Buena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection
Twenty-one years ago, we watched a homophobic Denzel Washington warm up to his fellow lawyer and client Tom Hanks, a gay man afflicted with AIDS, over the course of a criminal case that proved that America was no easy place for a homosexual gentleman to make a living or lead his life. And at the end of this story called Philadelphia, that no-longer-homophobic Denzel Washington was a hero. The sort of man who harbored "completely sympathetic" sentiments at the start, but graduated to sentiments altogether admirable. That's the sort of world we lived in back in 1993. But these 21 years later, we live in the sort of world that would take a homophobic Denzel Washington and cast him into villainy, redemptive arc or not. Which is why the plot of Disney's Father of the Bride 3, of all things, sounds about a decade or so too late.
The threequel to Steve Martin's family comedies Father of the Bride (1991) and Father of the Bride Part II (1995) will have the snow-capped comedic dynamo lamenting the realization that his son Matt (played in the first two films by young Kieran Culkin, now age 29) is gay and engaged to a man. Nikki Finke's blog reports the premise, explaining that Martin's uptight-but-affable family man George Banks will this time be "thunderstruck and speechless" and none too keen on the revelation of his son's sexual orientation. Although George's wife Nina (Diane Keaton) plays the voice of reason in casting her thick-headed husband out of the house, so reports Finke, we're still looking at a severely outdated mentality in the approach of the subject.
Buena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection
Although homophobia is a far, far cry from absent in today's America, the media (including a few of Disney's own properties) seems to embrace the idea that anyone advertising prejudice against gay men and women is acting in the name of ignorance, idiocy, and injustice, not the "acceptable hesitations" of eras past. No longer do we live in the Philadelphia days when a character like Washington's attorney Joe Miller might be seen as sympathetic in spite (or perhaps in light) of his bigotry. Today, the homophobes of film and TV are the bad guys. Although heteronormativity remains a problem coursing through our media, abject hatred is aligned with criminal characters. How can we accept our own George Banks in his role as put-upon good guy with such a nasty proclivity for intolerance?
And why is it necessary in a movie about gay marriage for any figure to express disfavor with the wedding at hand? Of course it would be ridiculous to deny extant hardships faced by the gay community, but we've also breached an era wherein the notion of a family accepting a member's profession of homosexuality without pause is hardly implausible. The Philadelphias of past helped to align the sympathies of viewing audiences with gay men and women, to point out the wickedness in the time's all-too-prevalent defamy. What we need now from our movies is to induct gay relationships into their depiction of normalcy. To show that the same love, happiness, drama, and comedy that we see in films like Father of the Bride would exist in a story about two men tying the knot. Even this notion seems too obvious to point out, but clearly Disney doesn't quite think so.
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.