Nordegren), is in fact way saner than Americans are, or at least way saner than my gun-toting, tea-bagging, Palin-lovin American neighbors next door. (But I’m only raggin on the G.O.P. because I’m frustrated trying to find a good big solid incorporated Republican commune with a good big solid commune president who would keep us focused not on the weak sisters in our group but on America, love it or leave it, goddamnit, and on the uranium-mining business that our commune would operate, and on the commune’s goddamned bottom line.)