Films I Neglected To Review: Legally BlandBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/15/19 12:06:20
Please enjoy short reviews of "Isn't It Romantic" and "Lorena."
Movies commenting on the specific cliches and tropes of a particular genre are nothing especially new--Woody Allen did it to absolutely perfect effect with his sublime masterpiece ''The Purple Rose of Cairo''--and lord knows that the rom-com has more than its fair share of gimmicks that people love to mock when the films donít work but swoon over when they do. The problem with ''Isn't It Romantic'' is that it is almost never as smart and clever as it clearly thinks itself to be. The cliches that it mocks are the most obvious ones and while a couple of the jokes are funny (such as the observations regarding the borderline offensive nature of the obligatory gay best pal), too many of them find the filmmakers swinging at extremely low-hanging fruit and still not always making contact. A bigger and more mystifying problem is that, presumably in order to not totally alienate the devoted rom-com fan base that might not take to having their favorite genre brutally skewered, the film makes a bizarre turn in the second half so that a story that starts off by mocking cliched and implausible romantic comedies winds up becoming a perfect example of the very thing that it is ostensibly ridiculing. The actors are all game enough but not even their collective charms can help move things along and towards the end, their efforts have pretty much gone to waste. As an incisive and humorous look as to the narrative follies of the contemporary romantic comedy and why people still buy into them nevertheless, ''Isnít It Romantic'' is slightly less incisive than what you might after watching ''13 Going On 30'' from your sofa in the company of your BFFs and a bag of Oreos.
And yet, this film argues, the problem with all of that coverage is that most people observing the case--from the members of the legal system to the media to viewers lapping up every salacious detail in the tabloids--were so hung up with the details of what Lorena did to John (especially in regards to the retrieval, reattachment and subsequent life of the penis in question) that they never really gave much thought to the question of why she did what she did. Mass public awareness of domestic violence and sexual abuse against women was definitely not taken very seriously back in 1993 (the era of Tailhook, Anita Hill and the William Kennedy Smith rape trial) and even though plenty of women testified as to the ongoing stream of abuse that Lorena suffered, this seemingly key aspect was just shrugged off in order to pursue a narrative of a hot-blooded woman who snapped and did the worst thing that someone could do to a man--literally assault his manhood. (The local cops seems far more interested in recovering the severed penis than in any other part of the investigation.) Even this film, which is resolutely in Lorena's favor for the most part (though it does try to slightly humanize John towards the very end through some revelations about his own past), succumbs to this in a way by spending way too little time exploring how she went on after the turmoil to piece her life back together eventually develop a foundation to support victims of domestic violence while going long on John Wayne's increasingly embarrassing attempts to stay in the limelight, a gross roller-coaster that included financial mismanagement, a short-lived porn career, a botched penile enlargement surgery and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a stay in prison for battering a former fiancee. For the most part, however, ''Lorena'' is a smart and unsparing work that takes viewers far beyond the tacky headlines to explore the genuinely serious issues behind a saga that many wrote off as a joke in order to show us how far we have come in the last quarter-century in dealing with the once-taboos topics of domestic abuse and sexual violence against women and how very far we still have to go in those very same regards.
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