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Dirty Pretty Things

Dirty Pretty Things

WIN – dirty pretty things
–2002, Stephen Frears

Audrey Tautou of Amelie fame doesn’t speak much English, so she had to learn most of her lines for this movie phonetically. That doesn’t stop her from turning in a heartbreaking performance as Senay, a Turkish woman seeking asylum in London. This movie, about the struggles of two immigrants trying to gain legal status, is a drama/thriller that is all the more scary for its gritty realism.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Okwe, a Nigerian doctor forced to drive a cab and work the front desk at a hotel. He discovers something shocking in the toilet of one of the hotel’s rooms, but is unable to call the police because of his illegal status. He sleeps on Senay’s couch during his few hours off, but puts her status in jeopardy when he is discovered there. Both of them have to make difficult choices in order to keep from being deported (watching the virgin Senay being taken advantage of by several different men is only the least of the nasty situations), while sorting out complicated feelings for one another.

To say any more will give away far too much of this excellent movie. It twists and turns, introducing several characters from the seedy underbelly of London, but making all of them believable and human (though at times you don’t want to believe them). Stephen Frears gets wonderful performances out of his actors, and never romanticizes their situation. Go see this movie.


PLACE – camp
–2003, Todd Graff

Camp is light, funny, and at times touches a chord within. I was a theater kid when I was younger, so I can definitely relate to the group of outsiders who have a place to call home at Camp Ovation, a summer theater camp.

Michael (Robin de Jesus) is a teenage drag queen who gets beaten up for going to his prom in a dress. Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) has wanted to act for as long as she can remember, and spends all her time palling around with the gay boys. And Vlad (Daniel Letterle) is the lone straight boy over a certain age at Camp Ovation, who is the object of Michael, Ellen, and, well, most of the camp’s affections. There’s a stereotypical cute-boy-falls-for-not-so-cute-girl story in here, as well as the more complicated (and compelling) interaction between Michael and Vlad, and the story of Bert Hanley (Don Dixon), a washed-up alcoholic songwriter who ends up working at the camp, much to his distaste.

There was a bit too much emphasis on everyone’s obsession with the cute straight boy for my taste, and a few issues are simply glossed over at the end, but there are genuine laughs in here, and some genuine humanity, mostly coming from Michael. If you’ve ever known or been a theater kid, you should watch this movie. You’ll recognize these kids, and you can’t help but like them.


Le DivorceSHOW– le divorce
–2003, Merchant/Ivory

Everyone knows about Ismael Merchant and James Ivory, but almost no one knows that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala does almost all of their screenwriting. Her name may be left off the signature by choice, but it seems significant to me that it is not there, especially when you look at this film.

I am sick and tired of watching women pine over men on film and hearing it called drama. It’s not drama. It’s an unfortunate fact that many women spend far too much time chasing after older creeps, or trying to win back the husband who’s cheated on them. And this film’s tagline, “Everything sounds sexier in French,” just reminds me of a comment I read in a women’s magazine that shall remain nameless, that since only part of this film is subtitled, you can feel like you’re watching a sophisticated French film without all the effort. In short, just because it’s in French doesn’t make it smarter.

Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts both deserve better than this. They try hard to bring life to these characters, but what the film boils down to is, “This is what Americans do, this is what the French do.” Isabel (Kate Hudson), very obviously named after Henry James’s Isabel Archer, goes to France to visit her pregnant sister Roxy (Naomi Watts), whose husband has just left her, and gets involved with a much-older senator. There is a subplot involving a painting that belongs to Roxy that her husband’s family would love to get their hands on, that is very hard to care about, and an even more preposterous subplot involving the husband of the woman Roxy’s husband cheats on her with.

Most of the movie is trivial fluff, then it attempts to get serious, which makes it worse. Fluff I can handle, but not fluff that wants you to think it’s something deeper. I’d rather go see Angelina Jolie or Michelle Rodriguez kick some butt in a Hollywood movie that knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t try to be more serious.


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