LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT

Directed by Stephen Herek. USA. 2002.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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I am constantly at the movies, (a hazard of being a film geek) and I am in a constant state of amazement at the Hollywood truism that there are extremely few well written parts for women. What's sad is that so far, in 2002, that trend is showing no signs of changing. The central figure in Life or Something Like it, certainly will not be a reversal. What's more surprising is that Angelina Jolie, the powerhouse actress portraying her, does absolutely nothing to lessen the impression left on the mind of the movie goer; that Life or Something Like It is saying that while women can be smart and strong on the outside, on the inside we're merely squishy, waiting for the right man to mosey along to save us. 

Life or Something Like It is the story of up and coming reporter Lanie Kerigan. When discovering that she is line for a major network position decides to up her chances by doing more pieces on local celebrities. Her first choice? An interview with an infamous Seattle crazy person; Prophet Jack. When asking him about any future predictions, Jack foretells that the Seattle Seahawks will win their next football game 19 to 13, that the next day (even though  meteorologists are calling for sun) it's going to hail, and in less than a week, she's going to die. 

Life Or Something....All Rights Reserved.I am befuddled by the reasoning behind Angelina Jolie ("Gia") taking this part. She has always presented herself as a model for feminine strength and power. In everything from her role as Acid Burn in Hackers,  to Mary Bell in Pushing Tin, to her animalistic Lisa in Girl, Interrupted Jolie has always been a charismatic force. Here though, the script has given her none of the smarts contained in her previous roles. Instead she's left with a part with no defined personality. One minute, Kerigan is an astute character, advancing steadily in her career. The next, she's a vacuous ninny, morphing into a completely unlikable role. Jolie does try to infuse her part with a nice theme of a person who was secure in her path in life, but is now re- examining all her values, but instead the possible perusal of the tough decisions faced by a woman who has fought to have it all, who would have had to fight for every step forward in her journalistic career, you get a role that implodes into a woman who illogically collapses into the nearest set of available male arms when a man she's never seen before, having a power she doesn't believe in, tells her she's going to die. I am sick to death of movies like this, where in order to present a woman as strong the script makes her ice cold, and unpleasant. Then to make her more attractive to the male characters in the film, they suddenly dumb her down to an unrecognizable level. Lanie Kerigan had the potential to be on par with Michelle Pfieffer's Rita Harrison (I am Sam) in terms of tough female characters to admire, but the script makes her about as resilient as a Ming vase thrown on the floor. A leap in the wrong direction for this distinctive actress.

Tony Shaloub (The Siege, TV's Stark Raving Mad) rips every scene away from his co-stars as the indigent Prophet Jack. From the moment you first see Shaloub, storming bravely through a crowd of Seattle natives, complete with tattered gloves, coat, and podium to preach from, you can't take your eyes from him. He projects a charismatic energy through his mannerisms, his eyes, and his tone of voice that simply overwhelm. Shaloub is a still unknown comic talent (as he proved in episode after episode of Stark Raving Mad. An excellent show, but no one can think of the name of it, or his co-star now. In fact try mentioning this man's name, and you'll get a response of "who?" Try mentioning one of his characters and you'll more often than not get a chuckle and a quote). You can see that ability lurking below the surface in a scene where Kerigan comes to see him to ask if he could possibly have been wrong, if he could somehow lift the death sentence he had imposed. She, being a product of a fairly sheltered environment assumes that the best way to get on his good side is to bring him a bottle of wine. As he pulls the bottle out of its' brown paper wrappings, and realizes that he is about to shatter some illusions with his next comments ("Fortified Strawberry Wine.....January 2001.....A Good Month) he seems to almost be enjoying himself a bit too much. Prophet Jack is a masterfully written plot device, that Shaloub does a effulgent job in bringing to life.

I have always adored Ed Burns (15 Minutes, Saving Private Ryan). As an actor and director he is a skillful artist, and whoever decided to place him in the role of Pete, Lanie's long suffering cameraman, saved Life or Something Like It from the vast category of the average romantic comedy/drama. The character of Pete is obviously engineered to endear itself to every available audience member, for he is:

1) Smart
2) Funny
3) Romantic
4) Talented at his job
5) Dazzlingly handsome.

Life Or Something....All Rights Reserved.Pete is a genuinely adorable role, and is well played by Burns. His every moment, from his frustration when Lanie won't be civil to him, to the desperation that envelops him when he actually allows a belief that Jack's prophecy may come true to creep into his subconscious plays as one hundred percent real. The problem here is that while Burns is playing a very sweet man, there is zilch on the romantic suspense level because he is playing the only likeable man in the film. (I am including Lanie's INCREDIBLY insensitive fiancee Cal Cooper (Christian Kane of Summer Catch, and TV's Angel in that statement). Here is another section where the script lets some potentially wonderful parts disappear, as Cal is a role that could have been taken in a million different ways in terms of constructing a character with some depth, watching as his love slips away from him, but he is made unlikeable so that the audience will start mentally pushing for Lanie to leave him, and move on to Pete. The fact that in order to match Jolie's lack of energy Burns had to tone his performance down, coupled with no romantic chemistry between Lanie and Pete, makes this a good, but subpar performance for him. Anyone interested in seeing what this actor can really do should rent The Brothers MacMullen.

Angelina Jolie is, in fact a force. In thinking about it though, she has only ever been a force in supporting roles. In almost every performance she is elevated by leading actors with more focused fortitude than she; in Hackers she had Johnny Lee Miller, in Girl, Interrupted  she had Winona Ryder, in Playing God Timothy Hutton was there to up the drive in each scene. I think that the reason Jolie couldn't carry either The Bone Collector, or Life or Something Like It is because though she is a dynamic supporting player, her power is not as channeled as those actors working with her; more in fact going everywhere at once, and as that old saying goes, those who go everywhere at once, go nowhere at all. For Shaloub and Burns I will recommend a rent, but there's no reason to spend big bucks to watch this on the big screen.

Jen Johnston
 
 
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