Sunday, October 30, 2011

“Ides of March”: Marisa Tomei, Ryan Gosling, Cincinnati, etc.

Marisa Tomei
as the news reporter
      Marisa Tomei is America’s best film character actress right now and that opinion is backed up by the range she’s demonstrated in The Wrestler as a conflicted, but compassionate, 40-something stripper, in Crazy, Stupid Love as a wild, intelligent 30-something middle school teacher, and now in Ides of March as a 50-something whip smart, New York Jewish newspaper reporter covering a Democratic presidential primary in Ohio.  Without much make up, she transforms her body, accent, manner, and social class.  She’s the type of performer that I long to see once I know she’s in something – it’s akin to Eve Arden in her film roles, though she didn’t have a range, but rather had a bottomless comic attitude, or
Stockard Channing because she has a range and she’s always grounded in common sense.  Anika Noni Rose occupies a similar position on TV right now after terrific turns in The Good Wife and Law and Order:  SVU.  When will she get her own show or a permanent co-starring role?  Tomei has a complex rapport with Ryan Gosling in Ides of March and their scenes are the best in the movie.  Actually, Gosling also has an excellent scene with George Clooney (that’s only one scene, however) in which he has to decide whether he’ll make a Faustian pact or not.

George Clooney with Evan Rachel Wood and Ryan Gosling
at The Strand nightclub in Mount Lookout.
Photo credit: Saeed Advani
      Cincinnati and northern Kentucky look great in the film but then, after thanking their film commissions, the final credits list “Filmed in Michigan”.  What?   Did Michigan pay for the shout out?  Were the interior scenes shot in Michigan on sound stages?  What gives?  David Letterman even mentioned Cincinnati on his interview with Clooney, but nothing about Michigan was broached in their conversation.  Some of the area’s details were amusing in which institutions are named for real (did they pay?) like Xavier University and the Millennium Hotel, but Dayton Community College (a stand in for Sinclair Community College?) and the University of Ohio (OU maybe?  OSU?) do not exist.  However, Miami University in Oxford, OH is used extensively as are interior scenes of Cincinnati.  Again, where is Michigan?  

      The conundrum for members of the twilight (literally and late middle-aged metaphorically) audience with whom we saw the movie was the abrupt, confusing ending.  Actually, it makes complete sense and was set up in the scenes between Gosling and Paul Giamatti (as a rival campaign manager) and then with Clooney.  The audience just didn’t like what it said because, I guess, pragmatism won out over idealism.  Did they forget they were seeing a movie about American politics? 
      Otherwise, the film is good when I know that people in this area were hoping it would be the movie of the year.  The cinematography and music are especially sharp and are more original and compelling than the thin storyline.  It’s based on the play Farragut North, where Clooney’s character as an incumbent governor who is the favorite to win the nomination is never seen, and it would work better if it had followed that pattern.  I’m surprised Joe Klein hasn’t sued since it seems a clear retread of Primary Colors, but without the complexity or the depth.  There’s nothing akin to the ambiguities and charisma that John Travolta and Emma Thompson brought to their roles or the tragedy of failed idealism replaced by cynicism, madness, and despair that Kathy Bates could embody in her character.  Most of the American electorate realizes that Democratic candidates will screw up by screwing around whereas Republican candidates will be revealed as hypocritical closet cases or metaphorically in bed with very shady financial wheeler-dealers.  Therefore, there isn’t much to be shocked about.

      Ides of March must be intended ironically as a title since the operatives aren’t about to take out their Caesar, but are motivated to prop him up and cut their own idealistic or professional wrists in the process.  The most surprising moment was when a twenty year old female says she’s “in trouble” and asks a thirty year old male for $900 and he doesn’t understand that she intends the money for an abortion.  Really?  Is it 1950?  No, it can’t be since the unbelievably foul (and unnecessary) language anchors us in the adolescent contemporary world.  That’s the other reason Marisa Tomei stands out:  she plays the only adult in the movie.

I know Cincinnati, and that sure wasn't Michigan!

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