Meg Ryan, who has been semi-retired for a while, is coming to a network sitcom and the first question that springs to mind is: Can she regain her mojo? The next one is: Should we still care?
She was "America's Sweetheart" in the 1980s and '90s. Of course, we all remember the scene in When Harry Met Sally where she faked the orgasm in the diner. Then she was in such romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail. There was City of Angels, with Nic Cage and then...fewer and fewer appearances. The roles she took were for movies that really didn't stand out or do well in the box office.
When she was one of the queens of Hollywood, ger biggest weapon in grabbing our hearts then was making a scrunched-face and her bubbly personality. She was so pixie-like and we couldn't stop going to see movies that she starred in. The thing is, she's been away for many years, aside from her recent appearances on Showtime's Web Therapy with Lisa Kudrow (another '90s darling - hi!). In the entertainment business, if you spend more than a year out of the public consciousness, people tend to forget really fast.
Maybe Ryan is hoping that she can ride the wave that Michael J. Fox and Robin Williams recently began surfing and that our love for nostalgia will help make her popular again. She's going to have a lot of power and control of this sitcom, since she'll be executive producer. There's no title for it yet, but there's probably a good chance there will be some kind of wordplay on it. Maybe she's put in some calls to the agent of Hanks and Billy Crystal to see if they can make an appearance or two on it to grab some eyeballs.
Then our question will be: What time is this show on?
As the Sundance film festival kicks off in Park City, Utah, the biggest story on the ground wasn't which movies were getting distribution deals, which celebs were in town, or which parties would be the hottest. The biggest story was just what the hell happened with Manti Te'o, the Notre Dame football player whose dead girlfriend turned out to be a hoax. That is, until Lance Armstrong appeared on Oprah to admit to doping while winning several Tour de France titles. Then, the chatter was all about that.
As the start of the fest's movies output, the transplanted hoi polloi are finally talking about movies. Friday's premiere of The Summit came along at just the right time to connect to both of these stories and comment on how the narrative functions in our understanding of sports. A documentation of a 2008 climb to the summit of K2 – the second highest mountain peak in the world (upon which 11 climbers died trying to descend) – The Summit is ultimately about one Irish climber, Ger McDonnell, and how we tell his story.
As harrowing as the footage from the actual climb, as collected by director Nick Ryan, is, the most interesting part of the film is about how the tale is reconstructed by the survivors (none of whom know the full story), and how that was transmitted to the public by the media. In particular, this Irish-funded film is concerned with rescuing the reputation of McDonnell, an Irishman who it argues died after climbing back up the mountain to rescue stranded climbers (all of whom ultimately died) rather than descending.
In a news culture that has every outlet fighting to get the scoop first, most media accounts relied heavily on the information of Italian climber Marco Confortola, who was airlifted off the mountain and arrived first before the TV cameras. By the time McDonnell's friend and companion Pemba Gyalje Sherpa hiked down, the reporters were gone. They missed his story, about his heroics. But who is right? And how do we ever know the truth? Only the mountain really knows.
Climber Martin Bonnati, one of the first climbers to scale the mountain in 1954 (whose story is also central to the film), says that the two climbers who made it to the summit never gave him proper credit for his contributions to their ascent. He says that for 30 years, he's been "provoked, accused, and slandered," with rumors accusing him of absconding with the team's oxygen, and leaving the others to fend for himself. Finally, in 2011, he was finally recognized by the Italian government for his role in the country's triumph. Bonnati says that it's not the mountain that matters so much as the story. The same is true of Te'o and Armstrong. We aren't as concerned with their football wins or cycling victories as we are with how they got there and the consequences thereafter. It's not the fact that he reached the summit that's important for McDonnell's family (which he did), but how he is remembered in the wake of the tragedy. As his wife points out, if he had succeeded, it would have been the best mountaineering story in history. Instead he's just one part of a scandal.
The act of climbing a mountain (or winning a game, or biking across the finish line first) might only last a few days or a season or even a few minutes. What remains forever is the narrative. Who is telling it and how it is shaped is as important as the actual events that fed into it in the first place. That's why we do these things in the first place, as much for the actual act as to tell the story about it. As the truth about Te'o comes out in drips and drabs, and as Armstrong confesses everything to Oprah in an attempt to save his reputation, The Summit shows us that what we are remembered for is even more important that what we've done.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) a bleeding heart poet and staunch environmentalist is convinced a series of unexplained coincidences involving a tall African doorman somehow mean something leading him to married metaphysicians Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin)--otherwise known as the Existential Detectives. Instead of looking for other people this pair tirelessly investigates the mysteries of their clients' secret innermost lives--their "Beings " so to speak--to help them answer their questions. Immediately digging in Bernard and Vivian find out that Albert has a deep-seated hatred for Brad Stand (Jude Law) a golden-boy sales executive at the popular retail superstore chain Huckabees who at first sponsors Albert's Open Spaces Coalition to save a nearby marsh from commercial construction but who ends up taking over the coalition. The Existential Detectives believe Brad may be the key to cracking Albert's case but get sidetracked when Brad hires them for himself--leading them to explore Brad's ambitions hang-ups and his superficial relationship with Huckabees' hot blonde spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts). Meanwhile Albert becomes disenfranchised with Bernard and Vivian and pairs up with another of the duo's clients--firefighter tough guy and uncompromising soul searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg). Together they join forces with the Jaffes' arch nemesis sexy French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) whose life teachings revolve around "cruelty manipulation and meaninglessness." Now as Being intermixes with Nothingness Albert Tommy Brad Dawn Bernard Vivian and Caterine get all tangled up in one another as their wild romp through life's biggest questions brings them to some startling truths. Whew!
With such a clever script to back them up it isn't hard to see why the Huckabees wannabes turn in some cracking good performances. Schwartzman once again plays a nebbish sullen but lovable geek (similar to his side-splitting turn in Rushmore) bringing out the film's heart and soul especially with his environmental poetry ("You ROCK rock!"). Veterans Hoffman and Tomlin who are dead-on as the happily married Existential Detectives and Huppert as the deadpan French philosopher complement the proceedings beautifully. For the first time in a long time Hoffman doesn't overplay his part instead letting his quiet inner "Being" out taking his character's philosophies to heart ("Everything you ever desired or wanted to be you already have and are"). But who knew more serious actors--Mark Wahlberg Jude Law and Naomi Watts--could be so excruciatingly funny? Wahlberg's freethinking obstinate firefighter would rather ride a bike to a fire than get into a gas-guzzling fire truck while Watts' Dawn decides she doesn't need to be pretty and is fearless with overalls a bonnet and Oreo cookies stuck in her teeth. As the straight man Law actually has the most difficult part playing the handsome cad who thinks he doesn't believe in all that existential bullcrap but ever so slightly gets slammed with the reality of it anyway.
Writer/director David O. Russell is one fascinating guy. With a body of work including the really weird and wild Spanking the Monkey the hilarious slapsticky Flirting With Disaster and the intense Three Kings it's obvious he is capable of handling a wide variety of subjects. With Huckabees Russell gets into some serious deep thinking. He says he became "intrigued with the idea of a detective following someone around not for any criminal or personal intrigue but rather as part of a very serious investigation about existence itself " drawing concepts from several different strains of existentialism--from the non-dual interconnectedness theories of Eastern philosophy (Bernard and Vivian's take) to the Sartrean notions of a more meaningless universe that demands a profound individualism (Caterine's point of view). Huh? Don't worry your pretty little heads about it too much. Russell's bone-crushing sense of humor comes shining through--as does his unique vision as the camera is used in new and different ways (especially creative when Albert is trying to find his "Being")--to piece together a wondrous coherent albeit thought-provoking little gem. Oscar gold awaits.