City Paper is not for tourists
There is a world just out of sight of the one grown-ups knowunder, behind, below. The inhabitants of that world are smaller than the adults who rule them, and the landscape is different as well, scaled-down where possible, a repository of big-world scraps re-utilized in novel ways. There’s more mobility but less ease in the miniature land, so its citizens must be agile and resourceful to stay free from the looming menaces of size and weight.
If it’s children who feel that this is the world they inhabitunder the feet of their parentsthen even they look for figurative substitutes to act out against the tyranny of largeness. Stories about remarkably sentient animals are the most lovable way to do thisBasil of Baker Street, about a detecting mouse inhabiting 221B Baker Street, is a perfect metaphor for the city-within-a-city, house-within-a-house, all functioning with approximately parallel characters, actions, and rules.
Mary Norton’s 1952 book The Borrowers takes a bolder step, recasting the psychological turmoil of children as the trials of literal little peopletiny full-grown humanswho live behind baseboards and underneath stairs, filching buttons, crumbs, and pillboxes for their charmingly makeshift survival. Children, surely, but also immigrants, postwar displaced persons, wearing poor approximations of official dress and fretting constantly about the threat of having to “emigrate.” The BBC’s 1993 production of the story (the book became a lucrative series for Norton) evoked the scrappy, old-fashioned wonder of the novel, with Ian Holm as the distressed papa (name of Pod) trying to keep his family together amid the aftermath of a disastera Borrower holocaust, in which “everyone else” has “left”and the pressures of the New World. Second-generation housebound Borrower Arietty yearns to explore the world outside, and the big house’s resident Boy has spotted the little people. Will they assimilate into the friendly but menacing big world or be reunited with the others like them?
Working Title productions owns the rights to all Borrowers material, which is not to say the new American movie by this name has anything to do with the two BBC versions (all WT productions). This Borrowers is all about special effects and more painful Home Alone anticsDavy really gouging the hell out of Goliath to a chorus of gleeful hoots. It’s also a little bit about John Goodman, who has clearly stopped caring.
The BorrowersPod (Jim Broadbent), Homily (Celia Imrie), Arietty, and Peagreen Clockare no longer like people but a different species entirely. With eerie white skin and mad, frizzy red hair, they look like a ragtag post-nuclear army, outfitted with household spelunking tools and wearing futuristic tatters and rubberized moon boots. Since movies about young girls’ growth are for chicks, this unisex model has been given a son (that’s Peagreen, played by Tom Felton) to do the boy stuffthe Clocks might look like Mad Max extras, but their stunts don’t have quite the grandeur of their clothes.
The plot jerks from crisis to undersize crisis as the Clocks battle alongside human child Pete (Bradley Pierce) to save their joint homea dilapidated, sepia-toned old wreck that looks like an English boarding house on its last legsfrom being razed and turned into (undoubtedly handsomer and probably much needed) luxury apartments by evil lawyer Ocious P. Potter (Goodman). Arietty (Flora Newbigin) gets trapped in the freezer, Peagreen gets sucked up by a vacuum, falls down a drainpipe, splats into a pile of dogshit, and gets trapped in a bottle and sent to the bottling plant. But the Borrowers get theirs back, of courseGoodman is smothered in cheese, blasted with pesticide foam, electrocuted, stuck with sharp things, and assailed by a flatulent dog.
What’s appealing about the Borrowers, aside from their usefulness as pretexts, is that they need so littlea matchbox, some dental floss, a scrap of fabric, orts fallen from the table. But this Borrowers doesn’t do much with the household-hints charm of tiny things recycled into right-sized things; it’s all about big effects, the zooming camera, and horrible digitalized action. It doesn’t even bother to tell us where and when we are. Pete’s room is straight out of the ’30s (a copy of Gulliver’s Travels, which is as cute a joke as the set design ever makes; cowboy, Indian, and soldier toys; a lamp on loan from some kitschy motel), and everyone drives Packards. The Lender family dresses in a modern style and speaks American English, and Potter is American, too, but wears the extravagant get-ups of a turn-of-the-century fat cat, while the Clocks, the cop on the beat, and the heroic exterminator (Mouse Hunt’s many fans will be thrilled to meet another one) are Brits. Are the Borrowers some metaphor for the European working class? Perhaps that’s the audience it’s supposed to appeal to, since there’s nothing in it designed to keep children entertained.
I’m only going to say this once: I never saw any of those Adam Sandler vehicles. I caught a clip or two of his “Opera Man” shtick on Saturday Night Live, and it was stupidall of SNL was stupid. I am not intent on destroying Adam Sandler and all he represents. For I know little about the manmerely that people hate him, that Bulletproof was kind of funny if you can tap that 14-year-old-boy part of your soul, and that critics hate him most of all.
For The Wedding Singer, Sandler is being used as an actor hired to play the lead role. It’s not a juvenile vanity production; it’s a romantic comedy. He plays Robbie Hart, a self-deludingly romantic suburbanite who has turned to singing at local weddings to make ends meet after his career as a new-wave musician has sputtered.
He’s not just a popular wedding singer but a nice guyhe smooths over reception faux pas, calms down drunks, comforts children, bucks up the outcasts, and flirts harmlessly with the pretty girls. Robbie does everything for everyone, but soon it’ll be the townsfolk who will have to take care of himhe plans to marry Linda (Angela Featherstone), a flinty-eyed baggage with bigger things in mind than a future as the wedding singer’s wife.
After moping disconsolately, Robbie ventures out with his best pal, not-so-smooth operator Sammy (Allen Covert), the town’s only limo driver, to return to work and the dating world. But he’s now uselessresentful, libidinous, insultingand takes to playing bar mitzvahs and hoping more Jewish families will move to Richfield. The only work that pulls him out of his slump is helping his pretty pal Julia (Drew Barrymore), a reception-hall waitress, plan her own wedding to Wall Street thug Glenn (Matthew Glave). Indulging his romantic fantasies by proxy temporarily numbs his sensitivity to true love, which is, of course, sitting right next to him, comparing fabric swatches.
How Robbie and Julia make it to the altar is much more interesting than who’s there when they arrive; The Wedding Singer is a fanfare in praise of love, but it’s nothing less than a paean to the ultraridiculous mid-’80s. There could have been more explosiveness in the references and details, but the music and set design are satisfying enough. The hothouse look of that go-go period is reflected in everyone’s lush, flower-bedecked houses and the pink and aqua (or new-wave black-and-white check) interiors; Patrick Nagelesque prints adorn the local nightclub walls.
Aside from the suburban pop-star clonesChristine Taylor as Julia’s best friend Holly, a Madonna wannabe, Alexis Arquette in a heartbreaking small role as a Pete Burns-Boy George New Romantic, and Sammy sporting his red Jacko jacket and single sequined glove at le tout Richfield’s partiesthere are ’80s tidbits we all would like to forget: the silver conch belt worn holster-style, the Flashdance sweatshirt, The Incredible Hulk, “99 Luftballons.”
The music isn’t all punch lines; it’s appropriately adventurous as well as emotionally dead-on. Robbie pouts in his room to “Boys Don’t Cry” (and later confesses about a song he’s been writing, “I was listening to the Cure a lot”). At the first wedding after his own aborted one, he miserably moos “Holiday” to the aghast couple. “Too Shy” and “Der Kommisar” are funny in any context (‘bye, Falcothanks for, you know), but The Wedding Singer also finds the perfect spot for possibly the greatest piece of music from the ’80s, New Order’s “Blue Monday.”
It isn’t just the look of the period being skewered here but also the values. Julia’s fiancé is that specific species, the yuppie, who wears polo shirts with turned-up collars and smokes big, unfashionable cigars, just to get his money, youth, and power in people’s faces. The leads’ values are small, homey, and suburban (Glenn works in “the city”); their love is a triumph of classic romance over faddish lust.
The Wedding Singer plays a sneaky Hollywood trick for which young women should be gratefulit depicts boys as the true romantics, the self-deceivers who long for marriage and commitment. There’s a poignant dignity not only in Robbie’s dedication to love but in his dedication to his work. He thinks being a wedding singer is a fine job: He orchestrates and entertains happy couples on their perfect day. It’s easy to be cynical about the the romance of the unadorned little people, but movies’ consumerist function is twofoldto encourage our desire for the glamorously unobtainable (things, people, excitements) and to glamorize the attainable. And how many movies hire a Billy Idol impersonator, played by, um, Billy Idol?CP