Sunday, September 28, 2014

This Is Where I Hate You

Calum Marsh gives a thumbs down to This Is Where I Leave You in an LA Weekly squib.  Fair enough. It's a pretty wan effort, and the critics haven't been kind.  But Marsh goes too far:

Its subject, perhaps unintentionally, is the inexhaustible narcissism of affluent white people, who here mope and moan their way through various breakups and infidelities. Rich people, the film suggests, suffer the same indignities in romance as the rest of us. Fair enough, but you may find it rather more difficult to extend your sympathies to Bateman's heartbroken cuckold when he begins cruising through the suburbs in his luxury convertible.

[....] you have to wonder about the social myopia of a millionaire who feels compelled to bemoan his hardships at feature length. And anyway, who, exactly, is the audience for a movie that so openly lionizes one obnoxious family's wealth?

I do agree that a lot of whining is a bad thing in a movie.  If the characters' problems are all internal, you just want to shake them and say pull yourself together and imagine you're in a Howard Hawks film. But where's all this hostility coming from?

First, it didn't strike me that the family in the film was that wealthy.  The patriarch who brings the family together when he dies owned, as far as I can tell, a mid-sized sporting goods store in a small town in upstate New York.  This is not a recipe for riches.  Even if the oldest brother has built it into a small chain this doesn't exactly put them in Zuckerberg country.  The house where they sit shiva is a colonial in the suburbs, not a mansion.

None of the adult kids seemed to be doing especially well (though Tina Fey's husband might be pretty successful, it's hard to tell). In fact, two of the four seem to be out of a job.  Is Marsh so choked with hatred against affluent white people (other races can be as rich as they want, I guess) that he can't pay attention to the plot?  By the way, the luxury convertible is not Bateman's.

But let's say they're rich.  Why should that matter?  All it means is they don't have to worry about money.  Most romances and romantic comedies and other similar genres have characters who don't spend too much time thinking about money.  Sure, that's one potential problem you can throw in, but guess what--trouble with relationships can happen even when you have plenty, and there's no need to qualify this in a drama, as incredible as it may seem to Marsh.

There is one problem in the film, however, that almost no one complains about outside movies: Jason Bateman has two beautiful women (Rose Byrne and Abigail Spencer) throwing themselves at him.  Now there's something that's hard for most guys to sympathize with.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inexhaustible narcissism seems to be a fault of most sitcom/romcom capers I've seen- I think that quality must be baked into the scriptwriting software somehow. When it is otherwise well-written, this quality fades into the background.

Yes it gets annoying when the characters appear better off than you and go on about their "issues." Rich(er) people suck.

6:28 AM, September 28, 2014  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Narcissism is a tiresome quality and to be avoided in romantic comedy and romance, but it's in the eye of the beholder. What is beautiful to one is insufferable to another, thus explaining quite a few popular romances between people who seems incredibly self-absorbed.

But well-off people have long been the subject of popular entertainment. Part of the fun of the movies has been luxuriating in the problems of beautiful people in nice clothes and great homes. Your philosophy dooms the poor: there'd be little entertainment they could enjoy, while the well-off can wallow in the pain of poor and rich alike.

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