I used to think that Mark Waters was a genius. He had back-to-back comedic hits with Freaky Friday (2003) and Mean Girls (2004). But excellence has disappeared from his work and now he’s working on a TV series called Witches of East End. I gave him genius category because comedy is, frankly, difficult. In fact, I think that comedy is the most difficult of all the performing arts.
Enter Paul Weitz, who is responsible for the brilliant About a Boy in 2002. Like Waters, he has not exactly burned as a bright star since. But now, a decade later, he directs this poignant comedy about an admissions director, Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) at Princeton. He has taken a terrific script by Karen Croner, assembled an equally terrific cast that includes Paul Rudd, Michael Sheen, and the always enjoyable Wallace Shawn, resulting in a first rate comedy that comes close to equaling the quality of About a Boy.
Fey has been an exceptionally good writer. But when I’ve seen her in movies she has appeared more like a writer who has the capability of acting what she writes without shining. Here she shines, giving an Oscar®-quality performance. She is joined in this regard by Rudd as a teacher who is encouraging her to admit Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), a high school senior without any apparent accomplishments, to Princeton.
There is a lot more to the film than that and it includes a scintillating performance by a hard-to-recognize Lily Tomlin, as Susannah, Portia’s bizarre mother.
This is an entertaining film with good pace and sparkling performances.
It is a tale told by an idiot Full of sound and fury Signifying nothing.
— William Shakespeare
While this is a line from Macbeth, written in the 16th century, Shakespeare’s words constitute a concise critique of this film.
Writer-director Terrence Malick is the master of bore, and this is his bête noire. The man who made a bloodthirsty war movie, The Thin Red Line (1998) into a sleepfest has outdone himself here. Starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem, this is a nonsensical exercise in directorial egotism. While production notes try to explain what it’s about, no story unfolds onscreen for the uninitiated.
This is an incoherent jumble of scenes, each of which is totally unrelated to what precedes and what follows. At times it seems like a cinematographer gone mad as each shot seems to be inserted in the movie just because it is a good shot of scenery, or of a star walking along with his or her reflection in a window, or rushing water, or interesting angles. But the scenes mean nothing and have little or no connection with the story, you should pardon the expression, or the characters. And, of course, since this is Terrence Malick, there are innumerable shots of people thinking… and thinking… and thinking….
Rachel McAdams is listed as a costar, but it’s unlikely that she appears on the screen for more than five minutes. It’s mostly a silent film because nobody says much of anything. In fact, I would bet that there are more words in this review than are spoken in the entire two hour film. Characters suddenly appear that you’ve never seen before and don’t see again. Nothing makes any sense.
I’ve seen a lot of awful movies, mostly in a room full of critics. But this is the first movie I’ve ever seen where the critics were rushing for the doors as soon as the film ended volunteering comments ranging from bad to awful, laughing at the absurdity of it all.
If this is not the worst film ever made, it’s certainly one of the most boring.