And yet, Keaton at times manages to convert Meyers’s penchant for the obvious into something truly funny. After being shut out by Harry, Erica finally has a writing breakthrough and, because her feelings are so tangled up, her every whoop of delight collapses into a wail. Even in a piffle like Something’s Gotta Give, Keaton reminds us of her uncanny ability to inhabit her characters’ knockabout emotions. In her Annie Hall days, she was famed for her thrown-together fashion sense, and her approach to acting is, in the best way, thrown-together, too. Audiences love her because they identify with the women she plays, who are never all of a piece. They’re a buzzing mass of highs and lows, and this seems a lot closer to how we experience ourselves right now than Hollywood’s usual streamlined approach to character. Nobody can be grave and goofy all at once like Diane Keaton. In these fractious times, it’s the perfect combo for a modern heroine.
Michael Caine plays pierre Brossard, a guilt-ridden French Nazi collaborator still on the run, in The Statement, and it’s a tribute to his great gifts that he’s highly effective even though miscast. (Vichy and Cockney don’t mix.) Brossard is a man for whom only God’s pardon has meaning. His devotion shrouds him from his own monstrousness.
Just about everyone in this film looks out of place, including Charlotte Rampling as Brossard’s wife, Alan Bates as a high-level government official, Tilda Swinton as a Paris magistrate, and Jeremy Northam as the French military colonel assigned to help Swinton rein in Brossard. (Yes, I know, what a cast—all wasted.) These Brits playing the French give the film a stilted quality that clearly wasn’t intended by the director, Norman Jewison, or the screenwriter, Ronald Harwood, whose extraordinary, open-ended script for The Pianist seems like a fluke next to this flat police procedural. The novel by Brian Moore on which the film is based seems tailor-made for an intelligent thriller in the Graham Greene mode, but in Jewison’s hands, the dragnet that closes in on Brossard is lackadaisical, and the larger political overtones—especially concerning the complicity of the Catholic church in aiding Nazis—are spelled out over and over. This history lesson no doubt bears repeating, but it’s not exactly the breaking news that the filmmakers would have us believe, and meanwhile we keep wondering why Michael Caine doesn’t have more screen time, or why Provence looks so lackluster. Brossard may crave absolution, but why must the audience do penance?
Movies that set out to be mythic usually end up earthbound, and so it is with much of Tim Burton’s Big Fish. Written by John August from the novel by Daniel Wallace, it’s about the tall-tale exploits of salesman and southern patriarch Edward Bloom, played as a dying man by Albert Finney and as a young gallivanter by Ewan McGregor. Edward’s estranged son, Will (Billy Crudup), reappears early on, hoping his father will finally open up to him. “Show me who you are for once,” he says, but most of the movie is taken up with Edward’s recollections of traveling circuses and of wooing his girlfriend (Alison Lohman) with 10,000 daffodils. Clearly, this was a personal project for Burton. He wants to be heartwarming, but his imagination is too gnarled and brackish, too infernally odd: When he shows us giants and conjoined twins, the effect is more Diane Arbus than Hallmark. Big Fish has moments of genuine emotion—especially an interlude in an idyllic sanctuary for lost souls that feels like one of the darker passages from Our Town—but overall, the film feels like it issues from a place Burton doesn’t inhabit.
Way Past Cool (at Two Boots Pioneer Theater), a first feature from director Adam Davidson based on the young-adult best seller by Jess Mowry, is about teen and preteen gang members in Oakland, but in tone and temperament it’s far from the usual homeboy melodrama. The violence is here, all right, but refracted through the eyes of boys who are still young enough to imagine their ’hood as a garden of unearthly delights. The mayhem and sorrow are doubly affecting because the kids, played mostly by nonactors, are rapidly losing a childhood they never really had. Davidson pays tribute to their dreams by imparting an almost tender lyricism. It’s a magical little movie about a most unmagical subject.