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WHATEVER IT TAKES

F

A frontal lobotomy is probably the minimum it would take for a
viewer to glean the slightest amusement from the miserable
collection of teen-comedy conventions inflicted upon us by
writer Mark Schwahn and director David Raynr in “Whatever
It Takes.” The script, about two high-school guys, one a nice
ordinary joe and the other an arrogant jerk, who work together
to win each the girl he’s after, was clearly “inspired” by
“Cyrano De Bergerac,” but this is no “Ten Things I Hate About
You,” which had considerable success in transposing “The
Taming of the Shrew” to a modern teen setting. Indeed,
“Whatever” is so irremediably awful that I wouldn’t be a bit
surprised if Edmund Rostand didn’t rise from the dead to
pursue legal action against those responsible for the utter
desecration of his work. The mixture of puerile double
entendres, vomit humor, dumb-blonde and dumb-jock jokes and
smarmy last-minute sentiment on display here is pretty much
beyond endurance.

In truth the “Cyrano” connection is pretty slight; “Whatever”
has a lot more in common with “Drive Me Crazy,” last year’s
bomb about two high-school pals who begin dating in order to
make the real objects of their affection jealous. The
present permutation has good guy Ryan (Shane West) approached
by star quarterback and general dullard Chris (James Franco) to
help him snag a date with Ryan’s next-door neighbor and buddy
Maggie (Marla Sokoloff), an intelligent girl who’s apparently
the only babe the footballer hasn’t been able to bag before
graduation. In return Chris promises to assist Ryan make
contact with dream-girl Ashley (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), whom the
poor boy has been drooling over for months.

If you’ve even seen a John Hughes movie you’ll know precisely
how this oh-so-complicated plot is going to turn out. You’ll
also have met Ryan’s geeky chums Floyd (Aaron Paul), Cosmo
(Colin Hanks) and Dunleavy (Manu Intiraymi), whom Ryan must
necessarily diss in his drive up the high-school social ladder.
And certainly you’ll know that the movie will conclude with an
inevitable prom-night sequence in which all is sorted out.

What’s amazing is how clumsily all these conventions are
played out in this instance. To be sure, West and Sokoloff are
attractive young performers, but it’s hard to sympathize with
their characters at all when the former is forced to do a
“Risky Business”-style private dance wearing only jocky shorts
and an accordian and the latter is made to inflict upon Chris
at the close a punishment more offensive than his original
crime. And you’ve probably never encountered quite so moronic
and irritating an embodiment of total geekdom as that offered
here by the singularly no-talent Paul, for whom this will, one
hopes, prove a career-killing turn. You also have to wonder
when the makers deliberately call up an invidious comparison
to a much-loved classic by patterning the “big laugh” in the
prom sequence after the famous gym dance in Frank Capra’s
“It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The feeble finale does have one appropriate aspect, though, in
that the theme of the prom turns out to be a salute to the
Titanic. This fact allows for one line of dialogue, recalling
James Cameron’s epic, that elicits the solitary laugh that the
movie earns. It also prophetically implies that “Whatever It
Takes,” one of the worst examples of a generally terrible
cinematic genre, will quickly sink like a stone. In this case,
however, that fate will be no tragedy.

SUCH A LONG JOURNEY

B

When the main character in a plot is named Noble, as is the
case here, there can be little doubt that his creator intends
him to be taken (at least in part) metaphorically; and when
the title of the work in which such a figure appears includes
the word “journey,” it’s pretty clear that the main focus is
on his transformation, for better or worse. Both elements
are found in this British-Canadian adaptation of Rohinton
Mistry’s novel about a Parsi bank-teller in early 1970s India
who, through a series of family crises and tense, sometimes
dangerous involvements with co-workers and old acquaintances,
learns the true meaning of love and friendship; by the close
the protagonist has truly been ennobled through suffering and
a realization of the humanity he shares even with those he has
treated with exaggerated reverence or occasional dismissal.

The path that we’re shown Gustad Noble taking is, to be sure,
a rambling and leisurely one, filled with byways and dead ends,
but thanks to Sturla Gunnarsson’s fluent direction and a
remarkable cast, it proves well worth following. Roshan Seth,
one of India’s greatest actors, is spellbinding as the well-
meaning but sometimes dense everyman hero who’s confronted by
conflict with his son and the illness of his daughter while
simultaneously trying to deal with the less-than-perfect
circumstances in which he lives and the foibles of his best
friend, co-worker Dinshawji (beautifully played by Sam Dastor).
In the midst of all these difficulties he’s asked by an old
buddy named Jimmy (Naseeruddin Shah), who’s with the Secret
Service, to serve as a conduit for cash which, it’s claimed,
is earmarked to help the Bengali resistance movement; the
arrangement brings Gustad back in touch with a shadowy friend of
Jimmy’s (the always-superb Om Puri) who once helped save
Noble’s life and now is the middle-man between him and his
long-absent friend. This element of the plot places the
protagonist’s emotional odyssey within the context of the
complex (and often corrupt) politics which marked the sub-
continent thirty years ago.

It’s impossible in a brief precis to recount all the side-trips
involved in Noble’s journey, or to touch even briefly upon the
wide array of supporting figures he meets along the way. But
the story, while dense in texture (like its source), is kept
from unravelling by Seth’s sensitive, admirably controlled
performance. Gustad is a character who, in unsubtle hands,
could easily have become irritating; but thanks to the
innate humility and goodness Seth imbues him with, Noble
remains throughout a sympathetic if troubled soul. And
at the end, when amid loss, suffering and violence he
achieves a kind of redemption through acceptance and forgiveness,
the effect is moving rather than mawkish. All of the other
cast members are admirable as well, and Gunnarsson’s recreation
of the Bombay milieu of the seventies, with its crowds and
political paranoia, is impressive.

“Such a Long Journey” requires a viewer’s patience, because it
is a complicated tale, told in a deliberate fashion. But those
willing to invest their effort in it will be amply rewarded.