October 18, 2009

I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)

(Michelle Pfeiffer gets a talking-to from Mother Nature while jogging.)

Aspiration is one thing, actualization is another. Quite an obvious statement, but it's a thought that often comes to mind when watching movies. On paper, Amy Heckerling's 2007 film I Could Never Be Your Woman can be described as a romantic comedy. The lovers are Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer), a TV producer and Adam (Paul Rudd), an actor who nabs a bit part on her show. The film aspires to be an examination of beauty-obsessed and youth-obsessed America in the guise of a May-December romance.

(Then 39-year-old Stacey Dash plays a high school student in You Go Girl, with Paul Rudd guest-starring.)

 In reality, I Could Never... is simply a mess. A mix of satire and formula, it begins, bizarrely, with Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman) pontificating on how humans are messing with the natural order. Her complaints are accompanied by montage shots of men and women getting liposuction, chemical peels, hair plugs, and Botox. We are introduced to Rosie, a single mother with the requisite hyperarticulate teenage daughter (Saoirse Ronan, so game she deserves her subsequent excellent role in Atonement). Rosie produces the cheesy You Go Girl, a show reminiscent of Saved by the Bell. Que thirtysomething actors playing teenagers spouting slang written by writers who are more or less pulling it out of their ass! Que the clueless boss (Fred Willard), the backstabbing blonde secretary (Sarah Alexander), and the diva TV star (Stacey Dash).

Then Rosie meets Adam, and the all-too-familiar "he's too young for me, I can't date him but he's so cute" push and pull commences, with zero subtlety and nuance. Given the film's pointed portrayal of teen-oriented TV shows that use actors too old to be teenagers, the casting of Pfeiffer and Rudd is deeply ironic. The then-47-year-old Pfeiffer playing a 41-year-old is a stretch, but what about then-36-year-old Rudd playing a 29-year-old? How meta.

As with Hollywood's recent influx of "cougar" roles for older actresses, (Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give, Courtney Cox in Cougar Town), Rosie is a deeply undignified, demeaning role for Pfeiffer. There is nothing entertaining about watching her screeching about her sagging face, engaging in a bitch fight with her secretary,
and acting like a general flutterbudget. Rudd fares better, seeing as his only requirements are to be cute, funny, and unfailingly sweet. He goes haywire in a wacky, freestyle performance and scores the only genuine laughs in the film.

Paul Rudd's character on the set of You Go Girl.

The film lurches from one disjointed scene to the next, as if someone filled a basket with strips of the film and ran away, dropping scenes as they went. The tone-deaf rhythms and desperate zeitgeist-channeling will come as a shock for fans of writer-director Amy Heckerling. While her directing efforts have been sparse in recent years, her successes are unimpeachable. 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with its mix of hilarity and honesty, is a benchmark film in the teen movie genre. The same can be said for her 1995 comedy Clueless, a film so trend-setting, teen-oriented films and TV shows were imitating its witty, knowing dialogue for years afterward.
I Could Never Be Your Woman
So why this train wreck? The glaring disconnection between scenes hints that the film was mercilessly trimmed by...someone. Rosie inexplicably appears dressed like a schoolgirl in one scene, and later , walks awkwardly as if she'd hurt her ankle, though it is never explained why. The film's delayed release couldn't have helped either. Shot in 2005 but shelved until 2008, after which it went straight to DVD, the film's jokes are too far removed from the original setting to work. (In one scene, Ronan's character sings a parody of Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" re-written with lyrics poking fun at George Bush and Michael Jackson.) But there's no denying that the film has deeper fundamental problems in plotting and characterization. It may be aiming for romantic satire, but really, it's just a joke.

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