Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

2008-11-02
12:52:13 am

Just when I think my tolerance for mockumentaries has ended a movie like 1999’s Drop Dead Gorgeous drops into my lap (really DVD player) via Em’s friend from work. I remember when this movie came out, I don’t think it was out for too long, but a few of my friends went to see it when I was working or something and they reported back that it wasn’t very good. Sorry friends, you’re wrong.

DDG has a very Christopher Guest-like feel to it, but with a crispness that his films tend to lack. And you can thank writer Lona Williams (who also plays the third pageant judge) and director Michael Patrick Jann who directed a bunch of State and Reno 911 episodes. The story takes a documentary look at a small town beauty pageant that’s very clearly rigged. There also seems to be a high mortality and injury rate for any contestant who isn’t Denise Richards.

Our hero is Kristen Dunst who is just a sweet young lady. Too bad for her she’s competing against Denise Richards, whose mom (Kirstie Alley) won back in the day. She’s also married to one of the richest dudes in town, so they kind of run things.

A big part of the humor comes from the small town atmosphere, kind of like Napoleon Dynamite, but way less out there. There’s also a great amount of black humor as the slowish townsfolk don’t catch on to the incredibly obvious murder plot unfolding around them. Even the cops.

Another big source of fun for me was checking out all the stars in the flick. Aside from Kirsten and Denise, you’ve also got Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney, Brittany Murphy, Nora Dunn, Will Sasso, Thomas Lennon and ADAM WEST! The girl who played Bruce Willis’ daughter who also dated Ross on Friends is in there as well (yeah, I’m a closet Friends fan). Everyone really sold their roles and seemed to have fun doing this really funny movie.

I’ve never been a fan of Denise Richards, but even she’s pretty good in this and Dunst freaking shines. I’m a huge Bring It On fan and love her in that. And I checked out Virgin SuicidesVirgin Suicides earlier this year which she was amazing in and of course Interview With a Vampire. Man, what happened to her? Maybe my intense dislike of Spider-Man 2 and 3 has tainted my view of Ms. Dunst, which is really too bad because she’s awesome. I also really dug Brittany Murphy. Her roll was small, but she played the crazy local girl with awesome flair and abandon. She freaking steals the show every time she’s on screen.

It’s also satisfying as our hero eventually gets what’s coming to her as do the villains. But it doesn’t have a typical Hollywood ending, it’s actually pretty funny. All in all, this movie is definitely worth checking out. It’s funny and actually does the mockumentary genre justice unlike a lot of movies nowadays. If you’re into Reno 911, Christopher Guest movies or dig any of the above actresses, this is definitely the movie for you.

Book vs. Movie: The Virgin Suicides

2008-08-07
4:34:13 am

So, remember when I said that I didn’t read books too often? Well, after finishing Slam I looked at the growing stack of novels I have next to my bed and picked one kind of at random. It was Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides (1993). Someone had put it on the free table at work and I snatched it up, not really knowing anything about it.

So I started reading it and was hooked instantly. It only took me about three dedicated days of reading to get through it (so about a week, real time) and it was one of the most moving, ghostly reading experiences I’ve ever had. The story follows the Lisbon Family as all five of the daughters kill themselves over the span of a year, the first of which Cecilia, predates her sisters by a full year. What really grabbed me about the telling of the tale was that the narrator speaks in the “we” and comes from the point of view of one of the boys in the neighborhood who fell in a sort of love with the girls and desperately wanted to help them. After they killed themselves, the boys spend the rest of their lives (at least to the point we find them in the book), trying to figure out why these five young women took their lives.

Another element of the book that got me was the way that Eugenides packed each page with so many characters, either actually involved in the story or just mentioned by name. Almost all of them seem incidental at first, but come back into play later on. The great thing about it, though, is that I never felt lost. Maybe I didn’t take much stock in such casually mentioned characters, but they all came back in one way or another, which really makes the reader feel like a part of these boys’ (and later mens’) club of failed avenging heroes.

The sense of not being able to penetrate another person is one that I’ve often thought about. Even the girls’ own father who lived under the same roof as them had no idea what was going through their heads as they planned an elaborate suicide plan that involved a number of the neighborhood boys. No matter how hard you try to decode someone’s thoughts and actions, you just can’t get inside their heads. The best you can do is gather accounts to try and put the puzzle together.

Sophia Coppola’s adaptation (1999) is pretty faithful to the book, but not necessarily to the version in my brain. But I think a lot of that comes from the basic differences between books and movies. For instance, in the book, you don’t really get a sense of the girls as individuals until the narrator does which is well into the book. Of course, in a movie, you can obviously see the differences. Though, I do have to give props to the casting folks for making the non Kirsten Dunst sisters all look pretty similar and easily confused.

Aside from Dunst who nails the promiscuous and evocative Lux to a T, the casting didn’t quite do it for me. I didn’t get the same feel from Kathleen Turner’s mother character as I did in the book, even though she looks almost exactly like how I pictured her. The way its conveyed in the book, it’s hard to not feel like she’s majorly to blame for the girls’ suicides. Again, I’m thinking this is because we actually see her reactions to things like her first daughter’s suicide.

I was really most curious to see how Coppola and Co. handled the first person plural narrator of the book in the film (he always uses “we” and never deviates). She got Giovanni Ribisi, an actor I’ve liked since I randomly rented Suburbia at the age of 16 and developed a pretty deep man crush on. Anyway, he does a great job, but isn’t utilized enough to really set the same tone as the book. The lack of entrenchment along with the neighborhood boys leads to more focus on the girls, which almost completely removes the element of being an outsider looking in on them which is central to the novel. Heck, it’s hard to be an outsider when you’re right in their living room as they play Chinese checkers and watch wildlife shows.

One of the downsides to watching such a faithful adaptation so soon after reading the book (I finished it Saturday in between and after errands I didn’t want to run) is that you know when everything’s coming and what’s going to happen. I didn’t feel that way watching Virgin Suicides. I was mostly curious to see how Coppola translated such an artfully crafted novel onto the screen. And kudos to her for doing such a great job. The movie never lags (it’s just over an hour and a half) and, while you’re nowhere near as firmly entrenched with the neighborhood kids as you are in the book, you still develop an attachment for these girls and desperately want to help them, even though it’s a forgone conclusion from about the second line of the script that they’re not going to make it.

All in all, I enjoyed both works, though obviously I liked the book better. I can’t recommend the book enough to people. Heck, if it only took me a few days to read, you should be able to get through it quickly. But, if books aren’t your thing, I also give the movie my thumb’s up.