Our Man In New York Melts Down

8 April 2001 by Richard Phippen

Ernest Myers IIIErnest Myers III, watching movies Stateside so you don't have to. Find out what's hot Stateside as our new columnist Ernest The Third, struggles to accept the onset of age. And then finds the latest releases rubbing it in his face.

Last week, I decided to see what I thought was a rather diverse slate of newer releases.  First up, an absurdly named bromance (Hot Tub Time Machine), followed by an intellectual erotic thriller (Chloe) and capping the week off with an indie dramedy featuring a certifiably cool soundtrack and lots of self absorbed hipsters spouting witty dialogue (Greenberg). 

You couldn’t ask for a more varied cinematic line-up that doesn’t involve CGI’d dragons, Tyler Perry or the wonders of Glorious®, Life-Changing™ 3D.

Yet, despite my designs, all three films proceeded to clobber me over the head with a common and frightening theme: the loss of a promising youth and the utter disappointment of failed adulthood.
In short, it sucks to get old.
In interest of full disclosure: I also turned 30 this last week. So, I may be a tad sensitive at the moment. 30. It’s a daunting number.  

I like to think, spontaneous trip to Vegas aside, I’ve been handling the transition quite maturely.  But, honestly, did Hollywood really have to pick my birthday week to drill it into my head how much worse it is going to get from here?
All right, so a mid-life crisis in a movie is nothing new. No matter what the genre, you’d probably be able to find a startling large number of films that can be classified as, what I like to call, Mid-Life Meltdown Movies (“meltdown” just sounds so much cooler than “crisis”).

Yet even among a sub-genre like Mid-Life Meltdown Movies there are sub-sub genres that help differentiate certain types of meltdown movies from each, which luckily enough, the three releases I saw this last week are perfect illustrations of...

1.) The Wish Fulfillment Movie
Think: 17 Again, City Slickers, The Rookie
Hot Tub Time Machine (17) Who doesn’t want to relive the glory of youth in some way?  Either by accomplishing something everyone told you was impossible at your age or better yet, get the chance by some magical trick of fate to go back and do it all over again but this time get it right!
Well that’s chance the titular Hot Tub Time Machine gives to four complete life losers.  Three of them (John Cusack, Rob Corddry, and Craig Robinson) were once close friends back in the 80s who have reached their 40s with a string of dead end jobs and failed relationships to show for themselves.

Transported back to 1986, they get to relive some of the more memorable moments of their misspent youth and maybe, just maybe, not make the same mistakes the second time around.
Cusack has been the crown prince of the mid-life angst going back over ten years now to Grosse Point Blank, but recently he seems to have lost that twinkle in his eye, that charisma that could single handedly carry a flimsy romantic comedy. 

Like a once favourite athlete, for whatever reason (Obama’s president now John – perk up!) he’s lost a step or two, but wisely, he mostly takes a back seat in this to the more high energy antic of Corddry and Robinson.

There are quite a few laughs to be had in Hot Tub, including a disturbingly welcome recurring bit featuring Crispin Glover.  It’s a disposable comedy, instantly forgettable but good fun while it lasts.

2.) The Infidelity Movie
Think: Unfaithful, Little Children, Nothing to Lose
Chloe 05While a loss of a job, or death of a family member can trigger the meltdown, more often than not infidelity (whether they are on the giving or receiving end) is the culprit that sends our protagonist spiraling out of control.
Such is the case in the new Atom Egoyan thriller Chloe. Julianne Moore is a successful doctor who nevertheless is feeling the emotional pains of middle age. She notices younger women and the attention they receive, she longs for the close marriage she once had with her husband (Liam Neeson) and she has recently become deeply suspicious of Liam’s charismatic and flirtatious ways.
Naturally she decides the best way to find out if he is getting a little something on the side is not to go the more traditional route of hiring a private investigator.

Nope, she decides the best option is to hire a high-class hooker (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce him and recounts every last detail over coffee the next day. 

Everything that happens next probably won’t take too much guesswork, as unfortunately practically every twist in the film is telegraphed about thirty minutes before it happens and all the characters nuances just doesn’t make up for a complete lack of tension for the majority of the film. 
Of course, the most publicised twist is, let’s face it, the reason most everyone was in the theatre. Why do I assume that?  Well there were twelve people in the theatre when I saw it, nine single men sitting alone and a trio of girls who sat silently through the film and then proceed to giggle incessantly during the now-infamous scene. Thanks for killing the mood, ladies.
Ultimately, Chloe ends up feeling like Egoyan doing a bad impression of DePalma doing a bad impression of Hitchcock.

3.) The Challenging Stranger Movie
Think: Lost in Translation, Defending Your Life, Up In The Air
Greenberg 05When the meltdown happens, it’s usually followed by a new presence in the hero’s life that shakes up the status quo. Often they come in the form of a love interest, usually a much younger love interest, but can also be a sassy child, a crying baby or a cantankerous but wise old man probably played by Morgan Freeman.
In Noam Baumbach’s Greenberg, Roger Greenberg’s (Ben Stiller) challenging stranger comes in the unique form of Roger’s brother’s assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig). 

She’s unique in the sense that, at first glance, there is nothing particularly challenging about Florence at all.  Quiet, pleasing and caring she becomes drawn, despite her better judgment, to Roger who is quiet, bitter and a narcissistic jerk.
At the beginning of the film, Roger arrives in Los Angeles having just recently recovered from his own mid-life breakdown determined to “do nothing for a while.”  Though from what we are told, Roger has spent the last 15 years doing pretty much nothing.

His old friends resent him, he harbours fantasies of reuniting with an ex, and he doesn’t so much as have conversations with others as Roger talks, they listen, they try to interject, Roger ignores and keeps on talking.
Coming off the excellent Squid and the Whale and the difficult-to-take but sharp and affecting Margot at the Wedding, Baumbach here is once again in top form. He may be the best writer of dialogue in American movies today. His characters are quick and funny and cruel and most of all ring true as complex human beings.
Stiller moves away from his more manic-comedy persona to some of the darker acting chops he showed back in Permanent Midnight. Within 15 minutes, I had fully accepted him as Roger and any Stiller baggage I had fell away.

As I was leaving the theatre I overheard an elderly woman talking to one of the ushers who looked much like the detached early twenty-somethings Greenburg chastises late in the film.
“I hated it.  Couldn’t stand it.” She bellowed.  

“Yeah. There were like two funny parts and that’s it” He replied.
Did they really see the movie I saw? The one I had found so funny, moving and most of all relevant.  I couldn’t help but wonder, would I have said the same thing if I had seen this movie ten years ago, restless during some old losers constant ranting and whining?

I really don’t know. It’s sometimes hard to remember who you once were.
And 35+ years from now, will I have fully embraced my advanced years and long ago become bored and frustrated with movie after movie lamenting a magical youth that I long ago committed to memory?
Yeah.  That I could see.

Ernest Myers III