"Frida" & "The Good Girl":
What Passes for Good Movies These Days
My contention is that what passes for good movies these days are in fact bad movies, or at least, not very good movies. Frida and The Good Girl were both considered top-notch movies of 2002 (Frida won two Oscars, Leonard Maltin gives The Good Girl three-and-a-half stars and uses it as an example of an overlooked good film), and, quite frankly, I wouldn't call either of these films a good movie. Both films were at least 50% boring all the way through, and could very easily be turned off or walked out of at any moment. Both have repetitive and exasperating screenplays that clunk along with no momentum or any truly compelling aspects.
Frida also has a couple other things going against it: First and foremost, Julie Taymor's direction is consistently pretentious, using interstitial pieces of animation and digital effects, which kill any possible momentum the story has developed, and for no other purpose than to show off and never let us forget there is a DIRECTOR AT WORK. People don't seem to use the term pretentious anymore; now it's just called style. But there's a world of difference between doing the right thing directorially to improve the scene, or inappropriately just making your presence known. I'm not of the school that says the director's work should always be invisible, but if a director decides to flex their visual muscles it must be in regard to the overall impact of the dramatic work. If the director's presence stops the drama dead in its tracks, as all of the interstitial bits in Frida do, it's pretentious and a bad idea.
Even though at the very beginning Diego Rivera, who is well-played by Alfred Molina, tells Frida, who is also well-played by Salma Hayek, that he will never be faithful to her, we then spend most of the rest of the film fretting and worrying about Rivera's marital indiscretions. This is juxtaposed with Frida, who was in a trolley car accident in her youth, becoming increasingly more disabled over the years and in increasingly worse pain. In between these downbeat and morbid scenes of anger, guilt and agony, we are treated to Julie Taymor's inappropriate, and slightly wacky, animation sequences that look like they're outtakes from a Tim Burton movie.
Just like almost all other movies about artists, we are never given any clue or indication of why these people are artists, nor what inspires or motivates them. At best, Frida's inspiration seems to be boredom, being confined to bed, and having doodled all over her cast. Diego Rivera just paints because he paints. Or, more likely, he paints because even though he's fat he still gets all the chicks. I find this lack of motivational explanation, particularly when one has gone to the trouble of choosing two artists as the lead characters, to be a severe cop-out. When Frida says at the end that all she's ever wanted to do was show her work in her homeland, Mexico, my thought was, "Well, why didn't you mention it earlier?" If you tell me the story of a lawyer or a doctor, I don't really need to know why they chose their professions (although it's still not a bad idea to explain), but if you choose artists of any kind, their reasons for being artists are basically the heart of the story. Why the hell do they keep doing this and what does it mean?
Were Alfred Molina and Salma Hayek not fine actors who were well-cast in their roles, Frida would be have been almost unwatchable.
The Good Girl is about Justine (Jennifer Aniston), a dull, bored wife and department store clerk, who screws around on her pleasant, dopey, pot-head husband (John C. Reilly), with a dull, dopey 22-year-old boy (Jake Gyllenhaal). Her husband's dopey, pot-head friend, Bubba (Tim Blake Nelson), finds out about her affair and threatens to squeal, so Justine has sex with him, too. That's pretty much the whole deal until the last five minutes when there are several melodramatic story twists that are neither believable, nor do they tie anything up.
Once again, I was minimally 50% bored the entire film, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the lead character, Justine, is bored throughout most of the film, too. Honestly, boredom is simply not a very compelling or interesting motivation. The one line summation of The Good Girl could well be: a woman is so bored she does something stupid. Wow! What a story! Quick, make a movie.
And these are the quality films of recent days.
My friend Paul contends that movies have transmogrified into a newer, fresher, less-cliched form than they once were. He thinks that I'm just an old stick-in-the-mud that stubbornly won't get with the program. I think he's full of it. I haven't got the slightest doubt that if either of these directors, Miguel Arteta (who made the dull, pointless Star Maps), or Julie Taymor (who made the incredibly dull Titus) had the talent to make their films any more interesting they most certainly would have done it. But in both cases, this was the extent of their ability. Neither director took their film anywhere new or to unexplored territory, they only took the films to the realm of dull, shallow, melodramatic and pointless, and thousands of movies have been to there before them.
As a little curious end-note, Frida had all the major credits listed at the beginning of the film, then repeated all of the main credits again at the end (which is not unheard of, just needlessly repetitive), except the only one missing at the end was the writing credit -- which just goes to show what they thought of their own script. Also, Frida had fourteen producers credited, including Salma Hayek. Fourteen producers and they couldn't come up with a dramatic through-line, decent motivations for any of the characters, or a theme. Maybe they needed fifteen.