Monday, March 29, 2004

This Salon article on abridged children's books (particularly The Wind in the Willows) is a pretty good entre into that Jersey Girl review I promised you. How so? Emotional complexity. Grahame's original is fulled with gorgeous language, and the "Great Illustrated Classics" was apparently edited with a tin ear. Even worse, though, the "abridgement" has removed much of the depth, replacing complex emotions with simple ones, while removing many of the chapters focussed on Ratty and Mole, thinking, I suppose, that the Toad chapters appeal more to children. When I was a child, though, Toad scared me with his wild and self-indulgent behavior, while Ratty and Mole had exactly the right amount of adventure, grounded in the kind of friendship any of us would be lucky to find (actually, I've found several friendships like that, but I've always been lucky).

Okay, now that I sit down and actually try and write my way from one to the other, it's clear that the connection from one to the other is a lot more tenuous than I thought, if not entirely imaginary. But I'll try and stick with it.

Wind in the Willows is about a bunch of anthropomorphized animals, but Grahame gets the emotions right, in all their messiness, so it feel real. I was a little shocked, then to read some of the negative reviews Jersey Girl got. I sought them out after making my little crack about dead souls and then thinking I might want to check on that. I stand by it. "Hokey" was the word most bandied about in the negative reviews. Look, this is a movie about a guy left to raise his daughter alone after his wife dies in childbirth. The center of the movie is a seven-year-old girl. There's serious danger of schlock there. It could have been bad. Stepmom bad.

But Raquel Castro's Gertie is a real kid, not some movie moppet. Sure, she's cute as hell, but she's also got that "I know I'm cute, and I've got the world wrapped around my finger" edge, and she screams very convincingly when she doesn't get her way. Neither Smith's writing or Affleck's acting ignore the anger that comes tangled up in grief, and even in love. Jason Biggs plays a minor role that turns from caricature to character in one crucial moment, and he manages the turn perfectly. The romantic story arc doesn't end in "happily ever after"; it ends with "I'll think about it." From the plot arc to the telling details, like the set design of their house, this is the most real movie about relationships that I've seen in a very long time.

Next post: The Secret to Happiness Stay tuned...

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