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 which 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, engages him for sperm-acquisition, submits her body and sensibility with revulsion and determination, and then falls off the deep end into Love’s pool, unleashing feelings and desires and creating a real conundrum: wealth and security or emotional fulfillment? Vera faces a choice that asks her to release or calcify who she is.  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 is 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, an expletive-driven tirade that’s neither clever nor funny.  Then we see her, looking rather lovely, in bed; it’s morning, Matthew asleep beside her, and she continues to hate and berate him, to the camera, ’til he gets up 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 – is a terrible script for a film (probably a play in this case), which the writer-director (with no film experience) got his actor friends to sign on to as a personal favor (with a producer credit) – all believing that they could make it translate effectively to the screen.  Some people can make the transition from one medium to another with little experience and exceptional style, as the debut films of Tom Ford or Julian Schnable or Sam Mendes and others show.  But for lesser mortals – and their industry-friends – this should not be tried at home.

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