There are good movies that come and go in the theaters without a lot of fanfare, while other dogs remain barking for weeks in the same theaters. There is no accounting for taste when it comes to some folks. Stuck on a ten hour flight from Istanbul to NY a week or so ago, I watched three movies to pass the time—: 1) Nebraska; 2) Grudge Match; 3) Ruby Sparks. The first and last of these movies received considerable acclaim, and in the case of Nebraska some Oscar nominations. Grudge Match, yet another Stalone/Rocky type film, not so much, though it has a few fun moments.
Nebraska is a road trip movie, though what it is really about is the maturation of the relationship of a father and a son, who becomes more of a man the more he stands up for his Dad. Filmed in glorious black and white, and telling the tale of a journey from Billings Montana to Lincoln Nebraska in hopes of claiming a Publishing House prize, this film quite deliberately presents itself as a film from a bygone era, where people still had questions about Japanese cars and family was pretty much the only currency that mattered. I loved this film, even though it has some gritty language. Bruce Dern as the father, and Stacy Keach as his old, money grubbing, partner are both superb, as is June Squibb who plays the salty wife of Bruce Dern. The movie is at one level low brow comedy about people who appear to be ‘dumber than a bag of hammers’, but at another level it is about an endearing love of a son for his slightly daft father.
The real winner of these three films is the last one I watched. Partly the charm of this film is its conception— namely that what one imagines can come true, even come to life if you are imagining the girl of your dreams. The problem of course is that figments of one’s imagination are not quite like reality in various ways. Surprisingly, the film is something of a study of what is wrong with the notion of external predetermination of another person’s existence or life. Not surprisingly, the creative genius who is cooking up every move of his dream girl is named Calvin. What Calvin learns is that real love cannot be pre-determined, no matter how well you write the script. If there is no modicum of freedom of choice, there is no real love. Period. And in a truly twisted turn of events, the person who actually wrote the script for this movie is Zoe Kazan, who plays Ruby Sparks in the movie!! Far out. Paul Dano merely plays the writing wunderkind credited with bringing Ruby Sparks to life in a novel called The Girlfriend, which becomes a best seller. What Calvin learns is that when you control another person, you stifle their individuality, and so, as that great philosopher Sting once said ‘if you love somebody— set them free’.
Along the way in this last movie, one learns a good deal about the creative process, and how even creative persons can become controlling dictatorial people when given the chance. Real relationships (don’t think the movie ‘Her’) require hard work, give and take, love freely given and freely received, and this is as true as the love between a man and a woman as it is true of the love between God and one of his children.