Sunday, April 06, 2014

Why Town & Country bombed

Warren Beatty has the filmography all of his peers should envy with the exception of possibly Jack Nicholson.  Beatty's appeared in one classic after another.  He kicked off his film career co-starring with Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass.  His next six films had moments of promise but it wasn't until he stepped up as a producer, with Bonnie & Clyde, that he appeared in his next classic.  Since then, he's had near non-stop classic films.

2001's Town & Country doesn't make that list.  But Beatty didn't produce that film nor did he direct it.

One of the all time worst directors, Peter Chelsom, directed the film.

Chelsom's many flops include Funny Bones, The Mighty, Serendipity and Shall We Dance? -- but he did have a box office hit with Hannah Montana: The Movie.  Of course, most adult directors would probably prefer to leave that last credit off their CV.

Despite a director-free film, Goldie Hawn managed an actual performance and she's quite delightful in the film.  Along with Goldie and Warren, the cast also included Diane Keaton,  Gary Shandling, Andie MacDowell, Jenna Elfman, Josh Hartman and Charlton Heston.

All have moments but only Goldie really gets a performance in and that's in part because of her talent, also because of luck and because she's offering another viewpoint in the film.

Town & Country could have been a hit film.  Chelson can point to the reels of film that were stolen and insist the film might have turned out differently.

That's a possibility.

But the film flopped because Chelson was cowardly and stupid.

I Love You To Death is a film that flopped.

Like Town & Country, the main character was a cheating husband.  Kevin Kline plays the Warren Beatty role in that film.  Both films ensure they flop by opening with cheating.

Most film goers are never going to want to know and embrace a character they meet who's cheating in the first scene and enjoying cheating.

That was pure stupidity.

So was letting Josh Hartnett play a straight character.

Gary Shandling plays Goldie's secretly gay husband in the film.  Gary's really gross and also someone who can't come across because he's always tripped up by the filigree. Hartnett plays the son of Diane Keaton and Warren Beatty's character.  He's also good looking and wouldn't be lost in neurosis the way Shandling always is.

Playing gay might also have allowed Hartnett to not provide the worst performance in the film.  Yes, there are some embarrassing scenes -- Heston and MacDowell are saddled with some of the worst scenes in the film. But Hartnett has no character to play and lacks the skill to provide anything that's not on paper.

The image below is from what should be the key scene in the film.

Hartnett enters the kitchen and has nothing to offer in the script and nothing to offer on his own.

All three around the table have just finished having sex (with various female partners).  There's not a real relationship in the bunch.

That includes Warren and Diane -- that's why he's cheating.

Josh is not a counterpoint to the other three men because the script set him up that way.

A braver script would have made clear that he's like the other three men and a braver script wouldn't have paired him with a woman.

Why pair him with a man?

To allow the film to move beyond gender victimization.

They painted themselves into a corner where the script became bad men victimize women and having established that -- without even realizing it -- the only way an ending satisfies is if Diane Keaton's character  triumphs -- see First Wives Club.

If she doesn't, the audience isn't happy to sit through a film.

By making Hartnett's character gay and joining the kitchen after sex with a man, it's more about a type of young men who can't see partners as full people.  A type of young men and one man who refuses to grow up.  It's about a group of males who mistake swagger and strutting for manhood.

That's the problem the characters have.

The film doesn't establish that point clearly and many scenes undermine it.

This includes when Hawn catches Shandling cheating at the start of the film.  Why was it necessary to have the man with Shandling dress as a woman?  It wasn't.

Goldie's character can see enough to think cheating is taking place and also assume Shandling's cheating with a woman.

By making Shandling's male lover dress up as a woman, it's one more level of insult to women in the audience.

(To be clear, Shandling's lover is neither transgender nor a transvestite.  The dress up isn't even part of some sex play.  It's a cheap and tacky ploy.)

The three men around the table are fooling themselves.  A revolutionary living on Park Avenue?  (Even the characters in the film find that unbelievable.)  A man who's unable to communicate with anyone in the apartment (including the woman he's sleeping with)?  A man who has an understanding and supportive wife who shares her life with him and cheats over and over with one woman after another?

The first two are young enough to grow out of it.  The third man, Beatty's character, should have outgrown it long ago.

That's the story that could have been told and making Hartnett's character gay would have made the point even more clear.

That film could have been a box office hit.

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