Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Endless Love has awakened something in me. Not a long dormant passion for an introverted high school classmate, or a sudden desire to break into the zoo after dark. A question about movies — more accurately, about movie criticism. The same question you would ask yourself if you fell drowsy in the middle of Citizen Kane, or welled up during the emotional climax of Just Friends. The question I ask myself now, as I recount the 103 straight minutes of asphyxiating laughter that I endured during a screening of Shana Feste’s would-be romantic drama: What makes a good movie?
We assign deference to some films, disgust to others — a lucky few of us make a living this way. But what, precisely, are we reviewing? A film’s mission or its execution? The product onscreen or the experience of watching it? All factors come into play when considering whether or not a movie “works.” But on rare occasions you’ll get a film that offers no common ground in its meeting of these standards. You’ll get Endless Love, which strives for dramatic sincerity, winds up with underwritten idiocy, and provokes in its viewers an unrestrained, absurdist revelry — the kind of joy you’d otherwise be forced to seek in a third viewing of The Lego Movie. Laughter at the ill-conceived antics and befuddling dialectical patterns of our central teen couple — a Mars native Gabrielle Wilde and her gaping mouthed beau Alex Pettyfer. Elated bemusement at the younger generation’s propensity for chaotic disrobing and didactically organized dance parties. Unprecedented ecstasy at the Mafia movie intimidation tactics of an overprotective dad (Bruce Greenwood) and the brain-dead disregard of a supportive one (Robert Patrick). As a comedy, Endless Love is unstoppable.
I can only hypothesize that it was not Feste’s intention to roll us in the aisles. I have no cold proof that her resolution in paving every nook in her Georgia-set remake with another farcical stone — Wilde’s instantaneous evolution from wordless ingénue to sexually aggressive spirit walker, Patrick’s loving caution-to-the-wind attitude regarding any situation that has to do with a girl, Rhys Wakefield’s “black sheep” character forming an odd amalgamation of Pauly Shore and Charlie St. Cloud — was not one of Wolf of Wall Street-like satire, or reappropriation in the vein of Spring Breakers. Here are two movies that earned scorn from viewers who read them literally, and in turn vehement defense from those who peered through the exaltation of cocaine and firearms into the filmmakers’ ironic intentions.
Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
To the latter community, one to which I subscribe, I ask: if we’re readily willing to dive deeper for Martin Scorsese and Harmony Korine, shouldn’t we grant Feste this benefit? If we’d defend the authenticity of the splendor we recognized in their movies, why am I inclined to write off the very same when present in this year’s Valentine’s Day cannonball? Why do I eagerly laud the merit in Leonardo DiCaprio directing Quaalude-charged tribal chants and relinquishing subhuman treatment upon anyone short a Y-chromosome, while instinctively shafting the invaluable merriment in Pettyfer’s goofily deliberate declaration that he likes to read into the category of happy accident?
But an even more precise question (one I was challenged to entertain by a friend and film critic far wiser than I am), and this time to the former community: does it matter? Did it matter to all those offended by gunplay and intrusive nudity that Korine set out to demonize youth culture and its omnipresent hedonism? Did considering his intentions make the endgame any less a visceral nightmare? If not, does it matter if Feste poured her soul into the machination of a timeless love story, only to produce a riotous cinematic episode that treads genre parody as expertly as anything from the golden age of the Zucker brothers? Does it matter that she didn’t intend for Wilde and Pettyfer’s sex scene to come off as super-hoke, for every mention of cancer to feel like soap opera send-up, or for Robert Patrick’s vindication of his son’s passion for menagerie trespassing to elicit the biggest laugh of a movie yet in 2014?
So long as I consider the power of cinema, I’ll never be sure if it matters. I’ll never be sure of the answers to any of these questions. But no matter where I find myself standing on this issue down the line, I had far too much fun at Endless Love — and entertained far too many questions on the nature of cinema and the way we react to it — to call it a movie that people shouldn’t see.
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Sony Pictures just picked up a new project: a dark retelling of the classic Little Mermaid tale.
Let's start with the basics. We know The Little Mermaid as a cutesy little story about a young mermaid princess who makes a deal with the sea witch so that she can marry her prince on land. Right? Well, in this new version, based on the book Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon, the mermaid isn't the only lady we're worried about. This new tale finds two women vying for the same man, but instead of one being the enemy and one being the adorable Disney princess, they've both got sympathetic back stories. One is a princess from a war-ravaged country who undertakes a dangerous journey to find and marry the prince of her country's rival kingdom, but there's something in the way. A mermaid also fell for the prince and, like in the Disney movie, she's sacrificed everything to be with him. There's no easy side in this twisted re-imagining of the classic story (though it does bear a little more resemblance to the Hans Christian Andersen version that the Disney one did).
This project has the potential, if handled correctly, to be a deliciously twisted film. The folks behind it are the ones who brought us Country Strong: writer and director Shana Feste and producers Tobey Maguire and Jenno Topping. This is about a million miles from something like Country Strong and Feste has only a few projects under her belt, so it's a little tough to call this one. She's fairly new to the game and this is a real opportunity to show what she's capable of and maybe, just maybe, she'll serve up a delightful surprise.
Frankly I’m amazed that Gwyneth Paltrow even had time for a vanity project what with all the hours she devotes to her blog her famous family feature roles in summer blockbusters and guest appearances on Glee. And as vanity projects go Shana Feste’s music melodrama Country Strong is no trifle. It’s a veritable tour-de-force: Paltrow sings (sort of) dances and treads stoutly though such hazardous emotional territory as addiction infidelity heartbreak and even martyrdom decorating it all with a thick Texas twang to boot. The woman spends half the film with mascara streaming down her face for God’s sake. How does she find room in her busy schedule for such strenuous pursuits? One hopes an illuminating Elle article on the matter chock full of useful tips is forthcoming.
In the film Paltrow plays Kelly Canter a famous country singer whose successful run of platinum albums and sold-out shows is interrupted by a stint in rehab. Chronic overindulgence being something of a sacred tradition in the country music world one would expect a drying-out period to be a relatively ho-hum chore for such a seasoned performer. But Kelly’s experience is complicated by the circumstances surrounding her booze-drenched downfall which among other things led to a miscarriage.
Given her obviously fragile state we can sense disaster looming when Kelly is plucked from her treatment facility a month early and thrust onto the comeback trail by James (Tim McGraw) her withholding and chronically insensitive husband/manager a man who can’t even summon the marital compassion to grant his recovering wife welcome-home sex despite her having “just got one of them Brazilian bikini waxes.” Folks if a hairless crotch can’t reignite the passion in your relationship then surely it is beyond repair.
But couples therapy must wait; a career-resuscitating tour beckons. Three shows have already been scheduled for which two opening acts have been booked: Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) a grizzled singer-songwriter with whom Kelly happens to be having an affair; and Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester) a semi-literate Dallas beauty queen James hopes to make his next star and with whom he presumably plans to have an affair -- if he hasn’t already. (Cherubic dulcet-voiced Meester is made for the role though it’s hard to imagine the ultra-petite Gossip Girl star winning many pageants in a state renowned for its preference for all things oversized.)
Such combustible ingredients make for one extra-spicy Texas-sized bowl of dysfunction. And so it comes as little surprise when Kelly falls off the wagon moments before her first performance after all of five minutes (in screen time) of sobriety when an offensive parcel sends her headlong into a bottle of vodka. A co-dependent whose “co” is now devoted strictly to business affairs she turns to her secret paramour Beau for validation. But Beau having already sensed the gravy train falling off its tracks has now set his sights on the younger less damaged quarry of Chiles. With no one else to turn to Kelly falls back on more reliable partners pills and booze with predictably dire results.
Helmer Feste directs much of our venom over Kelly’s plight toward McGraw’s tone-deaf husband while Hedlund’s character emerges morally unscathed. This is bothersome: Beau after all is the one who bedded a recovering addict at her most vulnerable point and subsequently abandoned her for a girl who if she isn’t jailbait acts as if she were. We’re meant to admire him for his uncompromising devotion to his art and accompanying disavowal of fame celebrity and other corrosive pursuits. But the truth is he’s little more than a modestly talented country rake and kind of a mean one at that.
Never mind him. Gwyneth/Kelly doesn’t need a man to feel fulfilled right? Right? Country Strong’s third act seems initially to agree steering us toward a redemptive conclusion in which the fallen star discovers her inner Country Strength and reclaims her career sans the exploitive dudes. But director Feste has no such plans. In order to drive home her main point – that fame and fortune aren’t worth the sacrifices required to attain them -- she serves up an ending so ludicrously tragic that it borders on tragicomic. And it effectively negates the campy fun of a film stocked with so many cheesy (albeit catchy) songs and soap-opera hysterics. What a country crock.
The couple play husband and wife in the movie and Paltrow had to punch the singer/actor during a drunken tantrum scene.
After faking the punch several times for the cameras, McGraw started calling his co-star names in a bid to get her angry enough to hit him for real - and she did.
The actress says, "I’d never hit anyone in my life, and I didn’t like it at all."
Director Shana Feste tells the Los Angeles Times, "Tim started being very combative with her and egging her on. She ended up whacking him and she started crying afterward."
The actor plays a country music performer alongside Gwyneth Paltrow in the film, and writer/director Shana Feste decided on an unusual method of testing out her leading man's vocal abilities.
Feste took Hedlund to the Brass Monkey bar in Los Angeles, where they had a few drinks before she encouraged him to take the stage.
She tells the Hollywood Reporter, "Garrett auditioned in a karaoke bar. It was not very conventional. But I had never heard him sing and he was really nervous and singing for the first time.
"We wanted to make it really fun... We had a few drinks and he got up there and started singing and was definitely not the sound that he is at now, which is amazing, because he literally went from singing a Pearl Jam song to singing country like the best of them."
The Oscar-winning actress plays a fallen country performer battling personal problems who attempts to resurrect her career in the acclaimed new film from writer/director Shana Feste.
Feste admits she was inspired to write the story after Spears hit headlines with her highly-publicised meltdown, during which she shaved her head and attacked a car with an umbrella, before being forced into a psychiatric ward in 2008.
Feste tells the Los Angeles Times, "That's where this movie came from. I mean, I was seeing what was happening in the media to Britney Spears."
The director also reveals the plot was partly inspired by Michael Jackson's love/hate relationship with the press, adding: "I finished the script when Michael Jackson passed away. I think it's tragic how we treat people who give us so much, and we love to see them knocked down to build them back up again, to knock them down again. It's a weird fascination."
In between concocting the newsletters about personalized melamine plates for children and the one about the "fun frivolity of fashion that can really cheer a girl up," Gwyneth Paltrow filmed Country Strong, where she played a country singer who works to rebuild her career with an ascending singer and it complicates her relationship with her husband/manager, played by Tim McGraw. In the trailer we got a brief glimpse of Paltrow's vocal strength, but it wasn't live and it's unclear if that was really her voice or if it was just the creampuff and sudsy loofah voice of the red dress she wears in the scene (that was sewn by dandelions who's petals were organically speckled with maple syrup!).
But we'll finally get to hear Gwyneth's real and unedited voice when she performs the title song from the movie at the Country Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee next month. Alongside her will be real country music star, Vince Gill, who she'll no doubt be looking at the whole time for guidance, but we will have already been told it's just because she's surprised it's not Keith Urban. Last week, when the music video for Country Strong premiered, Shana Feste (who directed the movie), said Gwyneth had "the chops to be a truly believable country singer...." Feste is just lucky we were asked to believe she was a mathematician first.
We shall see how it goes! After all, she is married to Coldplay's Chris Martin, and she is very good friends with Jay-Z and Beyoncé, so she's probably gotten some musical gifts somewhere. But performing on stage in front of a trillion people who are wearing better cowboy boots than you is quite a lofty task to achieve. At least getting us to wear her "uniform" isn't the only bar she's set for herself.
The actor admits he initially threw writer/director Shana Feste's script away - because it was "too heavy" - and had to be persuaded to pick it up again by his movie partner.
He says, "This young woman had written this beautiful script, called The Greatest, and it's about the loss of a son and my son, Sean, I almost lost him a number of years ago in a terrible accident.
"You get that dreadful call at 4.30 in the morning and he got airlifted out and he survived, and this film is about the loss of a son and the family coming together again.
"When I read it I said, 'No, I don't wanna go there, it's too heavy,' and threw it under the bed and then my partner... said, 'Look, check it out again, You've gotta do this,' so I read it again and said, 'OK, let's go for it.'
"It's a beautiful film... It's a really tender, powerful film."