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Caffeinated Clint : This time it’s Personal

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“Personal Effects”, a confronting little movie featuring fearless performances by Michelle Pfeiffer and – not shitting ya, he was actually good in this thing – Ashton Kutcher, is apparently too ‘depressing’ for theater audiences. As a consequence, says EW, the two-hander is headed straight to the ‘Drama’ shelf at Blockbuster. And I tell ya, that’s Debra-Winger-dying-at-the-end-of-Terms-of-Endearment sad.

Something like “Make it Happen”, or “Meet the Spartans”, or even “”, gets a wide-release at cinemas (two films that actually deserved little more than the direct-to-video treatment), and yet a genuinely good movie, one that offers an intriguing and grounded story, not to mention two good performances, gets dumped? My head’s bleeding from scratching it too much.

EW points out that this is the second film in twelve months to go direct-to-video for the former Catwoman – who, at one stage, was one of the highest-paid and most popular movie stars in the world. Pfeiffer’s last pic, the Amy Heckerling-directed comedy “I Could Never Be Your Woman”, premiered at stores last year, after sitting on the shelf for two or three years. Though no gem, that one deserved more than the pretend-it-never-happened treatment too.

I’m disgusted Hollywood doesn’t see the potential in a Michelle Pfeiffer-vehicle these days. “Personal Effects” isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s a good picture – and I believe there’s an audience for it out there beyond a sweaty fat guy with a penchant for pausing the picture whenever the lovely Ms Pfeiffer bends over. So why is it getting this shoddy treatment? Is the-foxiest-Batman-villain-ever now considered too old for the pimply 19-year-old execs that are making most of these decisions? Does she not do it for them like Miley does? Or is it as simple as, ‘No monsters or Seth Rogen? Then no, you’re going to direct to DVD, Mich.’ To be a fly-on-the-wall, I tell ya…

“Doesn’t much matter if it’s a good movie or a bad movie, Clint” one distributor tells me via email, “They probably just didn’t think Michelle was enough of a draw-card. The sad truth of it is, they generally only release films for young people now. Gran Torino was a big exception. If you’re going to make a movie, make sure it’s packed with pretty faces, has lots of pop music, and doesn’t have too serious a storyline.  There’s obviously exceptions, like No Country for Old Men or Crash, but you’ll notice those movies didn’t really get a good push until they were nominated for Awards. It actually took someone else recognizing how good they were before the studio’s decided to push them”.

According to director David Hollander, talking to Cinema Blend, the original intention – not surprisingly – was for the film to go to cinemas, but unfortunately someone thought ‘Blockbuster’ would be a good home before he even had his say.

”I didn’t finish the film to be seen until September. By that time, the television rights had already been sold to Lifetime. Then in October, the financers took the film to AFM [the American Film Market], and just decided tot ry to sell it there. With that point soon after AFM, the Blockbuster deal was struck. Once Blockbuster and the TV rights and foreign had come together, the film was pretty much destined to have very little distirbution. Blockbuster does not distribute films, Lifetime does not distribute films. The cart was in front of the horse in the distribution model. ”

Hollander says the financers fucked the film – and it’s not unusual.

”It’s very common. It’s more and more common today. If a film financer is making a film for theatrical release and that’s the goal and the model of their business, then they are willing to tolerate some of the risks. Insight [Film Studios, the production company] as a company is not that model. That’s me, that’s my naivete. if it look at the history of Insight, that’s not what they do. We hoped it would be a different result. As I look around at the environment, a lot of films are having a hard time finding distribution.”

As I said, this isn’t a fantastic movie – in fact, it’s a bit of a mess at times – but the performances are superb. I especially liked Kutcher in this film.

In “Effects”, the Twitter-bug plays a despondent small-town loner, stuck doing dead-end jobs, whose forced to decide between reigniting the career he believes he could have sans distractions, or staying put with the older woman he’s fallen head over heels in love with.

And who says art don’t imitate life to a tee in the movies?

Kutcher is incredibly good in “Personal Effects” and it could be because he’s playing someone not too far removed from himself. His forlorn Walter may be appreciably less chipper than the disreputably hot-wired young actor, but he’s also someone whose found himself irrefutably attracted to an older woman (in the film, it’s Michelle Pfeiffer, in real life, it’s Demi Moore) – and someone whose career might suffer as a result of the tryst (well, you haven’t seen much of the boy of late, have you? Is he too busy making school lunches?). Kutcher’s had to make some crucial decisions over the past few years, and it reflects in his seemingly wearing performance here. And those this isn’t so much a movie about finger-pointing and defying the odds, it’s definitely a feature that, as a whole, would’ve hit home with the actor. He’s bought a lot of himself to the movie and it plays better because of that.
Writer/director David Hollander’s film tells of two grieving people, 24-year-old Walter (Kutcher) and the ‘much older’ Linda (Michelle Pfeiffer), who hook up after meeting in a counselling class. He’s a championship wrestler who has returned home to support his mother and niece after his sister’s murder. She’s a widow whose last husband was murdered in cold blood by someone they knew. She’s been left to raise their deaf son alone, he’s been forced to dress up in a chicken costume to make ends meet. Needless to say, they’re both in need of a cuddle and constant companionship.

Kutcher and Pfeiffer (in her second movie of recent times that’s seen her play an older woman
who falls in love with a younger man – the other being the abovementioned “I Could Never Be Your Woman” with Paul Rudd) work well together here. The sparks mightn’t be flying off the screen, and there’s nothing very ‘hot’ about their on-screen relationship, but as a couple they do seem to work.
Pfeiffer, needless to say, is as good as ever. She may have even have forced Kutcher to lift his game. He’s not required to do a lot in this fluffy studio comedies he’s usually to be found in – well, besides, shout and bounce around a lot – so pulling back, letting it out, and letting his fists clench automatically would’ve been a stretch. She’s so divine though – and still as beautiful as ever – that what man wouldn’t want to be his best, and give it his all, around her?

Well, Hollander for one. He’s the weak link. His characters don’t evolve as much as the audience would like them to, and there’s a few loose ends that aren’t tied up by film’s end. He also seems a bit unsure as to what movie he’s trying to make – does he want “Random Hearts”? or is he after “Up Close and Personal” with a dash of Clint Eastwood’s latest in there? Hollander’s been working in TV drama’s – largely the short-lived “Heartland”, a doctor drama starring Treat Williams as a despondent surgeon – and he’s treated this a little bit like one of an episode of one of those shows. It’s not that he goes histrionic, or sinks too much into hokey soap land, but he might be trying to do much in too short a time…. Like writers tend to do when they’re trying to sell an audience on a pilot (the more going on, the merrier in that case). It needed to be a bit more organic. One minute it’s a relationship drama about two people at different stages in their lives, the next it’s flashing back to the courtroom – to pick up the story of the murdered sister.

The performances save it from being too messy an affair though – and as I said, this is a showcase for Kutcher, as well as a reminder that Michelle Pfeiffer’s still one of the best actresses working in Hollywood today.

Look, this isn’t a very uplifting movie, and in fact, like “Gran Torino”, might actually lead to an increase in pill prescriptions just because it’s so damn depressing (and real) at times. There is a bit of a light at the end of this one’s tunnel, but it’s not a blinding one. And that just another reminder of how real Hollander wants this thing to play…. Pity Hollywood don’t like ‘real’.

Guess you’ll have to try and convince them to let you into the “Hairspray” sequel, Michelle?

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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