Sunday, September 7, 2008

Crowing About Cameron

"Come in she said, I'll give you shelter from the storm." -- Bob Dylan

There are too many plastic films in Hollywood, and it would not be so obvious if it were not for those films that feature characters that bleed. Plastic characters simply do not bleed, let alone sweat. I have long been a fan of character-driven films and directors, and this is where my love of P.T. Anderson is rooted. But as Yoda once said to Luke in a raspy voice, "There... is... another..." I love P.T. Anderson, and he is probably my favorite working director. But there is another director that has been a mainstay in mainline Hollywood for quite some time, and I am not ashamed to profess my appreciation of his work: Cameron Crowe, wherever you are, you are a joy.

In film circles it almost anathema to admit that you actually enjoy films that critics have panned. Like film critic Pauline Kael says, however, "I love a lot of films, and some of them are good." I understand exactly what she means, and I have my own version of this statement. I love a lot of good films, and sometimes my definition of good does not overlap with that of the critics. Here are the things I see in Crowe's films:

I love Jerry Maguire. It has so much heart that it just makes me smile, and smiling is rarely a crime. Even though Tom Cruise (who is the next celebrity-freak a la Michael Jackson in the making... more on that later) plays the leading role, I find that I completely buy the character, hook, line, and sinker. Maybe it's because I identify with a character who's relationally reluctant, unable to love like he wants to, and who devotes himself to his work to avoid the challenges of relationships. In endorsing this film, I feel like I am saying "Yeah, I don't hate the Captain of the football team or the Homecoming Queen." Sometimes those things that are popular are actually good.

Vanilla Sky, on the other hand, despite being maligned by most major critics, has a very special place in my heart. I could care less for Abre los Ojos, the original Spanish film the movie is based on. I have seen it, and it is largely void of the warmth that is so often characteristic of Crowe's films. Tom Cruise (Yet again!) is brought face-to-disfigured-face with the fact that he is a mere mortal. He is not a deity. He is subject to the limitations of the human condition, and he buckles under these limitations when his fortune fades. Buddhists know that to live is to suffer. This film demonstrates that suffering is par for the course of this life, and we have to choose what we are to do with it.

Say Anything is easy. I want to be Lloyd Dobler. I love "Johnny" Cusack anyway, but this character is pure gold. Every girl I know loves this movie because Lloyd Dobler is this brave, charismatic everyman who knows how to treat a woman right. I want to be that way if I can. And more than that, because he is an everyman, those of us who consider ourselves "everymen" can take heart at the prospect that we might arise from this same "stuff" -- this same categorical gene pool, if you will -- and be more than mere men. We can live big, tall lives that radiate with warmth and abandon.
I could go on, and I could talk about how I think Orlando Bloom should never have been cast as the lead in Elizabethtown, or how Singles is a Generation-X specimen preserved forever in filmic amber, or how I went to see Almost Famous on opening night all by myself when I had just moved to St. Louis in 2000. Cameron Crowe's films have long been a part of my life story. His characters are part of me, and in some mysterious way I am part of them as well. We share common DNA in a way.

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