Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Don’t you want somebody to love/ Don’t you need somebody to love/ Wouldn’t you love somebody to love - Jefferson Airplane

Out there right now are three enjoyable films that explore that persistent human endeavor to find somebody love. All three films offer laughs, fine performances, and moments for poignant self-examination. In each of the three films, quirky circumstances throw together a man and woman in unexpected partnerships that might seem unlikely on the surface. But, as the individuals involved realize, what you feel under the surface is more important. In addition, each film ends with the encouraging suggestion that, no matter your personal troubles, there is someone out there for everyone.

In Your Sister’s Sister, directed by Lynn Shelton, Jack (Mark Duplass) and Iris (Emily Blunt) have been best friends for many years. That’s why Iris sends Jack, who is grieving the loss of his brother, to her family’s island vacation home for a much-needed getaway. When Jack finds that Iris’s sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), is also there for a getaway after breaking up with her female partner, Jack and Hannah complicate things for Iris, who also turns up at the cabin and is secretly in love with Jack.

While presenting sticky situations that provide some clever humor, the film doesn’t draw out the comedy of errors to a silly extent. Characters are quickly forthcoming, as seen in some touching, sensitively performed moments. Evoking a sharp sense of place – a summer island that makes you feel like you’ve been there – and offering some brilliantly genuine acting, especially on the part of Emily Blunt, the film’s strengths are in its lucid moments in which believable characters express their hopes and desires in believable ways.

In Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World the unlikely couple are thrown together due to a situation you’d expect to find in a sci-fi movie rather than in a romantic comedy: a massive asteroid is headed straight for Earth and humanity has weeks to live before the end of the world.

What would you do in this situation? The various responses portrayed in this film are about what you’d expect. Some people kill themselves. Some people get drunk or engage in orgies. Some people blow up cars and loot stores. Others keep on doing what they’ve always done to justify their existence: riding bicycles, surfing, or cleaning houses. Others make sure they have a friend or lover for the apocalypse.

That last alternative is a problem for Dodge (Steve Carell). His wife has left him, so he decides to look up his first girlfriend with the hope of reigniting their relationship. It’s also a problem for Penny (Keira Knightley), a confused oddball who has been in multiple unwise relationships, when she realizes she should be with the relatives she loves. During a hilarious road trip through a wacky world on the brink of extinction, Dodge and Penny, of course, discover that what they are searching for is right there in their unlikely partnership. Along the way, they have solved problems and had a lot of fun, and that’s important for any relationship.

In Safety Not Guaranteed, directed by Colin Trevorrow, Darius is a socially awkward intern for a news magazine, and Kenneth is a reclusive loner who posts an ad seeking a partner to travel back in time with him. When Darius agrees to go undercover to explore this story and prove what seems obvious, that Kenneth is nuts, she becomes intrigued by this man’s passion for a fantastic project intended to change the past and recapture a lost opportunity. What she gets from her time spent with Kenneth is the excitement she’s been missing in life and an opportunity to exchange thoughts and feelings with someone who seems genuinely interested.

Though the film stumbles over some forced quirkiness (the downfall of many an indie comedy) and gets bogged down in a sub-plot in which Darius’s boss (Jake M. Johnson) looks up a high school sweetheart, the story and the performances of Plaza and Duplass establish a whimsically engaging tone.

All three films portray couples that find a comfortable partners or a kindred spirits. But in contrast with what most romantic comedies feel required to include, we do not see them consummate their relationships with sex. Jack and Iris embrace. Darius takes Kenneth’s outstretched hand. Dodge and Penny spend their last minutes together talking and looking directly into each other’s eyes. Sometimes – often – this is better than sex.

While these three films suggest that there is someone out there for everyone, no matter how weird you are, they do not assume that we all live happily ever after. Previous sexual or emotional liaisons, personal doubts and fears, and the brevity of life coupled with the importance of seizing the right moment are all factors that do not always ensure success. But the films encourage the endeavor. We must take risks. Like Darius walking toward Kenneth’s outstretched hand, we must walk a narrow, precarious bridge. We must be brave. Safety is not guaranteed.


All the above films were viewed the weekend of June 29 with Jason Bellamy of the Cooler during my yearly visit to see him in the D.C. area. Besides seeing these three movies, we also saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (in keeping with the above films, Abe finds Mary Todd; unfortunately, she hurries him up so they won't be late for the theater.) We also witnessed the freak tornado-like/hurricane-like storm that hit the South when we came out of the subway in Arlington. The power outages and the people’s frantic quests to find places to charge their iPhones provided a very suitable atmosphere for coming out of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World on Saturday night.

No comments: