Corey Trench's Blog: My Growing Life

Do You Drive?
February 26, 2012, 10:59 am
Filed under: Film, Life | Tags: , , , , , , ,

If there’s one thing I know about movies, it’s that no one can account for taste. Some people just prefer certain films to others. I have yet to meet anyone who can tell me without a hint of irony that they simply loved Dude, Where’s My Car and the works of Federico Fellini in the same breath. I know people who like the former and I know people who go more toward the latter. So what makes one better than the other? Does the sheer absurdity and stupidity of Dude forgiven because it’s meant to be that way? Does the fact that Fellini’s 8 1/2 showcases his sense of cinematic surrealism in favor of telling a cogent story make it better because of his flair for style? What is this rubric that we give films to judge whether they are “good” or not? Well, in my opinion, it really depends on who you’re talking to.

I had a lengthy discussion with a fellow filmmaker about whether Drive was a good film. He felt the lack of certain story elements and character development really hurt the film’s effectiveness, and thus, considered it to be a bad film. I felt that the overall stylization of the film carried it along and gave me a real sense of satisfaction. The performances, art direction, sound design, cinematography, and score all felt like they were serving the style of the film. It’s a 70’s throwback with levels of grittiness and beauty. I love seeing the juxtaposition of beautiful people doing horrible, unspeakable things. I hadn’t seen anything like that since American Psycho.

I considered Drive one of the best films of last year. This statement received a major balking from my peers, everything ranging from, “But it was awful!” to “I have to question whether you’re a good filmmaker after saying that”. You get a bunch of passionate filmmakers together debating a film, it starts to get emotional. How can it not? Films ARE emotional! But, again, what makes them good?

When we go see a film, we’re really going for an experience. You sit in a darkened room with a bunch of strangers in the hopes that you’ll feel a sense of emotion from light and sound coming off the screen. Drive gave me a highly stylized and emotional experience. It was visceral, not intellectual. I wasn’t asking myself what Ryan Gosling’s motivation was because it was very simple: he’s in love with a girl and wants to save her. You know what this sounds like? A fairy tale. This is something the director has gone on record for wanting to achieve with this film. Okay, so let’s break down a fairy tale in terms of story. “Little Red Hiding Hood”. We get a lumber jack towards the middle of act 3. We don’t get any explanation of who he is or his backstory. He just comes in and saves the girl. Even “Red Hiding Hood” herself doesn’t have much in the sense of character development and motivation. She wants to see her grandmother. There we go, a story with archetypal characters. So does that make it bad? I guess you could say “The Great Gatsby” is superior to “Little Red” in certain elements of story. But it seems funny to say “Red” is bad based on that template. You could actually break down that story in such a way to where you could make it an argument for feminism. Most people would say, “Huh? How can you see that? It’s just a children’s story”. Yes, a children’s story that’s lasted for centuries. If it were bad, no one would remember it. “Little Red” is interesting because it’s grim and terrifying (Elements that contemporary audiences want to experience when they see a horror film. They want to be scared!) It gives the reader that emotional experience. “Will it turn out all right in the end?” It does. Spoilers.

So if Drive is a fairy tale with archetypal heroes and villains, is that enough to make the argument that the film is good? We still feel a sense of distance from the main character due to his lack of backstory, but, in my opinion, that only made him more interesting. He gives us the unexpected through his actions. It seems like his persona is as unrelenting as the film’s style. The director definitely didn’t wimp out on this one. He was going to make this film this way. Given to another director, they would just made it a regular action movie that looks like other action movies. Some would of called passé. Drive just isn’t. So, again, I would go back to the elements of craft that he employed throughout the film that gave the audience a ride, one that went backwards and forwards, and then spilled them out onto the floor. I was soaring with the characters when they were having a picnic to the tune of College’s “A Real Hero” and I was horrified when characters started getting killed off, and then felt a sense of release at the very end.

Whether or not I could convince you that Drive is a good film is really up to you. What do you really look for in a film? I like a good story, but sometimes I want more than just that. I want something I’m not expecting on a visual and aural level. I value a experience that will my blood going and stir something inside of me, reminding me that I still have my primal instincts intact. I want a film that takes risks with its audience, such as giving us a main character who rarely speaks.

“I just drive,” says the Driver.


Film Review: An Education

“Girls, they want to have fun.  Oh girls just want to have fun.”

Meet Jenny, the main protagonist in An Education, a film directed by Lone Scherfig and adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby.  Jenny (played by newcomer Carey Mulligan) is bored.  She lives in suburban London in the 1960s, attends an all-girls school, studies Latin every night, plays cello, and is ALWAYS in bed by 10pm.  Her parents are upscale, traditional, and seemingly dull.  Her father, played by veteran actor Alfred Molia, doesn’t understand Jenny’s passion for attending concerts and love of French culture (she sings to Juliette Greco records in her room).  He just wants her to get into Oxford.

An Eduction Poster

As you can imagine, Jenny gets more than a little swept off her feet once an older man named David, played by Peter Sarsgaard, comes into her life.  He’s charming, goes out to concerts and fine restaurants, loves the arts, and most importantly of all, wants to take Jenny to Paris.  What more could a 16-year old girl want?  He lives a fantastic life and she wants to be along for the ride.  However, the romance gets much more serious when David reveals that he’s not all that he appears to be.

Writer Nick Hornby adapted An Education from the memoir of Lynn Barber, the real life Jenny, who learned a great deal about personal liasons with older men.  He characterizes her 16-year year old self as a young girl who desires to be a woman.  When they’re alone the bedroom, Jenny tells David: “I want you to treat me like a grownup.”  But make no mistake, she still plays into David’s grand deceptions throughout the film.  And even when he reveals his underhanded ways, Jenny remains complacent.  After all, it’s all about having fun at this point.

Lynn Barber Photograph

Lynn Barber as a teenager.

Jenny reminds me of a time in my own youth when I was only thinking about the present and when everything was just about fun.  Why bother with such trivial things as your future?  You fail to see the point in such things when you’re that young.  Jenny pontificates to her headmistress (Emma Thompson): “If people die the moment that they graduate, then surely it’s the things we do beforehand that count.”

After viewing the film, I can honestly say that Carey Mulligan definitely has a shot at a Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  Her performance is arresting and captivating.  It was a bold decision to choose a little known actress such as herself for the lead, but she inhabits her role with a deep conviction that envelops complete verisimilitude. Hopefully, you will see more from her in the future.

Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan as Jenny in "An Education".

Novelist Nick Hornby presents a beautifully written screenplay with great dialog. My only complaint would have to be the tail end of the third act. Hornby admits that he wanted to give the story that “close call” feeling for Jenny as tries to put her life back together after the fallout with David.  It just might be a little bit too contrived. Any regular cinema goer will have already predicted the end-result of Jenny’s struggle before the ending credits start to roll.

But much like the film, the most enjoyable part of life is the journey, not the destination.