Back in 2005, writer Nathan Rabin coined the phrase "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" to describe Kirsten Dunst's character in Elizabethtown, a type of recurring female character that "exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." Today, the archetype still remains, but has since sprouted new companions as the sensibilities of filmmakers adapt to the times.
If Sundance 2013 is any indication, specifically Breathe In, the new film from Like Crazy director Drake Doremus, that new variation is less all-knowing, more sharp and unknowingly seductive. Inspiring in the life-shattering way rather than the life-enhancing variety. In the film, happily married music teacher Keith (Guy Pearce) has his nostalgic feelings for the past cranked to 11 when foreign exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) arrives to live at his home. Feeling that his life took a wrong turn (he used to be in a rock band but now he teaches piano), Keith discovers new possibilities in Sophie's innocence and intellect. He's happy with his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) but with Sophie, Keith sees a return to his happiest moments.
"The Disaffected Sexually-Charged Ingenue"? "The Spaced Out Siren Prodigy"? We may need to work on the phrase, but the fact of the matter is that it's an emerging presence in indie film.
Breathe In resembles the Sundance 2012 premiere Nobody Walks, which starred Olivia Thirlby as a promising New York City experimental filmmaker who shacks up with family friends in L.A. in hopes of completing a new short. John Krasinski played the sound designer husband, who only needed on day with Thirlby's beautiful, creative self to throw in the towel on his marriage to Rosemarie DeWitt and hook up with the 20-something. You can find similar traits in 2012's The Oranges, Leighton Meister helping to push Hugh Laurie out of his multi-decade marriage to Catherine Keener. To all men in their 40s entertaining young, female house guests: beware. It never works out.
Breathe In is a spiffier film than Nobody Walks, sporting luscious photography and a broader scope than its lower-budget counterpart, but both suffer from the dramatic emaciation of their female leads. Jones is a stunning actress — see Doremus' Like Crazy for evidence — but she merely floats through Breathe In. We see as Sophie mesmerizes Keith with her expert piano skills, we see Keith equally entranced by the glow of her bikini-clad body sunbathing by the lake, but what we don't see is any real life connection the two would make that would challenge everything Keith has ever known, so much so that he sacrifices his family for a new beginning. We're just told that's the case — the script forcing us down a path, swelling music making up for Sophie and Keith's foundationless romance. Sophie isn't a fleshed out character, she's a cinematic pawn to explore the male fantasy.
This isn't to say that the scenario of Breathe In is impossible. Relationship dramas date back to the beginning of written work — what it takes is a closer analysis. Luckily Doremus has a fantastic ensemble on his hands — Pearce is always reliable and Ryan finds a way to wake the movie up with spats of humor — but this new shade of MPDG acts as an easy out for the movie. And if it continues to be a trend, more movies to come down the line.
[Photo Credit: Indian Paintbrush]
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Over 80 years after the Belgian artist Herge first conceived him Tintin the plucky journalist-adventurer whose stories have sold over 350 million books worldwide has finally got his own big-budget Hollywood movie. The Adventures of Tintin is already a runaway hit in Europe where it opened in late October (some eight weeks ahead of its U.S. release) and where the character enjoys the bulk of his popularity. But while most Americans have never heard of Tintin they’re undoubtedly familiar with the name of Steven Spielberg who after directing 24 live-action features makes his 3D-animation debut with the rollicking action-adventure.
The film is set in the early-middle 20th century in an unnamed European town. Though his spiked widow’s peak and baby-faced visage peg him at no older than 16 the titular Tintin (Jamie Bell) is already a respected newspaper reporter and something of a neighborhood celebrity. (He also lives alone and owns a handgun -- quite an accomplished young lad indeed.) The chance purchase of a model boat leads him to a mystery involving a treasure-laden ship that was lost at sea over three centuries prior. Together with his trusty dog Snowy and a drunken sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis) he embarks on a globe-trotting adventure that pits him against a nefarious figure named Sakharine (Daniel Craig).
Like the Indiana Jones blockbusters it’s so clearly crafted to evoke The Adventures of Tintin is cutting-edge filmmaking with an old-fashioned ethos. Spielberg’s gift for spectacle hasn’t diminished one iota with his transition to animation. The inexorable march of technology and the constant bar-raising of the 3D-animated genre has schooled us to expect dazzling color and detail and Tintin dutifully delivers on that front but what impressed me most about the film is the cinematography which is nothing short of astounding. Liberated from the physical constraints of the live-action realm Spielberg and his longtime director of photography Janusz Kaminski deliver shot after shot of breathtaking scope and complexity.
Such freedom of imagination has its drawbacks of course. I grew tired of the filmmakers’ fondness for reflected images. They’re found everywhere in the film -- on mirrors windows eyeglasses bottles and anything else translucent or shiny. Moreover story is reduced to a secondary role in service of the film’s elaborate set pieces. And Tintin himself for all his exploits is an unremarkable protagonist his only distinguishing features a determined optimism and a MacGuyer-like ingenuity.
The Adventures of Tintin was made using a “performance-capture” approach of the type pioneered by Robert Zemeckis which might bring alarm to those who recall the infamously dead-eyed characters of Polar Express with disdain. The technology has come quite a long way since those rueful early days. The characters in Spielberg’s film possess a vitality and expressiveness that signal the much-maligned “uncanny valley” could soon be a thing of the past.