Every holiday comes with its baggage—the expectations, the pressures put on relationships, the sometimes-painful memories and the hope that somehow, some way, this year will be different. So it is with this Smackdown. Can New Year’s Eve improve on Valentine’s Day, which audiences seemed to like despite the widespread critical takedowns? […]
Social upheaval. Economic strife. A wildly unpopular war. And racial bigotry that will forever tarnish a great country’s history. If it all sounds familiar, it’s because the problems of the 1960s are still pretty much with us… which is why movies about that era will probably always be popular. It’s so nice to look back in time at the battles for social justice that we’ve fought and won. It helps us forget for a few hours how much work is still left to do.
One of Hollywood’s favorite ways of remembering this period is through the partnerships and friendships that formed between ordinary blacks and whites and the ways they sometimes worked together to make things better for all of us. Civil rights stories have been prominent in cinema since D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance in 1916, but in 1989, Driving Miss Daisy pretty much set the template for telling a certain kind of ‘60s story, winning four Academy Awards in the process.
Now we have another soft-focus take on the era with The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel, which was as much of a phenomenon as Alfred Uhry’s 1987 play, Driving Miss Daisy, was a game-changer off- and later on Broadway.
Warning: this Smackdown is not your typical 15-rounder, with a decision coming after only a few hours of fighting. No, this stretches far, far longer… several decades, in fact. That’s because both our contenders span over 20 years in the lives of their central couples. Two long-term relationships outside marriage, each lasting a day at a time, annually, over the decades. Both survive personal shakeups and societal upheaval, but only one can survive this Smackdown. […]
Is it better to give than receive? Before you answer, the question’s not asking about sex or birthday gifts but relationship advice. Newly liberated Office-mate Steve Carell finds himself on both sides of that equation in our Smackdown between a couple of romantic dramedies, Crazy, Stupid, Love., opening this weekend, and 2007’s Dan in Real Life.
Crazy, Stupid, Love., with its period at the end that causes my auto-correct fits, is probably the most grammatically irritating film title since Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. Carell portrays boring, straight-laced Cal Weaver, who gets dumped by his wife and taken in as a charity project by Ryan Gosling’s barfly/man/god, Jacob Palmer. In Dan in Real Life, it’s Carell’s Dan Burns dispensing the advice in a newspaper column with the same name as the film, while trying to raise three daughters in various stages of meltdown after the death of their mom and Dan’s wife a few years earlier.
Two depressed guys, two lost wives, two sets of three quirky kids, and two comedies based on a Steve Carell character’s ability to roll with the romantic punches. So it comes down to Cal versus Dan, and it should come as no surprise that no matter who’s giving the advice, love makes a fool of them both. […]