Jul 9 2010

Alec Baldwin Home School: She’s Having a Baby


"Set sail for FUNventure with this week's Home School!"

I know, I know!  I introduced a brand new feature four months ago and never mentioned it again.  Put all the blame squarely on me, and not on our noble hero, Alec Baldwin, who makes his triumphant return in this installment of Alec Baldwin Home School.

You can check the first post for a proper introduction to the concept, but in short, Mr. Baldwin has announced that he’s retiring from acting.  He’s not a fan of his work, and thinks he’s never turned in a worthwhile performance.  We, gentle reader, are going to test his theory by journeying through his entire filmography.  What wonders will we find?  What horrors will we endure?  Time will tell!  The fun began with Forever, Lulu and continues now with  She’s Having a Baby.

The Film
In the late 80’s, John Hughes was writing and directing every third movie Hollywood released, thanks partly to the terrifying voodoo spell that forced all others to do his bidding, and partly to his masterful knack for pairing interesting plots with identifiable characters.  Unfortunately, that talent doesn’t really shine through in 1988’s She’s Having a Baby.

Kevin Bacon plays Jake, a young newlywed struggling to pay the bills while working nights on his novel.  He’s got no clue what he wants out of life, leading him to question his marriage to Kristy, played by Elizabeth McGovern, who is far prettier than the hair and fashion of the era would have you believe.  Of course, things get even scarier when he finds out that she is–in fact–having a baby.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because this titular turning point doesn’t happen until like an HOUR in.  We actually begin on the young couple’s wedding day.  Our hero has cold feet, and who’s there to act as the embodiment of his desire to remain footloose (get it?) and fancy free?  None other than his best pal Davis, brought to life by one Alec Baldwin.  Davis is essentially that no-account asshole friend that everybody has in college.  He’s a lot of fun, but eventually you grow out of him.  Then when you see him again 5 years later and he hasn’t changed a bit, it’s all sad and awkward.

Davis makes a half-joking attempt to convince Jake to call off the wedding.  Both Baldwin’s performance and Bacon’s narration hint that Davis would rather keep Jake all to himself.  On the surface, it’s a comment on the pseudo-marriage that develops between best friends.  Below the surface, Davis is totally gay for Jake, and Baldwin makes sure it comes through via lots of meaningful staring at things.  Then Davis disappears for a good chunk of the film, leaving Jake to deal with his new evil father-in-law, a job he hates, and plenty of pointless arguments with Kristy.

With Jake’s depressing suburban existence firmly established, Davis shows up once again.  He’s living in New York now, but he’s brought his slutty model girlfriend along for a visit.  This leads to a big fight with Kristy, giving Davis the perfect opportunity to slide in with some straight talk.  He misses Jake.  Kristy’s great, but she’s tying him down!  He can’t be a writer in the suburbs!  He should come to New York!  It’s a pretty transparent attempt to reconnect with Jake, and he declines the offer, but it’s obvious that he’s tempted.

Then there’s some more standard-issue married life drama.  Jake’s boss tells him he’ll never be a real writer.  Jake meets some chick at a club who he begins fantasizing about.  You get the idea.  Finally, in what I took as a desperate ploy to save the relationship, Kristy attempts to get pregnant by secretly going off her birth control.  This doesn’t work, mostly because it would have been pretty depressing if it had, so she comes clean to Jake and the two start trying in earnest to have a kid.  With sex itself now reduced to work, Jake is more downtrodden than ever.

"See! I told you it'd be neat if we all switched hair!"

Hey!  Davis is back!  This time he confronts Kristy about whether Jake is ready to be a father, then awkwardly hits on her.  It’s actually the movie’s best scene.  Davis, now resigned to the fact that Jake’s not coming back to him, reaches out for a connection by proxy.  Or maybe he’s just trying to screw up their relationship, whatever.  Kristy refuses, but she’s more bemused than angry, leaving Davis confused and alone.

At last, Kristy gets pregnant and everything is magically awesome again!  Not for Davis, who we never see again and who has presumably gone off to hang himself, but who cares!  After a short montage, Kristy goes into labor.  Things look touch and go for a second because there should probably be something resembling a climax at some point, then everything turns out great.  So great, that it’s revealed that Jake has finished his novel which is entitled, oh yes, “She’s Having a Baby.”

Sorry, John Hughes, but BOOOOOORRRRIIINNNG.  The movie’s front-loaded with a so many “Gee, we’re young and in love, but marriage sure is tough!” scenes that I mistook it for a film adaptation of For Better or For Worse.  It comes off as so cliche and easy.  Yes, starting a family is scary, and it’s clear that Hughes is writing from his own experience, but he brings nothing new to the trope.  Not to mention the fact that everything just kind of serendipitously  works out for Jake and Kristy, to the point that it feels like that’s the moral.  “I know it seems like every moment of your life since you said ‘I do’ has been a horrible mistake, but don’t worry!  At some point you’ll have a kid and everything will suddenly make perfect sense!”  Plus it’s slow and not that funny.

Luckily, for our purposes anyway, the highlight of the film is actually Alec Baldwin.  I’d have rather seen a movie about the mournful, sardonic, closeted homosexual who boxes up his longing for his best friend and drowns it in booze and blonds until he snaps and makes a laughable pass at the very woman who robbed him of his happiness.  But even as an ancillary character in a bland family comedy, Davis shines.  You can see his repressed feelings simmering under the surface in every scene, and he gets some of the best lines in the film, including the one I’ve quoted below, which you’ll want to adopt as your new Facebook status immediately.

My only knock is that Baldwin has the melodrama meter cranked up to dangerous levels.  Every impressive display of subtle emotion is immediately followed by a mood swing or bout of pensive smoking.  Still, I dug the performance, and I view it as a great second entry in our subject’s catalog.

Final Stats
Movie Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 5 out of 10
Baldwin Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 7 out of 10
Biggest Takeaway: This explains why that dude I played hacky sack with on the quad cried when I graduated.
Quote for Your Facebook Status: “It’s rude and it’s wrong, but it’s right on the money.”

Mar 1 2010

Alec Baldwin Home School: Forever, Lulu

Alec Baldwin Cat in the Hat

"I have to go. My planet needs me."

Not too long ago, Alec Baldwin mentioned in an interview that he was retiring from acting. His exact words were:

“I consider my entire movie career a complete failure. The goal of movie-making is to star in a film where your performance drives the film, and the film is either a soaring critical or commercial success, and I never had that.”

Could this really be true? Not about the retirement, I predict he’ll pull a Dan Aykroyd in no time. I mean could Baldwin be right about his career? The guy’s been a name forever; certainly he must have turned in at least one outstanding performance.

Well, we’re going to find out in a new Critical End! feature that Logan and I are calling Home School. A Home School will be a series of posts that takes a chronological look at a group of related films. This could be a bunch of sequels like the Friday the 13th films, or the catalog of a particular actor or director. By the end, we’ll have taken an interesting little journey, obtained some perspective on the subject matter, and likely filled in some gaps in our cinematic education. All from the comfort of our couches (hence “Home School”). This inaugural installment will explore the entirety of Alec Baldwin’s catalog in an attempt to test the actor’s own hypothesis that he’s never done anything worthwhile. Join us, won’t you?

Alec Baldwin Home School: Forever, Lulu (1987)
Not to be confused with the Melanie Griffith/Patrick Swayze movie of the same name, Forever, Lulu (AKA Crazy Streets) is the 1987 comedy that marks the feature film debut of one Alec Baldwin. According to IMDb, he’d been floating around TV since 1980, most notably on Knots Landing. But since that season isn’t on DVD yet, we’re going to keep things simple and start here. Joining Alec is Debbie Harry of Blondie fame, and Hanna Schygulla, who I’d never heard of, but is apparently an incredibly well known German actress. See? We’re learning things already.

The Film
Forever, LuluSchygulla stars as Elaine, a wannabe author living in New York. Her sleazy manager won’t publish her novel because it’s not sexy enough, but she refuses to compromise her artistic vision, even though she’s down to her last nickel. She’s so destitute that she ends up taking a job writing the script for a porn movie just to make ends meet. Not a bad premise for a late 80s comedy. Except that’s apparently not the premise.

I guess she finishes the porn script off-camera, because it’s barely mentioned again. Instead, we get scene after scene of Elaine’s miserable existence. She sulks in her shitty apartment, gets grifted by a con artist, and complains about her love life to her annoying gal-pal sidekick who is NOT Debbie Harry. Occasionally, Debbie shows up in the periphery to stare knowingly and say absolutely nothing. It’s as if she’s in the talky introduction of a music video and she’s waiting for her cue to break into song.

Finally, more than 20 minutes in (and not a Baldwin in sight), Elaine grabs a gun and prepares to blow her brains out. Unfortunately, she’s interrupted by a phone call to go on a blind date. She agrees, but the date goes so poorly that she ends up running into the street, waving her gun in the air, and yelling about her crappy life. An approaching couple mistakenly thinks she’s mugging them, so they give her their coats and run. In the pockets, she finds a picture of Debbie Harry signed “Forever, Lulu” and a mysterious address.  Now, the story begins!

Alec Baldwin young and hairy

There is no visual record of "Buck", so enjoy this picture of a young Baldwin posing for Young and Hairy Quarterly.

Well, kind of. First we get several more boring scenes of Elaine whining indecisively and parading around in her stolen mink coat. Some goon recognizes the coat (I think?) and tries to mug her, but she’s rescued handily by Buck, a strapping NYC cop portrayed by, you guessed it, Alec Baldwin. We’re 28 minutes in, but our hero has finally arrived to awkwardly hit on Elaine, get rejected, and then disappear again for most of the film.

Then a bunch of other crap happens. She goes to the address, witnesses a murder, and ends up stealing a briefcase full of money from the mob. So the mob’s looking for her and she’s got to decide what to do with the cash. It’s been like 45 minutes at this point, and I THINK this is now supposed to be the real premise of the film. Except all she does is sit around and brood some more before deciding to turn the case over to the cops.

Yep, no wacky Blank Check style spending spree, she just comes clean about the whole thing. But, she’s able to turn her story into a best-selling book! Now a famous author, she hobnobs with the rich and famous in another series of long, uneventful scenes. Meanwhile, gangsters halfheartedly try to kill her, and Debbie Harry continues to drop in to stand around silently. There’s also some oddly casual nudity from Schygulla, and an appearance by Wayne Knight as a shoe-licker in a fetish club. None of this actually advances the plot.

At about an hour and 15 minutes, the mobsters finally manage to capture Elaine and…I guess demand an apology? It’s pretty damn unclear what they actually want since she already told the police everything and doesn’t have the money anymore. Anyway, they’re about to kill her when Officer Baldwin makes his triumphant return and saves the day. In the process, the picture of Debbie Harry is splashed by some clearly-labeled Paul Newman salad dressing, which reveals a secret message!

The photo actually concealed the names of the city’s biggest drug dealers. Alec instantly recognizes the names, leading me to wonder why a list of already-known drug dealers would be at all valuable. At any rate, with the three thugs dead, clearly nobody will every bother Elaine again, so she and Alec celebrate by getting it on in the back of a dirty mob-owned fish market. In the last scene, Elaine finally runs into Debbie Harry, recognizes her as Lulu, kinda shrugs at the coincidence, and walks away.

Forever Lulu: The Apple

Obviously, Alec Baldwin wasn’t yet a star, so I wasn’t that shocked that he plays a glorified bit part. But I gotta tell you, for a film with the tagline “Two outrageous women are turning New York City upside-down!” I expected a story with at least two women. Take a look at the DVD cover again. It’s a production shot from that final scene, the only notable time Debbie Harry actually interacts with Hanna Schygulla. If all those wistful glances were supposed to be significant enough to elevate Harry to co-star status, I guess that significance was lost on me. And I don’t buy that the best friend is the other woman either, as she’s mostly an afterthought.

Anyway, no one was expecting the first film in Baldwin’s catalog to validate his career, and it certainly doesn’t, but he escapes mostly unscathed. In a movie that manages to feel interminable at 85 minutes, Baldwin’s scenes are a welcome relief. This is partly because he has the good fortune of being in the few scenes that actually shove the plot forward. But it’s also due to Baldwin’s undeniable likability, a theme I’m pretty sure we’ll see repeated as we continue our voyage up his IMDb page. His performance is hammy and one-dimensional here, but you just can’t help enjoying it at least a little.

So that’s our first Home School. I promise they won’t all be so long. Next time, we’ll take a look at She’s Having a Baby, which provides a bigger role for Baldwin and a bit more opportunity for critique.

Final Stats
Movie Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆  4 out of 10
Baldwin Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆  5 out of 10
Biggest Takeaway: Hanna Schygulla is difficult to watch when clothed. Further study needed.
Quote for Your Facebook Status: “Have you ever made love to an older woman in a fish store?”