The Reel Deal
DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX, GOOD DEEDS, & WANDERLUST
Quick Takes on Three Films
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX:
Reel Rating: 2.5 out of 5
The Lorax isn’t a bad movie, just a misguided one. Luckily, whole sections of the film are, in fact, quite good. There are parts that dutifully recreate the magic of Dr. Seuss’ brilliant book, but all too often the film version is padded with useless fluff–the sort of typical Hollywood filler that is as fake and plastic as the trees in Thneedville.
The Dr. Seuss book is short, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in unforeseen and inexplicable depth (that mysterious depth all good fables possess). The Once-ler’s conversion from greedy destructive capitalist to environmentally-conscious (and guilt-ridden) conservationist is a lovely, and deceptively simple, character arc. The boy who goes to visit the Once-ler in the book is not a major character, and is not even named, and the town he comes from isn’t a focus. The Lorax, the book, is the Once-ler’s parable. The Hollywood hacks behind this otherwise enjoyable adaptation decided to make the boy the focus, to give him a name, a city, a family, a villain, and, most importantly–and most annoyingly–a love interest. Yet, even with all this fleshed-out character background, he remains as much a non-entity as he is in the Seuss book. His love interest is even more of a non-entity, and the whole idea of him wanting to find the tree for a girl spins the motivations of the story completely out of whack. Instead of actually caring about trees, the entire drive of the now-central character of the boy is to impress, and ultimately win over, his stock character crush.
In addition to adding major subplots that shift the entire narrative, the creators don’t seem to trust the young audience they’re aiming their film at to stay interested in the story or the title character (who was fascinating enough to myself, and countless other millions in the book and earlier cartoon version), so they fill the film with countless lame pop culture jokes, a handful of bland wannabe-Disney showtunes, and a villain who does absolutely nothing interesting or impactful to the story.
The movie is certainly watchable, even somewhat enjoyable, and it does contain the basic story and pro-environmental/anti-business message of Seuss’ tale, but this new film version of The Lorax feels undermined by all the unnecessary additions (not to mention the fact that they’ve got the Lorax out there in a billion commercials, one of which is for an SVU?!?!). There’s a lot of good here, but maybe a big Hollywood studio–with all the bells and whistles the marketing department would make them add, and all the product tie-ins they’d inevitably have to do–wasn’t the best route for something like The Lorax? Maybe it should have been adapted in a more organic hand-drawn style by a more independent movie studio? Just a thought…
Reel Rating: 1 out of 5
Good Deeds is another melodramedy from the brain of Tyler Perry. I say “brain,” though I suspect these films are actually expelled from his backside rather than being born from any sort of mental activity. His films are as regular and as foul as bowel movements. This one stars the director as Wesley Deeds, the CEO of a computer software company who has grown dissatisfied with his boring life (a life he didn’t want for himself, but was thrust upon him by his parents). Throw in the stereotypical worthless brother character, the boring but beautiful wife, and the interesting new girl at the office (who in this case happens to be the janitor), and you have the recipe for some Tyler Perry heavy-handed life lessons.
I honestly believe that Tyler Perry is the most abysmally bad filmmaker working today. I’ve given many of his films 0 out of 5 reels because every year he manages to have at least one new near-unwatchable film in contention for my “worst movie of the year.” Perry’s defenders have sometimes said that one day Tyler Perry will be redeemed in the eyes of film critics, “just as Douglas Sirk was”–as though Tyler Perry’s only flaw was working in the underappreciated realm of melodrama. But genre aside, they have little in common. The difference is clear: Sirk was a brilliant filmmaker, whereas Tyler Perry isn’t even a competent one. Ed Wood, long considered the worst director in history, is a more apt comparison than Sirk. Somewhere, a while ago, I read the line: “Tyler Perry is Ed Wood without the angora (at least that we know of).” I made note of this comment, though I’m not sure exactly where it came from, because it got me laughing for too many reasons.
But the truth is Tyler Perry is not even bad in the way Ed Wood was bad, which is in a kind of lovely bumbling idiot amateurish way–with films that end up being not only insanely enjoyable (in the classic “so bad they’re good” way), but also weirdly resonant (so that the best of Wood’s films are wonderful in a way independent of their supposed badness). There was an uncanny outsider-artistry in Wood’s presumed inartfulness. Not so for Tyler Perry, who is only so bad he is godawful–so so bad. Tyler Perry is bad in the “terrible film student” kind of way. He technically knows how to do things Ed Wood would obviously have had no clue how to do, but Perry has no artistry, no subtlety, no depth, no sense of pacing, no understanding of character development, and absolutely nothing interesting to say (outside of feel-good platitudes and faith-based clichés). He just thinks he’s a great director, as many-a-student in film school do, and apparently he’s convinced enough of an audience that he gets to keep churning out these terrible films.
That said, though I wouldn’t dare call Good Deeds a step in the right direction, I will admit that there were more scenes in this new film that I didn’t hate than in probably any other Tyler Perry movie I’ve seen thus far (and I’ve seen far more than I’d like to admit). So there you have it, I’ll give Tyler Perry one reel, the best score he’s ever coaxed out of me. Maybe I’m softening, or is this just my good deed of the day? Or maybe he’s actually getting incrementally better at a rate so slow that by the time he’s Woody Allen’s age he might make a marginally good film? Either way, I don’t recommend this film unless you’re already a Perry fan, and know what you’re getting into–someone immune to his inartful lack of subtlety, acclimated to his over-the-top melodrama, and attuned to his strange sense of humor.
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5
Sometimes a decent comedy is just that: a decent comedy. Wanderlust, the new David Wain-directed, Judd Apatow-produced film, is one of those movies that is funny enough to be likable, though not necessarily good enough to be unequivocally recommended.
In this decent comedy, Manhattanites George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston), happily married, though ungainfully unemployed, leave the city to go live with relatives (which doesn’t work out exactly as planned). Instead, they end up in a hippie commune named Elysium. In Elysium, it’s an anything goes attitude towards life, which leads to some episodic funny bits that feel culled from sketch comedy ideas. As the couple fall in and out of love with Elysium, and its quirky residents, they also fall in and out of love with one another. It’s predictable, but there are enough laughs to allow some forgiveness for sticking so close to formula. Most of these laughs come from the great Paul Rudd. Rudd has been underappreciated for years, often playing second fiddle to louder (though not necessarily better) comedic actors. Without Rudd’s comic genius, all of this film’s good scenes would show for what they actually are, a string of SNL-like skits loosely tied together, but Rudd’s brilliant comedic performance helps the film come together and transcend many of its flaws (well, at least transcend them enough to not get in the way of the gut-busting laughs that ensue).
The paper-thin premise, with its city vs. country center, may get old quick–and as with nearly all Hollywood rom-coms the “break-up only to reunite” climax towards the end can be seen coming a mile away–but when there’s this many laughs, why ruin it by being overly critical? Wanderlust is an enjoyable film, just not a very memorable one.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a film directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, and written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, based on the Dr. Seuss book. It stars the vocal talent of Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Betty White and Rob Riggle. A 12-year-old boy searches for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams. To find it he must discover the story of the Lorax, the grumpy yet charming creature who fights to protect his world.
Good Deeds is a film written and directed by Tyler Perry. It stars Tyler Perry, Gabrielle Union and Thandie Newton. Businessman Wesley Deeds is jolted out of his scripted life when he meets Lindsey, a single mother who works on the cleaning crew in his office building.
Wanderlust is a film directed by David Wain, and written by David Wain and Ken Marino. It stars Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Alan Alda, and Malin Akerman. Rattled by sudden unemployment, a Manhattan couple surveys alternative living options, ultimately deciding to experiment with living on a rural commune where free love rules.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Design by Jillian Mercado
Film Still from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Photography Courtesy of Universal Pictures