The horror, the horror…
After a blissful three-year absence from starring in films, Demi Moore returns with a ghastly new movie in which she makes up for lost time by performing a dual role. Regrettably, Moore’s ability to impersonate a human being has further deteriorated, so with her occupying almost every last frame as one or the other of two tiresome, expensively garbed women, she adds up to almost one-half of an entire human being.
There’s Marie, an earthy young widow raising two daughters in what is laughably referred to as the French countryside—a picturesque place where everyone speaks American English. The closest Moore can come to embodying maternal bounty is by dressing like a dinner-theater Gretel in dirndls and peasant blouses while leaving her kids god-knows-where when she steps out for an evening. Then, when Marie falls asleep, she wakes up as Marty, a debilitatingly chic Manhattan something-in-publishing, who is unencumbered by kids or dead husbands but nonetheless finds herself Unable to Love. (You know those career gals are hard as nails, no matter how many silk kimonos and $35 candles they own.) When Marty hits the sack, she wakes up as Marie, and the double life begins all over again.
Both of the women are fully aware of the other’s life, and each sees a shrink within her reality who tells her she is dreaming the other one. This is a convenient way to slough off obvious questions on analysts’ famed unwillingness to answer any. “I don’t know how to get back to the way I used to be,” one of the overdressed and underacting Moores sighs, but how was that? Perhaps one of these therapists can ask her in which life she remembers spending her childhood, or—if she is the same person in both worlds—is her Manhattan incarnation as in love with her French-countryside boyfriend (Stellan Skarsgard, for no discernible reason) as the earth-mother Demi is? She worries that if she lets a man sleep over and she wakes up in the night, “something bad might happen”; hasn’t she ever taken a nap?
But ironing out the intricacies of her condition would hint at the flabbergasting epiphany, and heaven forfend that we should have some idea of the precise contours of Marie/Marty’s psychological situation before she nonchalantly reveals them. In the meantime, director Alain Berliner leaves no cliche untapped. The new man in each of the heroines’ lives goes out of his way to lure her with one of those inventive movie-style dates too ridiculous to be believed—when is an enterprising satirist going to run together all the quirky surprise dates in movie history? Would a nice dinner in a restaurant be so awful?
Manhattan Demi meets a rat-faced accountant (William Fichtner) who is undaunted by the fact that his new girlfriend seems to be posing for John Singer Sargent at all times—her face is framed in mirrors and sculpted ringlets and elaborate portrait earrings; she favors ruffled collars and extravagant cuffs. Even her apartment looks as if it were designed by Peter Greenaway; she sort of floats through it, trying not to break stuff. Anyway, soon our heroine is getting it every night, twice a night, from her international cavalcade of lovers. Unfortunately for the audience, Demi’s going price has hogged up all of the film’s budget, so the lovers tend to be pale and squishy; it’s eerie to watch Demi’s flawless manicure caress Skarsgard’s doughy shoulder or to see her in a muscle T-shirt boldly proclaiming her lack of a need for a bra while the man of the moment cowers under the sheets.
So what does it all mean? Twentieth-century psychobabble at its babbliest. Turns out that Demi’s madness is a form of succor for her inner child—children, actually; a star of her magnitude doesn’t do anything singly—some 25 years after a trauma. Whether it’s Marty or Marie who is “real” hardly matters; what matters is that everyone exists for our heroine’s psychological betterment: When she doesn’t need them anymore, they go away. It’s like a mushy New Age cross between The Truman Show and that Twilight Zone episode in which the demonic kid sends people who displease him into the cornfield.
Aviva Kempner’s earnest documentary The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg is almost literally a play-by-play of Greenberg’s life. Greenberg, major-league baseball’s first—and for a long time, only—Jewish player, is perhaps better suited to an hourlong documentary than the full-length treatment he receives here, which bogs down in baseball minutiae of staggering monotony to nonaficionados. A modern baseball fan with a head for trivia will already know what numbers define Greenberg’s career; otherwise, such particulars can appeal only to an old-timer with an endless capacity for reminiscence. But, stats aside, Greenberg’s life is extraordinary on its own terms, and you don’t need a single sports bone in your body to admire it.
Kempner, an ideological one-woman band (she wrote, directed, and produced this film), strings together her material in more or less standard documentary form: contemporary clips of Greenberg and his accomplishments; interviews with his kids, grandkids, friends, colleagues, and sometime opponents; cameos by celebrity fans like Walter Matthau and Michael Moriarty (Moriarty’s grandfather was an umpire); scenes of a couple of elderly rabbis as excitable as the boys they were when they first heard of this unapologetic Bronx Jew working a bat ostensibly for the Detroit Tigers—but taking aim at American anti-Semitism with every swing. Unfortunately, there are too many spurious tone-setting clips—period images which may or may not refer specifically to the story at hand—that run over an unimaginative selection of contemporary hits (“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon”).
Greenberg’s story is told best by the man himself, seen in older interview clips, and by the fans who benefited from his formidable presence on the American cultural landscape. The rabbis, who were then battling obstacles and stereotypes they didn’t yet know existed, remember being baseball-crazy yeshiva students who played a crude game of paper baseball with their Talmud readers. Greenberg saw Jewishness as an ethnicity rather than a set of obligations to God. Never terribly pious, he refused to play on Jewish holidays mostly as an act of defiance against the Protestant ’30s. Greenberg pointed out that although any ballplayer with a difference—an Italian or Irishman—would get tagged with the nearest “all in good fun” slur, all the anti-Semitism landed on his head because, unlike his Italian colleagues, he was the only one of his kind. Greenberg signed kids’ autographs in Hebrew and refused to change his name, in an act of casual bravery that recalls the old postwar joke about the four middle-aged businessmen introducing themselves as “Kent,” “Crandall,” and “Channing”: “Also Cohen,” says the fourth. Despite pressures, Greenberg took his status as a role model quite seriously; even if the exact nature of his fame wasn’t known to him—now-aging fans tell the camera that their sports-indifferent mothers would ask them how Hank had done that day—he understood very well the nature of his responsibilities.
It’s too bad that it takes a figure as distasteful as Alan Dershowitz to point this out, but Kempner’s film makes the case that, as Dershowitz says, “Jews suffered for their failures and for their successes.” Many baseball fans of the time were actually relieved when Greenberg failed by a hair to break Babe Ruth’s record—they didn’t want the new record set by a Jew. (As Dershowitz points out, it wasn’t much earlier that Ruth’s own Catholicism was considered a bit outre for the national pastime.) The casual pervasiveness of hatred was something Greenberg could not avoid, but he went as far as one man can to rise above its pernicious effects, and—stats, songs, padded footage, and all—that’s a story worth telling. CP