Friday, August 05, 2011

Whimsy

I went to see this movie last night – “Crazy Stupid Love” – with a couple of friends. It is a very entertaining movie that is very smartly written. It subverts at least a couple romantic comedy tropes and, in fact, in the one scene that is the most obviously cliché, one of the characters says, “this is so cliché.” It also mixes a kind of standard romantic comedy trajectory with the intertwined plot line sensibilities of dramas like “Crash,” resulting in some great payoffs.

However, my friends and I agreed that, as much as we all enjoyed the movie, it had nothing whatsoever to do with how real people interact and carry on relationships. Almost every pairing in the movie was cut from some fairy tale Hollywood model of how people meet, fall into bed, fall in love, fall out of love, etc. It is full of gestures both big and small that only happen in the minds of screenwriters. As one of my friends said, “I remember going to movies hoping to find some message or insight that might be relevant in my life.” As many laughs as this movie provides – and eye-candy moments, thank you Mr. Gosling – it certainly doesn’t provide insight.

Another friend of mine recently used the word “whimsy” in an email. It occurred to me that it’s one of those words that I’ve used before never knowing exactly what it meant. I checked Dictionary.com, which defines whimsy as “extravagant, fanciful, or excessively playful expression: a play with lots of whimsy.” It was an interesting coincidence because the person talking about whimsy was referring to a play, specifically “All’s Well that Ends with Monique.” Given that I also saw “Boeing Boeing” this week in addition to “Crazy Stupid Love,” I’ve pretty much overdosed on whimsy.

“Monique” has several things to recommend it: spirited performances, a very innovative set design, and some great uses of sound and music to support the action. Kristen Swanson totally commits to her self-obsessed character and director Donna Coghill has given her a talented supporting crew. I enjoyed each of Kimberly Jones Clark’s characterizations, Stephen Ryan playing a sock puppet was very funny, and it was a real treat to see BJ Kocen on stage again. I was wondering through the first act whether Mr. Kocen would sing in the show and, when he finally did, it was completely unexpected and delightful.

A lot of clever thinking went into each scene and there are several sharp lines delivered along the way. The way Monique kind of obliviously helps people she interacts with in their lives was a nimble conceit. Even so, my overall impression of the show was of a piece of work that still wasn’t clicking on all cylinders. Some bits didn’t cohere in the way that some Saturday Night Live skits never quite translate into feature films. The show seemed “writerly” to me at times, with characters’ reactions following a written rhythm not necessarily the organic rhythms between people on stage.

In that way, it contrasted with “Boeing Boeing,” which is clearly a work that has been honed over years of productions into a Rube Goldberg device of interactional madness. All the pieces of farce are juggled with precision in this production, directed by Bruce Miller, with potentially disastrous entries coinciding with perfectly timed exits, many doors slammed, and choice bon mots delivered along the way. The three “air hostesses” in the show (Maura Burroughs, Caylyn Temple, and Donna Marie Miller) are all sumptuous beauties that transcend their stereotypes, each with a special spark all her own. Ms. Lewis at the T-D likened Derek Phipps to vintage Jerry Lewis in his supporting role and that’s a spot-on characterization. And Susan Sanford is just so gloriously continental as the French maid, alternately deadpan, world-weary, and flabbergasted. In the midst of it all, Denis Riva holds his own as a man trying desperately to keep his life orderly as it starts to spin out of control.

My reaction to “Boeing” was similar to the one I had to “Crazy Stupid” – many laughs but operating in some alternate reality where people are more like cartoon characters than, you know, people. In the midst of such a whimsy-intensive week, my appreciation for the work did not exactly translate into a love of it.

But maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety. And maybe I’m just prejudicial in my preference for whimsy being kept to musicals where outrageous behavior is commonplace and expected (though two of the musicals I’ve enjoyed most lately – “Ragtime” and “Next to Normal” – were anything but whimsical). I certainly wouldn’t warn anyone away from any of the entertainments I enjoyed this week. I expect there are aspects of “Monique” that could translate into a more completely satisfying work. By all means, go to both “Boeing” and “Crazy Stupid” if you want a laugh-filled, occasionally ridiculous slice of romantic farce.

Personally, I’m in need of a little cleansing of my entertainment palette. Luckily, I came across this little piece to point to potential works of the decidedly unwhimsical kind. Also, at least “Hairspray” marries its silliness to social consciousness and some kick-ass songs so perhaps I’ll emerge next week better able to appreciate the more whimsical aspects of life (and theater).

3 comments:

Susie said...

"Crazy Stupid Love" affected me exactly as it did you--fun to watch, but not anything like real people in the real world.

IAMSHADOW said...

I have always had some secret thoughts about Ophelia's death in Hamlet. It's a very suspicious death when you think about it.

deege said...

Interesting. To me, "Monique" worked a tightly controlled palate and had a consistency of tone, whereas "Crazy, Stupid, Love" was completely uneven -- veering from drama to slapstick without dexterity -- and spun completely out of control in the final third (from the mini-golf windmill scene onward). I don't think "Monique" or "Boeing Boeing" pretend to offer realistic characters having organic interactions with each other. They offer heightened comedy with a bit of heart behind it, and the writers seem to know what they're trying to do. Watching "Crazy, Stupid, Love", I got the sense the the writers had no idea where they were going or how to get there. I suspect that chunks of it were written (or rewritten) during filming.