I became a huge fan of Alexander Payne after I saw this hilarious film. His twisted sense of humour that exposes and exaggerates people’s faults is dead on. Although this is classified as an MTV movie, there is so much substance to it that it really can’t be lumped into all the other mundane, sexy teen, guttural comedies that the MTV film studio has put out over the years. The humour here is universal, taking outrageous situations and making them even more outrageous. This is a tricky thing to do. The humour can end up falling flat and come across as a really bad farce. This is not one of those cases.
A lot of the credit for the success of the film goes to the author of the book on which the film is based. Tom Perrotta knows these characters. By taking everyday themes (a fractured marriage, job ennui, sexuality and a high school election) and ratcheting up the farce on them, Perrotta nailed this scenario. Payne took that humour to the next level and created one of the most satisfying modern comedies ever. Although the writing forms the base for the successful film, the characterizations and performances by the all the actors are spot on.
It was nice to see Matthew Broderick back in a well-done comedy. Reese Witherspoon is fantastic as the manipulative Tracy Flick. Chris Klein plays the big dumb jock to the hilt. Jessica Campbell is equally fantastic as his sister. The over-the-top Tracy Flick character is matched wonderfully against the downplayed characters of Klein and Campbell. The primal jungle screams that Tracy Flick hears in her head when something doesn’t go her way is roll-on-the-floor brilliant.Comedies are hit or miss. This was a bull’s-eye.
I was too young to see this film when it first came out and even after I was old enough to see it, I still couldn’t see it because it always came on TV as a late night broadcast and I wasn’t allowed to stay up that late. Even after both of those restrictions ceased, I still couldn’t see it because we’re talking about the days before the internet and DVDs. This was the time of the video store rental and even though it was probably in stock, we didn’t have a VCR (I don’t the think the town I lived in (read: village) even had a video store and if it did, it only has the latest Hollywood hits).
I saw bits and pieces of The Exorcist on TV, but never really saw the whole thing through to the end until I became thoroughly interested in film many years later. Most of the film for me was lore: ‘it’s horrifying!’ or ‘that scene where she spits out pea soup’ or ‘the scene where her head spins around’. That was my level of seeing the actual film.
After I saw the film, I saw it as it was supposed to be seen – not as a horror film, but as a piece of cinematic greatness. This is one of the most intelligent screenplays ever written. Screenwriter/novelist/producer William Peter Blatty has created a perfect adaptation of his book. Often, a novelist is thoroughly untrained as a screenwriter and upon attempting to adapt their novel into a film, it gets bogged down in detail. This is not one of those cases. Director William Friedkin crafts a close-to-perfect film. You get a real sense of the art he wants to make when listening to his commentary. He gives a very convincing argument that the film is art and not horror.
The editing is so crisp and even that the film is perfectly seamless. In fact, the editing is so perfect that it takes the place of music in the film. There is such a lack of music in this film that it’s absence heightens the chill factor. The only real place where you hear it is when Ellen Burstyn’s character is walking down the street and the Tubular Bells theme accompanies her. Brilliant. I have always been a fan of the ‘less is more’ style of film making. You can say so much with silence. Here, the lack of music, the swift editing and the camera movements say so much more than pea soup.
The Exorcist has that incredible 1970s vibe/feeling that I love. It’s hard to explain. Taxi Driver has it. Dog Day Afternoon has it, as do The Godfather, Carrie, The Rose and A Clockwork Orange. I know a lot of people watch The Exorcist only because of the horror factor, but this film is so much more than a terror film. The deep personal anguish of all the characters in the film is felt, and when a director and writer cause this to happen, you have a very special film. If you look beyond the horror and the supernatural, you’ll find a horror film that stands high above all the rest.
I know that a lot of people may think of this film as overly syrupy and sentimental, however, it has so many things going for it, that it’s a can’t-miss classic. What stands out for me is the story and the writing. Originally written as a stage play, it transfers remarkably well to the screen because the story is so strong. Like A Trip to Bountiful that predates this story, Driving Miss Daisy works as a film because it is told honestly and truthfully. You can’t go wrong with a traditionally told life story. When it is done well, it really doesn’t matter how sentimental it may seem because the story is so strong.
Both Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman are note-perfect, and this is Dan Aykroyd’s finest performance ever. This was one of those times at the Academy Awards when Tandy’s win was justified because of her performance and not because it was a sentimental or sympathetic vote. Freeman definitely deserved to win here as opposed to his win for Million Dollar Baby which I see as a makeup Oscar.
The cinematography is gorgeous. The scenery is just another character in the story. The music, including the instantly recognizable theme music, is a perfect fit. The screenplay, based upon the winning play, has a great pace and is told with such truth and realism that it stands out as one of the great adaptations of another piece of work. This is a perfectly shot film.
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