Almost Perfect

My mom submitted An Ideal Husband for the category of perfect movies with no flaws. One day I may see. I still can’t get myself to watch it, what with the “lying to the spouse” thing. Apparently, except for this basic flaw, the movie is perfect.

More recently, Valerie and I have been getting around to watching a stack of movies that were given to us, but didn’t suit our mood when we received them. So I have a short review for you today of a movie out of season: The Holiday.

I put The Holiday in the category of “almost perfect,” that is, it was a film of impeccable taste and style, with absolutely flawless delivery and nary a misstep – except for one glaring detail which brought up the question of whether we ought to have the movie in the house at all.

The Holiday is a story of two women of very different personality and lifestyle, who have similarly atrocious love lives. Kate Winslet plays Iris, a British newspaper reporter, who lives in a very isolated cottage 40 minutes from London. She is desperately in love with a man who is getting married to someone else, but who seems to find it useful to keep a spare lover around for the weekends. So he plays her like a harp, and she desperately needs to get away from him. Cameron Diaz plays Amanda, a high-strung producer of movie trailers, who lives in a mansion in Hollywood. She tends to date within her industry, and well, it’s Hollywood. How successful do you think that is? But Amanda does plenty to undermine her relationships herself, by being both demanding and unforgiving. She has an idea that getting away from it all will make it all better.

So they switch. They trade homes for the Christmas holiday. And necessarily, each one finds the perfect match on the other side of the globe. Iris’ Hollywood story is all of sweetness. She meets Miles, played by Jack Black, a film composer who stopped by to pick up his friend’s stuff after the bad break-up. Miles is quite possibly the most decent character Jack Black has ever played. He’s the archetype of the tender artist, kindness and gentleness itself, and a brilliant conversationalist. He also seems to have mastered the skill of impersonating my brother-in-law. (Dale – I am going to force you to see this movie.) Amanda’s manless English holiday, on the other hand, is interrupted by Iris’ brother Graham, played by Jude Law, stopping by his sister’s house, drunk, to crash for the night.

In terms of writing, production and delivery, I could write for pages. The film is just short of an English major’s dream. All that’s missing is some kind of hook for existential discussion. It is liquid pleasure to watch. Except for one thing.

The England story, because it revolves around a woman who is intense and high-strung, is necessarily intense and high strung itself. When Graham crashes for the night, it becomes a one-night-stand, which fortuitously evolves into a very sweet romance. Not Christian, but I’ll give it to them. It was believable, and they managed to stay at PG-13. Barely. There were scenes, fully clothed and nearly circumspect, which nevertheless were so charged that I was embarrassed to be watching the movie in the same room with my wife because of how the scene affected me. These scenes were eye-popping, but only from a man’s perspective. I don’t think Valerie even noticed. So one (pretty big) point against as a Christian.

Along those same lines, there is another point against from the perspective of a writer and an analyst of plot. This involves a spoiler, so we forewarned. The big reveal for brother Graham is that he turns out to be a widowed father of two. (Again with the touches of light in the movie – he’s not divorced.) This loses in the area of believability for me, because for the previous 30 minutes, this guy has been playing up his irascible character to hide his committed father/mr. mom status, because he doesn’t know how to deal with it when on the dating field. This *almost* works for me. But then it doesn’t. Because this guy has been taking his act and following through with it in the bedroom.

And that breaks it for me. Plainly and simply, a father of two knows where babies come from. There is a kind of man who has children and yet is willing to fall into bed with a stranger and feel no regret, no concern for consequences, who is confident that whatever kind of birth control she’s using will cover over his manly responsibilities, but if it doesn’t, he doesn’t really feel it’s his responsibility. That kind of man exists, and there is even an old sort of word for that kind of man: a blackguard. But for that kind of man, when Cameron Diaz comes to his home and discovers his children, those children will not be the happy, beautiful, well adjusted children that appeared in the movie. Those children will be bedraggled, neglected, anxious and suspicious. That is to say, his cavalier behavior with women will show up in his inability to govern his home and be a proper father to his children.

There is, of course, another kind of man , widowed with children, who crashes drunk at his sister’s house, finds a strange woman there, and falls into bed with her: a weak man. He knows what’s right and endeavors to do it, but when faced with strong temptation, he fails. This may be the sort of person that Jude Law was trying to portray, but I didn’t see it. There was a lot of talk in the England story about the relationship being “complicated” but it was all from the girl. *He* was all calm and finesse, willing to work with whatever options he was given. If he had seen any conflict between his behavior with a strange woman and the fact that he was trying to be a good father to his children, there would have been all kinds of guilt and hesitation, attempts to stay away from the irresistible woman, which were overwhelmed by the easiness of a relationship with a beautiful woman who is leaving in nine days. This kind of man, for now, has happy children, but he himself is miserable and conflicted.

And yes, I know: It was a move, not written by Christians. They gloss over these things in the interests of making the sort of movie that sells. In fact, the unredeemed probably find it quite easy to imagine a man who is both responsible and randy. But for me, as a Christian, and especially now as a Christian father, this kind of imagining is no longer possible. And so a part of the movie was lost for me.

Everything else, though, was perfect. Every line, every delivery. Which brings back the question: with nearly perfect movies so rare and hard to find. Is a movie with these kinds of flaws something we ought to get rid of?

7 thoughts on “Almost Perfect”

  1. That “Lying to the spouse thing” wasn’t a basic flaw — it was the pivotal point of the story — refusing to watch it based on that would be like refusing to read Ender’s Game because you didn’t approve to the “Giant’s Table”.

    Besides….he does eventually tell his wife the turth….and then she lies to him….and eventually tells him the truth ….the lies are the point of the satire.

    Shesch! This is Osacar Wilde for Pete’s sake. Should anyone get married just because they love the name “Earnest”?

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  2. Sidebar: As you say, the Holiday is almost perfect — however I usually gloss over the entire English story-line. I forewarn friends that it’s great except for that “hi, we just met, let’s go to bed aspect”….but the storyline I love is the one taking place in Hollywood. I loved her frustrated, unrequited relationship with Rufus Sewell, I loved the warm almost flirtatious friendship with Eli Wallach and wonder of wonder — I pesonally fell in love with the character played by Jack Black [something that will probably never happen again]. That was the story that kept me watching the movie again and agin.

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  3. New recommendations for the perfect/almost perfect catagory: Amazing Grace, The Martian Child & Miss Potter [btw — those are three titles not one weird title]

    [and I heard from a friend that Becoming Jane was also very good]

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  4. I didn’t say it was a good book — I just said it fit the title of Amazing Grace; The Martian Child.

    I think it was basically a book about how things would be if Heinlein had been god….which I’m sure made perfect sense to Heinlein however as the post modern world has proved….it just didn’t work

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