Some films are failures because they have too many ideas bursting in the story, which lets none of them make their way to the audience. Wild Grass is just that sort of film.
What could have been a charming bit of Francophilia gets lost in director Alain Resnais' busy direction and a story that felt false at almost every turn. Unless you are the most die-hard fan of French cinema, Wild Grass will exasperate much more than it will enchant as its unbelievable story unfolds.
The beginning of Wild Grass is as incomprehensible as everything that follows. We witness a raven haired woman walk through the city on a quest for some good shoes. She's robbed soon after but goes home to take a cold bath instead of calling the police. A man is at the same shopping center getting a watch repaired. He finds a red, leather wallet in the parking lot. It's the woman's. He returns it to the cops, but that's not enough for him. He wants more. A lot more.
Georges (Andre Dussollier) begins to concoct a story of the mysterious woman's personality based on a couple of photos in the wallet. He imagines conversations he would have with the woman, traits that she might possess and hobbies she might enjoy -- all of it fiction.
He increasingly becomes more intrusive in her life by leaving rambling messages on her voicemail, dropping off letters and, in time, his actions become semi-threatening. The omnipresent narrator hints that Georges might have a dark side that could make him dangerous.
Resnais, who is 88-years-old and has had a long and distinguished career in France, appears to have thrown every sort of trick he's learned onto the screen during Wild Grass. Rarely is the film enhanced by any of them.
I started keeping a list: too much narration, use of freeze frames, over-the-top saturated colors, shots of slow motion while also going in reverse, an unneeded quote by Gustave Flaubert three-quarters of the way into the movie that takes up the entire screen, using an iris in technique that's been rarely used since the silent's in the 1920s and same scene cutaways. I'm worn out and longing for a nap just thinking of all that over directing.
Wild Grass just feels phony. It's a confection that moves from scene to scene for no reason. It's loopy but not in a beguiling way. It's frustratingly labored and too arty (something I will rarely write in a review) when it should just strip away the inauthentic layers and let the characters tell the story without all the artifice and unnecessary hullabaloo.
I'm not convinced it would have made a much better film, the tone of the film is too tied into the artificial, but at least it wouldn't have irritated so completely with Resnais' everything and the kitchen sink directing approach.
At least Wild Grass tries, you can't fault it for that. It tries too much. All of Resnais' fussy direction kept me at an arm's length and created detachment. Rather than being engaged with the characters, I was adrift in the puzzle of technique, wildly overused narration and a story that never felt honest.
Quest for Selfishness
Julia Roberts hasn't carried a movie since Erin Brockovich in 2000. That's a long time off for a movie star to take on a "movie star" role.
The past decade for Roberts has been taking smaller roles of support in films, getting married and raising her kids. Eat Pray Love sees Roberts back at the forefront of a film and doing what she does best: using her personality to make you enjoy a harmless, meandering, over-philosophizing, middle-of-the-road movie much more than you thought you would.
Eat Pray Love, based on the bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, has Roberts as "Liz Gilbert," a successful New York City writer with a loving husband, supporting friends and upcoming jobs on the docket. Something is missing in Gilbert's life as she's unsatisfied and empty.
First up in the cross-hairs: the husband (Billy Crudup). Liz shucks hubby aside in less than a minute of screen time and then jumps in bed with a much younger man (James Franco). It's predictably disastrous.
It's clear to Liz that it's going to take even more drastic measures to locate that missing spark. Step one: Quit working for a year. That makes sense. Who couldn't find themselves without the old ball and chain known as the "day job" that restricts the heart in its ever tightening grip?
Liz isn't a lazy layabout, so she needs some ways to spend that year. A year living in other countries, while spending your time eating, praying and loving? Yes, please. Soon after, in four month intervals, Liz is putting on weight while eating pizza in Naples, living in an ashram in India and sleeping next to the rumbling waves of the Bali Sea. All of it is harmlessly guided by director Ryan Murphy (television's Glee) in a soft-focus, big-budget Travel Channel aesthetic.
Everything looks good on the surface, but there's never anything of substance in Liz's quest to find "herself." She meets people, stares longingly into the distance, but we never get that a-ha moment where the spark is re-lit.
Eat Pray Love validates an increasingly common attribute emerging in our culture: public narcissism. It's a film about an incredibly selfish woman seeking redemption by becoming even more selfish. Liz's belief: It's all about me all of the time.
People have always been out for No. 1, so that's nothing new. But never before has self-centeredness been so communal with the myriad of social networks that allow people to expose their lives to anyone in their circle of friends and virtual strangers. These sites are less about sharing and more about showing than users might care to admit. The zeitgeist of me, me, me is taking hold, and its grip might be so firm it will be difficult to remove when we desire a change.
While Eat Pray Love is an attractive piece of fluff masquerading as intelligent soul-searching, its lasting effect will mostly make you dream of going on a trip to Italy or Bali (India, not so much).
Julia Roberts, as always, makes a good movie star, but her selfishness becomes tiresome by the end and not even her star power can save Eat Pray Love from mediocrity.
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