Saturday, 5 January 2013

Let’s make a man out of you; or, Former Teen Hearththrobs and their 2012 film

…Musings on The Paperboy and Cosmopolis

Not to engage in some form of how hard it is to be a star, but it's a fair point to consider the difficulty it poses to being an "actor". One of the drawbacks of headlining a commercially successfully, teen-focused franchise is that your name becomes inextricably linked with that “star making” turn and sometimes the audience – and oftentimes, the critics – don’t, or won’t allow you to rise above it. What comes with any young actors journey towards maturity is a hope of shedding that first skin and what better way than a newer star turn, one which is immediately at odds with the personas they’ve historically come to embody? That seems to be the most obvious way of subverting the image the public has of you. But in 2012 Pattinson and Efron do something different and even more intriguing in their quest to reinvent themselves as actors.
Both gents are actors with a specific set of skills which is not to say that they are bad actors (they're not), but they have their palpable limits. Taking into account their perceived public personas as performers (inculcated by the indelible impression their High School Musical and Twilight turns have left on the world) both Pattinson and Efron are lucky to have films which use their acknowledged cadence while still being significant signposts in their journey towards actorly maturity. As different as Cosmopolis and The Paperboy are (one sweaty and lurid, the other chilly and stark) both employ a wily extension of both Pattinson and Efron’s star images making them work for the specific conceits of their respective films to (mostly) good results…

Ruminations on the two films ahead…

Cold, cold Art 
directed and written by David Cronenberg

The very nature of Pattinson’s appeal as Cullen rested on his ability to embody cold aloofness to the point of being almost repulsive. Of course, it does pay to point out the obvious, Twilight and Cosmopolis are too grossly different beasts. But it does also bear pointing out that Pattinson utilised many of the same avenues to create both characters turning Cosmopolis - already a criticism of so much – into a criticism of more. Whereas the employment of the frosty deportment in Twilight was a window towards something romantically mysterious, some perverse take on a Mr. Rochester type if you will; the entire semblance of Erick Packer in Cosmopolis is that aloofness – icy coldness within and without. On a single day in New York, the unfathomably rich Eric journeys through the city in his limousine, ostensibly searching for a barber and engaging with various important people in his life. That is, essentially, all of Cosmopolis although that isn’t really what it’s about if you follow.

It’s about capitalism and not so much a critique of capitalism as it is an assault on capitalism. As Tim Brayton points out in his review why Pattinson makes perfect sense as the centre for it all is “his chief point of interest as an actor to date has been his inflexible lack of affect, and given that putting someone famous primarily for being famous and rich for doing very little fits so perfectly into a movie where pop culture and enormous wealth are so endlessly mocked as they are here.” It is at once a plum role and a frustrating one, because in many ways, or at least in the ways that count most, Cosmopolis is that 2012 film which is most resolutely soldered to the perception of its lead character. This gives Pattinson the key chance to truly lead a film. But, it’s a crutch in itself when Eric Packer, the man, is so inscrutable to the point that it would only work if it leaves you cold. So, even as Pattinson is in some key ways hailing back to his Cullen persona it’s not to say he’s giving a poor performance. For, as I’ve said, Cosmopolis cannot work without its lead character, and the film does work. Mostly.
Cronenberg seems resolutely aware of what he wants to do and he’s much too cunning to not be able to achieve it. For if there’s only one thing going for Cosmopolis it’s the deafening self-awareness of the entire vehicle. Its limousine is an easy symbol of a castle where the seat represents Eric’s would-be-throne and his guests along the way are the subjects he condescends to from his dais. The guests don't get very much to do (although they all are eclectic - Morton, Gadon and Giammati particularly and in that order). The very aesthetic of it all – claustrophobic, dun, foisted – is meticulously in keeping with his point of “in addition to be hollow, rich people are dull, ain’t they?” And, Cronenberg is more interested in resolutely making his point than in condescending to the audience. And, still, the movie is hardly – or, at least not, completely – claustrophobic. The film (and its star) employs a self-effacing humour still in keeping with its detachment, but still entertaining nonetheless. And, I use “entertaining” with some trepidation because Cosmopolis is, perhaps, one of those text-book cases of being admirable but implacable and it raises the bar by being doggedly keeping you at arms’ length. Therein it might be easy to fault Pattinson for not making that connection with the audience but when Cronenberg has tailored this vehicle so well to his sensibilities and limitations (although the superior actor, I struggle to imagine the explosive Farrell in the role) complaining seems futile. I can’t say it’s a deliberately bad movie (it’s not even bad), but I feel it does just what it sets out to, inasmuch as what it sets out isn’t wholly satisfying.

...and stray thoughts on The Paperboy below the jump....

Le Trash Hot
directed and written by Lee Daniels

Now, consider the cold steeliness of Cosmopolis opposite the sudsy, smarminess/sexiness/excessiveness/decadence of The Paperboy. Then, consider the aloofness on which Pattinson’s star is built opposite the warmth and geniality on which Efron’s is. In many ways Jack Jacksen is simply an extension of the things that define his Efron's persona – charming jock with a somewhat sensitive side, an ardent romantic side and a penchant for low-rung existentialist musings. Except, here, he’s all of those but viewed through an exceedingly sexualised lens to the point of being a deity. Efron has it harder than Pattinson immediately. For one, audiences seem predisposed to considering males acting aloof and cold as more impressive than males acting sensitive and gaudy. Additionally, Cosmpolis is so firmly constructed around the persona of its protagonist that it’s difficult – impossible, even – to dun his light. The Paperboy is not about Jack. Or not solely about Jack. So, even as he is the main vessel through which everything refracts he’s not always central.

Even if the film’s payoff can be viewed as something of a coming of age for our young romantic it’s not about him. It’s about resident beautician Charlotte Bless and one of the convicted murderers’ she takes up with in her life-long mashocistic quest for pleasure (?) or something of the ilk. Except it’s not really about that is it? Because, it’s probably more about how Charlotte enlists two journalists (one of them Jack’s older brother) to help her prove that her murderer (to whom she is betrothed) is actually innocent. Yes, The Paperboy is about a great deal many things which is why its wildness is so plausible but essential. In a year of much overhead monologue The Paperboy justifies its own the best (even more than “better” films). Daniels’ debt to Brechtian theatre moves from the vague to the palpable – perfectly encapsulated in a scene in the middle where our narrator fast forwards through a sex scene that we ALL want to see, playfully teasing the audience by making us aware of the "story". And, really, the silly, fun, garish ways of the film’s first two thirds should undermine the hypertensive thriller it seems aimed at becoming in the final stretch but impugning it for its overreaching instensity seems problematic when the entire thing is so very affective. And, even as he battles with a cast of performers intent on doing good to great things (Kidman and Gray particularly turn in tour-de-force performances) Efron is very effective.
I suspect that in the same self-aware way of Cronenberg with Cosmopolis, Daniels is knowledgeable about just how much leeway he’s given himself to justify the luridness of The Paperboy. Because of the immediate conceit of that narrator we’re presented with at the start when everything begins to spiral out of control it’s plausible to return to the initial conceit and feel less affronted. It goes thus, that, because of the vivid fun of the film’s first two third, by the time it pivots on its heels and becomes something different (but completely different) in that closing third you’ve already been seduced by everything about it so you can’t help but be moved. It’s probably dangerous to consider something this messy as being meticulously made, but I feel it would be dangerous not to at least consider that Daniels is in firm control of his tale and his young star and he means for it to be messy. And, Efron is so game that even if you’re not buying his performance (which I am) you have to buy the commitment.

And, in that way, both Cosmopolis and The Paperboy, though opposing forces, operate on same levels for me. Both succeed in differing ways (Cosmopolis proficient in its camerawork, The Paperboy especially on-point with its performers and its music). The mood evoked by Cronenberg and Daniels is the key to appreciating their films – the former leaves you feeling despondent and dismal, the former leaves you feeling aroused and revolted, sometimes in the same scene – and the window to both films is the young rising star at centre (or near centre, in Efron’s case). It would be disingenuous to say that I’m salivating waiting on their next respective projects but I’m always pleased to watch actors grow and it’s unfair to deny that the two have made conscious efforts in furthering their talents in the most resourceful of ways.

Although critics have been kinder to Cosmopolis both films seemed to have been flown under the radar somewhat. A shame, they both have much to offer. Do you agree?


Squasher88 said...

You just nailed it with that analysis of The Paperboy. Zac Efron impressed me as well.

I love this part - "...perfectly encapsulated in a scene in the middle where our narrator fast forwards through a sex scene that we ALL want to see."

This movie just radiates sexual heat. Nicole Kidman is so damn good in this, as is everyone else in the cast. I do feel like the cinematography, writing and direction let them down a bit though. It felt like it consciously wanted to be a "good B-movie", when it actually had the potential to be a legitimately good movie.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

shane i don't have specific qualms with daniel's directing or writing (i like the latter more than the former) and there are so many great interspersed with the deliberately seedy ones it ended up not being as much of an issue as it could have been for me.

also, yes, nicole and the cast are in fine form. how great is macy?