Thursday, December 16, 2004

People, not mannequins

Maggie says:
In the last two weeks I’ve seen “Closer” and “Sideways,” both movies I was really looking forward to seeing. And both of them I liked. But “Sideways” in particular has a rare quality for movies these days, one that’s even more striking when you see it right after “Closer.” The thing is, the characters in “Sideways” look like regular people, like we look and like people we know. What a refreshing concept.

The coldness of “Closer” (which again, I did like) was exacerbated by the remarkable beauty of everyone in it. The distance that Mike Nichols purposely creates between the audience and the characters’ experiences is even more pronounced because, simply put, the people in that movie don’t look like anyone I’ve ever seen in real life. We’re not supposed to really like the characters – and we don’t. But it seems to me that we especially don’t like them because they look plastic, untouchable, and again… unreal.

Enter “Sideways.” Okay, the women are beautiful. But they have an authentic beauty, not an untouchable one. The men look like guys you see every day. Even the “handsome” one channels that guy everyone liked in high school more than, say, the leading men in vanity projects like “Alexander” and “Troy.”

And I swear that their realness is what makes the movie. We care about the characters, even when they’re screwing up and/or screwing people over. There’s a sympathy there, an understanding, a connection that never happens in “Closer.” And come to think of it, my favorite recent movies besides “Sideways” – “Garden State,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and “American Splendor” – all have normal-looking people in them, too.

So what do you think? Is this a new trend? Is it a coincidence that lots of recent acclaimed performances came with a drastic change in a star’s appearance, often through weight gain? Should beautiful movie stars be scared for their jobs? Is Paul Giamatti the new Brad Pitt?