09 July 2016

Dinner with Friends (starring Andie MacDowell and Dennis Quaid)

I’m not entirely sure why this DVD was recommended to me by Amazon. However, the blurb and reviews made it sound interesting, so it went on my wishlist, and I was given it for my birthday a few months ago. Last night we decided, along with an adult son, to watch it. I chose it out of the selection he was looking at because it was the shortest, and I was tired…

‘Dinner with Friends’ is apparently based on a play of the same name, which makes a great deal of sense in retrospect. It was originally made for TV, back in 2001. There are only four significant characters, which is quite unusual in a film. Karen (Andie MacDowell) and Gabe (Dennis Quaid) are the main pair. They’ve been married for about twelve years, and work together as food photographers and reporters. They have recently returned from a trip abroad, and we meet them when they, and their young sons, are expecting their closest friends to dinner.

Beth (Toni Collette) arrives in pouring rain, along with her two children, but her husband Tom (Greg Kinnear) is not with her. She makes an excuse but it’s clear that there’s a problem. Gabe and Karen seem remarkably unobservant and tactless, and she eventually breaks down and admits that he’s left her, after falling in love with a travel agent called Nancy….

The rest of the story is about Gabe and Karen coming to terms with this shock, and re-evaluating their own relationship. We hear Tom’s side of the story, and then there’s a lengthy flashback to the time when Gabe and Karen were newly married, and looking forward to their two close friends getting to know each other….

The first half hour or so was really quite depressing, full of angst, and not at all the kind of light-hearted story I was expecting. Perhaps I should have read the blurb on the back rather than merely the length. But as it progresses, I found myself caught up in the lives of these two couples. There’s not a great deal of plot; it’s an exploration of character and relationships, and I found it to be realistic, on the whole; neither couple is shown as ideal, and even the best of marriages is shown to have tensions, misunderstandings and some anger.

While Karen’s strongly Southern accent is a little difficult to understand at times, she gives a great performance, and the chemistry between her and Gabe works extremely well. Tom, too, is mostly convincing, but we found Beth a little fake at times. As a young bohemian artist she is believable; towards the end, having lunch with Karen, she is also authentic. But we couldn’t quite believe in her grief-stricken and angry phase, which is the main part of the movie.

The children have occasional bit parts which are realistic, and they all did well in a film which, presumably, they weren’t able to see in its entirety as it’s not intended for children. I didn’t find any of it humorous, though there were odd mildly amusing moments, mostly connected with the children.

I didn’t like the amount of bad language, which is probably what gives this a 15 rating in the UK, and R in the stricter United States. There’s a fair amount of discussion about sexual issues too, which would also make this unsuitable for children or younger teens, but there’s nothing explicit, nor any nudity, and the one mildly violent scene is not particularly disturbing.

I can’t imagine that the content would be of interest to anyone younger than about twenty or so anyway as it’s essentially all about marriage, long-term friendship, and growing older.

I found the ending encouraging and positive, and by that stage was completely engrossed in it.

No extras.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews

04 July 2016

The Rewrite (starring Hugh Grant)

I like browsing Amazon’s recommendations now and again, looking for things to add to my wishlist. I assume that they offered this suggestion because it’s a light romantic film with some humour, and also because it stars Hugh Grant, and I have given high ratings to some of his other films.

So I was pleased to be given ‘The Re-write’ for my birthday, and last night we watched it with an adult son. Hugh Grant, as our son commented afterwards, always plays similar parts, and this one suits him perfectly. He plays a washed-up British screenwriter in his late forties called Keith, who had one major success some years previously, but is now struggling financially. He is offered a temporary job teaching screenwriting at a small American university, and while he doesn’t think writing can be taught, he sees no alternative…

Keith is rather naive, unsure of what he’s supposed to do in his class, overwhelmed by the seventy scripts he has to read within two days, and nervous about his new role. It’s ideal for the slightly bumbling Englishman that Hugh Grant is used to playing, surrounded by women who evidently find him attractive.

There’s a storyline involving a seductive girl in his class and a pleasanter one involving an older student who has daughters of his own. And there are some gems about writing in general, as well as insights into university life. As Keith gets to know his class, he discovers that teaching isn’t such a bad career after all, and that he can learn to care about each individual and help them in different ways.

Most of the film is predictable, and I don’t recall any particularly humorous sections, but it’s light-hearted and fun, relationship-based rather than with any great plot. I liked the way that, although most of Keith’s students are attractive girls, the two rather unattractive nerdy boys play significant positive parts in his class, and in the story as a whole.

The rating is 12 which I think is right, though it wouldn’t be of much interest to anyone under the age of about sixteen. There are implied intimacies but nothing overt; some bad language, and a great deal of drinking, but no violence.

Recommended for a light and pleasant evening’s undemanding viewing.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's DVD Reviews