MR. & MRS. SMITH
MR. & MRS. SMITH (O, PG-13): When they first meet with a marriage counselor, John (Brad Pitt) and Jane Smith (Angelina Jolie) recall that they met at a bar in Bogotá after a man had been assassinated. (They were both trying to evade the police.) Their physical attraction was immediate and John soon proposed. But their relationship becomes cold and competitive.
On the surface, Jane heads an all-female high-tech investigative agency; John works for an engineering firm. In reality, they are both assassins who succeed in hiding the truth from each other for a while. But when each is ordered to kill the other, the fireworks begin.
Pre-release, the entertainment commentators on television led viewers to believe that Mr. & Mrs. Smith would be a steamy adventure-romance between Pitt and Jolie. This is unfortunate because the film is an intelligent and funny examination of marriage.
Through the use of the spy-thriller metaphor (the exaggerated externalization of internal marital conflict through mortal combat), the film tells the story of two people who get married because of sex and end up having sex because they are married.
Some of the issues at stake include the secrets people keep from one another that interfere with intimacy, the influence of outside forces on a marriage, the desire for children and where they fit into the lives of two ambitious, busy people, and what people want out of life, love and affection.
Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy) interprets screenwriter Simon Kinberg’s script effectively, though too violently in my opinion. But I am conflicted because I also found the film entertaining. Not exactly Hepburn and Tracy; this film should have been rated “R” instead of “PG-13” because domestic violence is no joke and young viewers will not get the metaphor.
THE PERFECT MAN
THE PERFECT MAN (A-2, PG): Single mom Jean Hamilton (Heather Locklear) moves every time she is jilted by a potential husband. Her daughters, 16-year-old Holly (Hilary Duff) and nine-year-old Zoe (Aria Wallace), seem resigned to yet another move. An old friend gets Jean work at a bakery.
Usually Holly doesn’t bother making friends, but this time she connects the first day at school with Amy (Vanessa Lengies). Amy takes Holly to her Uncle Ben’s (Chris Noth) restaurant and asks him for relationship advice for Holly to give her mom.
At work, Jean catches the eye of the kind but dull Lenny (Mike O’Malley). When Jean agrees to go out with him, Holly is alarmed and decides to create an anonymous e-mail suitor named Ben, which sets a predictable chain of events in motion.
This nice, light romantic comedy is aimed at Hilary Duff’s aging ’tween audience, in addition to female fans of Heather Locklear (LAX, Spin City) and Chris Noth (Sex in the City and Law & Order). The film’s message is that a woman doesn’t need to settle for just any man to complete her, but if the right husband and father comes along, it’s all to the good.
One hopes that young Duff will take time off from her career to go to acting school. Themes to talk about are telling the truth, thinking before acting, good use of e-mail and the Internet, what makes a good relationship and facing your problems instead of running from them. Not a classic but a wholesome film; mildly suggestive content.
THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS (A-2, PG): Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Lena (Alexis Bledel), Carmen (America Ferrera) and Bridget (Blake Lively) go shopping before they separate for the summer. They live in Maryland and have been friends for 16 years, since their moms all shared the same prenatal exercise class.
In a thrift shop, Carmen finds a pair of used jeans that miraculously fits their various sizes and shapes. They agree to share the pants over the summer.
Shy Lena goes to Greece to stay with her grandparents. There she meets Kostos (Michael Rady) while wearing the jeans. She also discovers there is enmity between their families.
Carmen goes to Charleston, South Carolina, to spend some time with her dad (Bradley Whitford), who is divorced from her mom (Rachel Ticotin). Carmen’s sunny disposition is challenged when she discovers that her dad is going to marry a woman with two teens of her own.
Bridget’s depressed mom has recently taken her own life. Her dad (Ernie Lively) doesn’t know what to do with his daughter so he sends her to soccer camp in Mexico where she wears the jeans inappropriately to pursue an older man.
Tibby stays home to work at the local mega-market and make a documentary about losers. When 12-year-old Bailey (Jenna Boyd) faints in the aisle, Tibby calls 911 and later visits the girl in the hospital. A few days later, Bailey shows up at Tibby’s house carrying a parcel with the jeans which, she says, were sent to her house by mistake.
Based on the best-selling book by Ann Brashares, this film was directed by Ken Kwapis (About a Boy); the script was skillfully written by Delia Ephron (You’ve Got Mail) and Elizabeth Chandler (What a Girl Wants). All three know how to reach the teen girl audience with a light touch that entertains as it inspires.
The cross-editing style never confuses but moves the action to a fitting end of the summer journey toward adulthood that each girl has to make. The jeans are a symbol of grace. Along the way, the girls learn about choices, consequences, life, death, faith, love and enduring friendship. A wonderful, refreshing buddy movie for girls that never degenerates into chick-flick territory; some problem language.
MANNA FROM HEAVEN (A-2, PG): This independent film by Five Sisters Productions (www.fivesistersproductions.com) was released on DVD in July. It’s about "what happens when you get a gift from God (a financial windfall) but, many years later, find out it was just a loan—and it’s due immediately!"
Written, directed and produced by five sisters from a Catholic family and their mom, the all-star cast tells a touching and funny story for the whole family. (Read my full review at www.CatholicMovieReviews.org.)
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: In June, there was much buzz about Procter & Gamble (P&G) redirecting some of its TV advertising budget from placement in and around programming to product placement embedded within shows. This is a growing phenomenon that I commented on in the November 2004 issue.
This news caught my attention because in 2000 I heard P&G executive Robert Wehling speak at the annual conference for Catholic communicators about the company’s advertising policy and pro-social-media efforts. He addressed why P&G had withdrawn its advertising from the controversial show Nothing Sacred. Wehling, now retired, said it had nothing to do with the content of the show but how polarized the TV audience was about it.
The second aspect of Wehling’s talk was about the Family Friendly Programming Forum, which started in the late 1990s to take “positive steps to increase family-friendly programming choices on television.” The Forum, which is made up of over 40 of America’s largest companies, aims “to ensure that at least one family-friendly programming option is available in every hour each night between 8 and 10 p.m., when adults and children watch television together.” (For more information about the Forum, see www.ana.net/family or "Hope for Family-friendly TV.")
I asked David McCracken, P&G’s spokesman for Media Marketing and External Relations for North America, if the company is going to embed products in programs, will the company maintain its family-friendly policy by placing the ads in family-appropriate programming? He responded in the affirmative, saying that P&G is committed to the ideals and efforts of the Family Friendly Programming Forum.
TV and radio advertising used to bring the programs to the audience. Now, audiences are bought and sold by advertisers, and programming is largely determined by ratings and the advertising dollars it brings in. Product placement is the new wave of TV advertising. No matter how you look at advertising, it is usually about creating an artificial need and selling us something to satisfy it.