Script Snap: When Bad Movies Happen to Good Actors

I rented Marie and Bruce, a film starring Julianne Moore, Matthew Broderick and a gaggle of New York (real) actors. I sometimes bulk up my Netflix cue with a series of films featuring an actor or director whose work I admire, a strategy that has led to some obscure treats. My Vera Farmiga Festival yielded Down to the Bone, followed by Never Forever, a lovely, obscure romance about a privileged wife of a self-involved American-Korean executive who’s incapable of spawning the child she desperately desires. Icy, humorless Vera meets an immigrant worker of Korean descent and, engaging him for sperm-acquisition, submits her body and sensibility, initially in revulsion and determination. She proceeds to fall off the deep end of Love’s pool, submerged in feelings and desires, and a conundrum: wealth and security or emotional fulfillment? Her life rafts demand release or calcification. The story is handled with a low key realism, the obstacles to a happy ending entirely unforced.  The journey and resolution is suspenseful and ultimately deeply satisfying. I loved this film.

I was hoping I’d uncover another gem with Marie and Bruce.  As the credits rolled, over Julianne’s abrasive voice-over, her name appeared as a producer. Onscreen, a typewriter gets thrown out of an apartment window, its trajectory edited from a variety of angles, elucidating the effect of gravity and spotlighting the good work of the NY Sanitation Department. Julianne’s nodules continue to be tortured, explaining how she hates her husband and his typewriter in an expletive-driven tirade that’s neither clever nor funny.  Then we see her, looking rather lovely, in bed. It’s morning, Matthew’s asleep beside her, and she begins again to hate and berate him, directly into the camera in case we might miss the full impact, until he rises and gets her breakfast. I didn’t watch much more.

There are a variety of reasons films end up this bad. The two most frequent reasons involve a good script that gets deconstructed by committee on the way to and/or in production. The second – and likely the case with Marie and Bruce – begins with a bad script (often an adaptation of a play), which the (first-time film) writer-director enticed his well-known actor friends or colleagues to sign on to (for producer credit) as a personal favor  – in the hope or with the illusion that their participation will elevate the project, not merely enhance its (and their) credits. Sometimes this occurs; some professionals are revelations moving from one title and experience to another, endowing brilliance and style from expertise in a  different medium to film, as Tom Ford, Julian Schnable, or Sam Mendes did in their feature directing debuts. But for lesser mortals – as well as their industry-friends – this should not be tried at home.

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