It’s hard being a movie snob. I’ve seen two mediocre movies this week. They weren’t terrible; they just could have been a lot better. Phoebe in Wonderland was part of the the Independent Film Festival of Boston. Points for that alone. Given the cast, which included two of my favorite indie actors, Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson, and the plot featuring a magical, Alice in Wonderland element, my expectations were high. Twenty minutes into the movie, my hopes faded like film exposed to sunlight. Bad dialogue, even when delivered by a precocious 9-year-old character played by Elle Fanning, can’t be saved. Felicity Huffman’s character delivers some tired lines about hope (along the lines of, “Hope. We all need it.”) that made me want to punch her lights out in a retaliatory cliché. Patricia Clarkson is made to repeatedly tell her students to “jump,” as in take a chance—an irritating device that shouldn’t be used once, let alone repeatedly. When the 9-year-old was on the roof at one point, I couldn’t help but mutter to my friend, “Jump already.”
Baby Mama, in the more relaxed and slightly more forgivable comedy genre, had some funny lines, delivered by comedic actresses Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but I couldn’t help thinking that the whole affair would have been better had the two improvised the movie. If you’ve ever seen them in off-the-cuff interviews, you know the duo are funny without trying; but bound by their roles and lines, their performances are constrained by lazy writing. Don’t the masses deserve more? Sure, the movie was number one at the box office last week and will rake in millions, but why play to the lowest common denominator and go for the low-brow jokes when you could offer up some intelligent fare and assume that your audience will follow you there.
If you’re gonna make movies like Made of Honor or 27 Dresses, which, incidentally, I think might be the same movie, can you hold the cheap laughs, stereotypes, and clichés and provide some, oh, I don’t know, originality? If filmmakers raised the level of comedies to an art form, they’d not only make more money, but the Academy might even recognize and reward that accordingly. And then, game on, movie makers—Jack Black could be walking away with an Oscar.