S7E5: This week, Weeds is trying something it's never tried: going back to square one. Of course, it takes the entire episode to get there, but we get there.
The only problem with going back to square one is that whereas we had sympathy for the widow and mother of two navigating the bleach-blonde, soulless valley of Orange County wealth back in Agrestic, this new Nancy garners little more than groans and furrowed brows. Sure, she went to the clink for Shane, but couldn't we argue that her actions put him in the position to behave so badly in the first place? On second thought, that's a much larger can of worms. However, if we take this episode and the last two seasons into consideration, it's hard to find sympathy for our favorite pot-dealing mom from the suburbs.
"Fingers only meat banquet." -Doug
"You just titled my book." -Steven Haven
This episode, Nancy is trying desperately to keep Jill from taking Stevie as her legal son. Jill calls for a custody hearing in Oakland, Calif. and Nancy's lawyer gets her 48 hours free of probation so she can go. She takes Silas as a character witness, completely shirking Shane's attempts to be helpful and thank her for going to jail for him. Instead she takes his student loan money and flies to California, insisting he stays. It makes sense, but it sure as hell isn't motherly. Of course, the episode keeps us waiting (with not-so-baited breath) to see if Silas will say something great about her to the judge -- of course he does.
When they get to California, Jill's lawyer postpones the hearing for two months, virtually shutting Nancy out. While she runs off to literally storm the gates of her sister's house, Silas grabs time with the judge and convinces him to hear Nancy out. But it is the moment where Nancy is begging her wicked witch of a sister -- who seems to be a pretty terrible parent herself, relying on little more than wealth as a qualification for good parenting -- for a chance to see Stevie and not the half-baked speech from Silas that really won me over. Despite all the terrible decisions she's made, Nancy does love her children and her sister is hyperbolically evil -- she could make us sympathetic towards just about anyone.
Luckily the judge postpones the case because he says it's unfair to decide until Nancy's sentence is served; he tells her to get her life together, get in with the right crowd, go back to being the Nancy Silas told him about. Clearly, she hears that message wrong, gets confused and stumbles back into Nancy from Season One territory. We end on a shot of Heylia -- Nancy's original weed supplier -- with a shotgun at the door of some podunk California shack. This is either going to be a fantastic, wise, wonderful choice for the show, or it will be the death of it. Sort of like every decision Nancy ever makes. I guess it's at least pretty consistent with her ability to make rational decisions. I'll give Weeds that much and then I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best.
"I can't be polyamorous with Bubbie." -Andy
While Nancy's climbing gates in California, Andy and Doug are getting into their own troubles. Doug accidentally does his job correctly and finds out his brand new shiny Wall Street company is cooking the books. His boss takes him out for a rub and tug to ease the pain, but as depraved as Doug can be he's a good man and it doesn't sit right with him. Obviously they have to do something with Doug's storyline besides give him a job and make Nancy his assistant, but the big-city-financial-institutions-are-corrupt-and-there's-nothing-you-can-do-about-it storyline is so tired. We get it, the country is in some serious trouble thanks to practices like this, but I'm sure most of us come to Weeds to escape that. I suppose we haven't encountered this homoerotic rub and tug ritual before, but I think we could live without it.
Finally, we have Andy, who's trying to make it work with Maxine and Charles, the polyamorous duo. He seems perfectly happy until, whilst smoking pot with Charles and talking about the many men that came before him, Andy witnesses Charles' cancer symptoms take hold (and at first things the poor old guy is dead). He wrestles with it, but eventually walks into the apartment and finds Maxine reading The Raven to Charles and breaks up with her. He makes the excuse that having a dying man around reminds him of Bubbie, and I'm sure it does, but something tells me he was also not so keen on the fact that he's literally just one of many men who've filled the void in Maxine's life. He was starting to have a little slice of happiness with her, but he can't be happy when he knows he's just some guy. Also, this scene would have had a lot more weight if Andy didn't say the terrible line, "I hate death and Poe, my thing is life." It's of the cheesier lines we've heard on this show, and that's saying a lot. (Though it certainly helps my theory that Bubbie isn't the thing keeping him from staying with Maxine.)
So now that the show finally made it full circle -- across the country, down to Mexico and right back to Heylia's doorstep -- are we excited? It's a bit of a precarious place to be, because something this reminiscent of older episodes could require reminiscence of older Nancy. But will we even recognize original Nancy against who she's become? Do you think bringing Heylia back is going to be good for the show? Am I the only one hoping this could mean more Conrad?
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Pity there aren’t more stringent “truth in labeling” laws for movies like Love Happens. From the film’s title and its innumerable ads featuring stars Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhart locked in a smiling embrace one might reasonably assume Love Happens to be a charming romantic comedy in which its two attractive leads bicker and flirt for a breezy 85 minutes before finally realizing that they’re meant for each other.
That assumption would be catastrophically incorrect for there isn’t much comedy to be found in Love Happens. Nor is there much romance for that matter. And come to think about it there really isn’t a whole lot of Jennifer Aniston exactly one half of the aforementioned misleading embrace to be found in the movie either. (Click here for Aniston's take on the matter.)
That leaves us with the obvious question: What then is Love Happens? It’s a drama centering on the emotional journey of Burke Ryan (Eckhart) a handsome widower who parlays the tragedy of his wife’s untimely death into a bestselling self-help book and a sold-out workshop tour becoming something like the Tony Robbins of grieving. (He's even aped the walking-on-hot-coals gimmick from the toothy motivational speaker.)
Though his adopted career is a smashing success not much else is well in Burke’s world. Truth be told he never truly reconciled himself with his wife’s tragic passing and has heretofore nursed his denial with a steady diet of alcohol and avoidance. That is until he runs into Eloise Chandler (Aniston) a refreshingly blunt free spirit whose own love life is marked by disappointment and heartbreak. Though just a humble florist with no apparent training in psychology Eloise immediately sees through the confident upbeat persona that Burke has carefully constructed. They can ease each other's pain but the healing won’t begin unless both of them are willing to let down their guard and let love -- wait for it -- happen.
WHO’S IN IT?
In addition to Aniston and Eckhart Love Happens’ cast includes Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury) as Burke’s smarmy agent and former college roommate Judy Greer (27 Dresses) as (what else?) Eloise’s quirky sidekick John Carroll Lynch (Zodiac) as one of Burke’s more skeptical workshop attendees and Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now) as his resentful father-in-law.
Misleading marketing aside Love Happens writer/director Brandon Camp does make an earnest attempt to explore the grieving process of a man who has experienced unspeakable tragedy. Which is better than a saccharine formulaic romantic comedy I guess.
For all its serious intentions Love Happens bears all the hallmarks of a slick studio rom-com including stereotypical supporting characters (his irreverent wing-man her goofy confidante) contrived comic relief devices (Sheen plays straight man to a crazy parrot!) and manipulative tugs on the heartstrings (too many to mention). The whole experience comes off as sort of a second-rate Cameron Crowe flick.
The climax of Love Happens includes a dramatic “slow clap ” in which the lead character finally breaks down in a cathartic release of pent-up emotion and is rewarded with a slow-building round of applause from onlookers. That’s pretty much all you need to know about this movie.
Finally a brilliantly told fractured fairy tale for children and adults alike that does not feature a grouchy green orge anywhere. Once upon a time a young man sneaks into the mysterious magic kingdom of Stormhold that’s walled off from his quiet English village. He soon meets a lovely young lady who just so happens to be a princess enslaved by a not-so-wicked witch. Nine months later a basket is dropped on his doorstep. Yes this baby boy is the unexpected result of his one-night liasion with the royal lass. The boy grows up blissfully unaware of his regal roots so when he reaches manhood Tristan (Charlie Cox) doesn’t understand why he so drawn to the land on the other side of the Wall. He finally hops over the Wall when a star falls out of the sky and lands deep in the heart of Stormhold. His goal: to bring back the star as proof of his love for Victoria (Sienna Miller). Too bad this scheming temptress doesn’t think too much of the penniless and mild-mannered workingclass stiff. This being a fairy tale the star isn’t just a star. The star’s actually a beautiful celestial being named Yvaine (Claire Danes). And she fell to earth as part of a devious plan by Stormhold’s dying king (Peter O'Toole) to determine his successor. But the king’s scheming sons (Jason Flemying and Mark Strong) are not the only ones seeking Yvaine. The oh-so-wicked witch Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) needs Yvaine to help her restore her youth. So that means Tristan must become the hero he’s destined to become—and take on witches princes airbourne pirates (Robert De Niro’s Capt. Shakespeare) and shady black marketeers (The Office’s Ricky Gervais)—so he can return home to Victoria. But Cupid has other plans for Tristran and it’s not hard to guess what those are. If all stars took on the human form of Claire Danes many more of us would probably pursue a career in astronomy. But it doesn’t take a working knowledge of the Hubble telescope to see how relaxed and luminous Danes is when she’s not carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. And sparks definitely fly between Danes and Charlie Cox even when they’re at hurling hilarious insults at each other. Newcomer Cox makes a smooth transition from ill-at-ease lovesick puppy to swashbuckling hero. He also doesn’t seem to be intimidated at the prospect of staring down Robert De Niro. There’s always concern whenever De Niro takes on a comedic role for a big paycheck. He usually gets by with pure talent and nothing more. And when De Niro’s pirate crosses paths with Cox and Danes you immediately fear that he’s going to offer yet another variation on his tough gruff Alpha males from Analyze This and Meet the Parents. But he blindsides us by instead going all Jack Sparrow on us—that is if the old sea dog had no interest in the ladies—to deliriously campy effect. What with Hairspray and now Stardust Michelle Pfeiffer’s comeback seems to be predicated on getting in touch with her inner bitch. She’s splendidly nasty and scary as Lamia. And the uglier and older she gets the meaner and funnier she gets. Equally cruel—though more cheerfully so—is Sienna Miller. Providing small but amusing cameos are Gervais once again revealing an unparallel mastery of toadying and Peter O'Toole who kicks the bucket quicker than John Cleese’s King Harold does in Shrek the Third. There’s legitimate reason to question whether Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn has what it takes to direct a big-budget effects-driven summer blockbuster. Remember after making his name producing or directing relatively inexpensive British crime capers Vaughn walked away from X-Men: The Last Stand. Judging by Stardust though Vaughn would have done a masterful job leading those misunderstood mutants into battle. Then again he couldn’t have done worse than Brett Ratner. Based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess Stardust possesses both a big heart and an uncommon adventurous streak. Unlike the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End which was too long and too cumbersome for its own good Stardust moves nimbly and confidently through a strange and wonderful land populated with noble heroes to cheer for fiendish villains to boo at and gorgeous damsels in distress to sigh over. Vaughn keeps us on the edge of our seats whenever Tristan must think or fight his way out of danger. But he invests as much time in making believe that Tristan and Yvaine are made for each other. He also strikes a fine balance between honoring the sword-and-sorcery genre while playfully sending up its many cliches. The humor’s a lot more risqué than the bedtime story that was The Princess Bride but most of the sexual innuendoes will zoom over the heads of those still too young to pick up on many of Shrek’s pop-cultural references. Clearly Stardust cannot escape all other comparisons to The Princess Bride but Stardust boasts more than enough magic and daring-do to win over those who remained enthralled to this day by Cary Elwes’ brave efforts to rescue a kidnapped Robin Wright Penn. So this is one fairy tale that richly deserves its happily ever after--and for that matter so does Vaughn.