Paramount's June '06 Releases
Mommie Dearest (June 23/06)
It's not at all surprising that Mommie Dearest has been transformed into a cult classic in the years since its 1981 theatrical release, given the film's unmistakably campy vibe and star Faye Dunaway's hilariously over-the-top performance. The movie - based on Christina Crawford's autobiography - details the tempestuous relationship between Crawford and her movie-star mother, Joan Crawford (Dunaway). Sporting a glacial pace and filmed without an ounce of style, Mommie Dearest relies almost entirely on Dunaway's histrionics to propel the story forward - resulting in a movie that's good for a few unintentional laughs but little else. And while there are some interesting tidbits here and there - most revolving around Joan's desperate attempts to hold onto her rapidly deteriorating fame - the film's emphasis generally remains on the more salacious elements of its subjects' lives. There is, consequently, absolutely no authenticity to any of this; the screenplay (credited to four writers) has all the depth of a made-for-Lifetime production, as evidenced by the ceaseless use of melodramatic cliches and trashy plot developments (one can't help but laugh at the sequence in which Joan gets so mad at Christina she literally attempts to strangle her). As for Dunaway, her shrill, thoroughly unpleasant performance is obviously the key reason behind the movie's newfound success - but really, this is the sort of work one expects out of a hammy soap actor.
Nate and Hayes (June 24/06)
Old fashioned but far from compelling, Nate and Hayes revolves around the unlikely partnership that forms between pirate Bully Hayes (Tommy Lee Jones) and stuffy aristocrat Nathaniel Williamson (Michael O'Keefe) after the latter's fiancee is kidnapped by ruthless miscreant Ben Pease (Max Phipps). Although the movie has developed into a minor cult classic over the years, there's little here to hold the interest of most viewers - something that's due primarily to the emphasis on overblown action sequences and ill-conceived attempts at comedy. Director Ferdinand Fairfax imbues the film with a distinctly flat sense of style, while screenwriters David Odell and John Hughes (!) generally substitute snarky one-liners in place of actual character development. The tentative friendship between Jones' Hayes and O'Keefe's Nate is the most intriguing aspect of a film that is otherwise tedious and surprisingly routine, despite the inclusion of Jones' admittedly broad yet undeniably engaging performance.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape (July 1/06)
Based on the novel by Peter Hedges, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a slow-moving yet thoroughly compelling film revolving around the exploits of the Grape family. At the center is Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp), a well-meaning sort who desperately wants something more for his life - though he's clearly trapped by his responsibilities to his brood, which includes his mentally-handicapped brother (Leonardo DiCaprio) and grossly overweight mother (Darlene Cates). Director Lasse Hallstrom - working from Hedges' screenplay - infuses What's Eating Gilbert Grape with a distinctly laid-back kind of feel, emphasizing the characters and their foibles over overtly-obvious plot developments. As such, the film's opening hour is far less involving and engaging than one might've liked - a vibe that's exacerbated by the inclusion of several needless subplots (ie Gilbert's illicit relationship with a married housewife). But there's no denying that - as Hedges begins to strip away some of the egregiously superfluous elements within his script - the film gradually takes on a distinctly poignant turn, to the extent that these characters finally become figures worth caring about and rooting for. Depp's sincere, subtle performance is certainly a big reason for the movie's success, something that's just as true of the uniformly superb supporting cast (DiCaprio and Cates are especially effective). As a character study and as a look at small town life, What's Eating Gilbert Grape surely excels - though there's no doubt that the film could've used just a little more judicious editing.
|About the DVDs: Paramount Pictures presents each of these three titles with anamorphically-enhanced transfers, and although Nate and Hayes does not contain any bonus features, both Mommie Dearest and What's Eating Gilbert Grape are brimming with supplemental materials (commentary tracks, behind-the-scenes featurettes, trailers, etc).