It was the perfect honeymoon…until it began!
It's hard to be the odd man out on any generally agreed upon idea. You know, the weirdo, the whack job, the puffy red lobster tourist wandering amongst the tanned natives of a tropical locale. The sore thumb's quality to stick out, be it for good or for bad, is something people usually don't champion. They long to be part of the crowd, one of the guys, a member of the Pepsi generation, to baa with the sheep and swing with the other monkeys in all their group groping, nit picking, poo flinging glory. But like elemental chaos theory, in which the unique actions of one can cause a rippling effect that disrupts the very fabric of existence elsewhere (or at least which makes Jeff Goldblum sound less shallow), there are times when one does need to rise up above the crowd and fend for themselves, damned the consequences or ridicule. Personal integrity is just that, an individualized ethos. If someone enjoys the bracing flavor of Orange Julius, who are we to challenge their mental or culinary mantle. Like the lone lighthouse at the edge of the world, one should stand against the squall, to brave the lambasting that will come there way when they open their critical yap to speak. After all, a bitchin' man's gotta do what a bitchin' man's gotta do. And so let it be said and let it be heard. Let the mind's boggle and the wigwam's weep. This critic actually enjoyed Just Married. The seismic shockwaves have commenced.
Facts of the Case
Tom is an athletics obsessed goofball who works as an off-shift traffic talker for a local radio station. His dream is to be a sports reporter. Sarah is the free spirit black sheep of a rich family who is known for her impulsive, spontaneous personality. They meet when a football Tom has thrown congregates on Sarah's surf jogging forehead. A whirlwind relationship later and Tom is ready to meet Sarah's snotty family to announce their wedding plans. The family, of course, is flabbergasted. They always thought that Sarah would wise up, settle down, and marry family kiss up Peter Pringle. Instead, the wedding goes off as planned and Tom and Sarah head for Europe.
Aboard the plane, they try to have sex in the bathroom. Hijinks ensue. When they rent a car in France, it turns out to be a tiny yellow box on wheels. Hijinks ensue. They stay in a ritzy castle/hotel high in the Alps. Hijinks ensue. They then travel to Venice and stay at a nasty hovel. Hijinks ensue. Thanks to Sarah's family, they transfer to a swanky hotel on the canals. Hijinks ensue. They try to sightsee. Hijinks ensue. Peter mysteriously shows up to try and re-start a relationship with Sarah. Hijinks ensue. The couple argues and fights. Anger and hurt feelings ensue. They leave Europe and break off the marriage.
After they get back, Tom realizes how much he loves Sarah. He goes to her house to win her back. The family will not let him in. He makes an impassioned plea over the video surveillance monitor. Sarah sees it. Is it enough to prevail him in the chambers of her heart? Or was this mixed matched couple doomed to divorce court from the start?
Maybe it was the human alchemy between the leads. Maybe it was the message of love conquering all problems. Maybe it was the tiny dog that grunted like a bacon ready piglet. Maybe it was the case of Schlitz Malt Liquor. Or perhaps it was the fact that the movie was made available as a free screener to watch in the splendor of one's abode where the motto "no shirt, no shoes, no shorts, no sense—no biggie" seems apropos. Whatever it was, after about 91 minutes (not counting the strange Sixpence None the Richer style ending song that played over the scroll of fame/shame credits), your loyal critic, your DVD reviewer, your iceman of exploitation and bad cinema surety, found himself with a goofy smile on his face, entertainment centers slightly excited. Just Married had just ended and he felt just peachy. Now, someone could logically argue that a person who spends their days watching every known piece of off-title DVD independent gangsta and grandstanding crap released by Artisan and companies of their ilk would be so starved for anything remotely resembling a real live Hollywood movie that they'd latch onto Just Married's tame teat and suckle away like a starved "Ethranopeon." Others would swear that your loyal reviewing servant has simply jumped the tracks on his train of thought, lost sight of reality, and has been taken in by a true gussied up, empty headed and harlot at heart tramp of a motion picture. Still, there no denying the fact that he enjoyed some aspect of this movie. To figure out what is going to take some detailed dissection.
For you see, Just Married is not by any far stretch of the imagination a great film. It's hardly even a good film. As a matter of fact, it's barely a movie at all, since it's made up of meet-cute moments, unbelievable coincidences, outrageous implausibilities, a couple of gross out gags, numerous bad slapstick and head trauma instances, and a lot of Hallmark card level love language. Mix those in a margarita and drink it, and you're bound to spend the next few hours projectile vomiting into your local "porcelain" public address system. And yet, for some reason, even when meted out in occasionally grating vignettes that fail to make up a continuous narrative flow and only sporadically bring the viewer to the point of chuckling, Just Married works. By some heretofore-unknown force, be it accurate marketing, actor recognizability, or circumstantial familiarity, the bad joke names and ethnic stereotypes are briefly pushed to the background and something remotely amusing and almost enjoyable occurs. Via the magic of the Hollywood high concept, this marginal movie rises up on its hind legs and begs for attention. And it gets it in occasionally non-annoying liva-snaps. Maybe there is something deeper, more ethereal at play here. There must be something beyond the rote star-crossed lovers each from the wrong side of the plot arc storyline being re-explored here for the umpteenth time. Perhaps the one and only reason that Just Married functions at all is because of the palpable, visceral chemistry between its stars.
There is no denying that one of the most annoying images to come out of film in the last ten years was the drugged out dirty street naïf Elisabeth Burrows, essayed by Ms. Brittany Murphy in the sordid saga Don't Say a Word. Lying filthily on a bed and baby-talking the line "I'll never tell," if ever a moment in cinematic time required a sense of corporal punishment, it's that pigpen pixie taunting the lead talent with her "I know something I won't tell" mantra. Add on top of this the morose moaning of Ms. Brit as Marshal Mathers' more than understanding girlfriend in 8 Mile, and you have just the tip of a career iceberg that threatens to scuttle any chance one would have enjoying her acting. Just look at Summer Catch (Freddie Prinze Jr.—ARGH!), Girl, Interrupted (Winona and Angelina—YIKES!), or King of the Hill (zzzzzzzz). But something odd happens in Just Married, something you don't expect from this dwarfish ditz. Somehow, be it the proper alignment of the stars or a momentary lapse into gift, Brittany Murphy makes a magical transformation from bleached blonde chipmunk into a wonderfully unconventional ingénue. Her decidedly odd, post-electroshock therapy look goes from scary to silly and she unpredictably has comic timing and quirky girl appeal out the ying yang. There are several scenes that just "click" because of the way Brittany handles them. Far from being a perfect presence in the film, her Sarah makes an interesting, engaging target for jock joke Tom: not quite ideal, but just wrong enough to be of some interest.
On the leading man side, we have another chronicle altogether. There is something really "wrong" with That '70s Show, and it's not the idea of nostalgia for the pot partying, disco ballin' polyester predominant decade being crammed into the Happy Days / Laverne and Shirley School of Selective Memory. No, the real issue with this way off the mark misstep of a comedy is its cast, specifically the blitzed out bozo Kelso played by our hero here, Ashton Kutcher. In '70s, Ash doesn't know a line reading he can't bray at the top of his lungs like a wounded walrus. He hurls his body around like Jerry Lewis without an ego and basically hopes that grating will somehow lead to ingratiating without the necessary addition of vowels, consonants, and talent. But then again, time and distance away from Fox has provided Kutcher with a means of rehabilitating his image. On MTV his precisely targeting celebrity prank show Punk'd delivers a more mature, more focused Ashton, complete with a nasty wit and a wide range of faux emotions (usually provided to sell the scam). Even Dude, Where's My Car?, which purposefully traded on his Kelso cretinism, generates a more rounded reality for Kutcher than his primetime TV gig. So maybe this is why his Tom is such an acceptable schlub in Just Married. At only about 20% Kelso, the rest being a combination of practical and romantic joker, Kutcher sells you on the love he has for Sarah. He plays innocent puppy passion perfectly and actually makes you feel Tom's pain without relying on a pratfall or incredibly idiotic double take.
And so lame, uninvolving slapstick aside (a good rule of thumb—if onscreen physical pain looks spiteful, you probably won't be laughing) and obvious visual jokes discounted (a car the size of a Shetland pony is funny—once or twice), the reason that Just Married works is the chemistry, the obvious biological lust and lure that Kutcher and Murphy have for each other. When faced with this mess of a movie, your average reviewing schmoe merely argues "film sucked" and goes back along their merry way to the research library (AKA the Internet) for some additional support for their supposition that the film work of Allen and Rossi has its basis in Japanese folklore. A more suspicious critic peels back the layers, through the dildo and vagina jokes (one each), outside of the sad sack ex-boyfriend stalker stuff (dull and derivative), and around the culture vs. clutter personal dynamic (is there really anything wrong with liking sports more than art, or visa versa?) and discovers the core of why, even when, you aren't laughing or even smiling, you still buy this movie as a piece of ersatz entertainment. Remember that last line; there is no guarantee you will snicker or even smirk at this mostly unfunny field trip into formulaic film behavior. But this critic, this sucker, this dupe, asks you to simply watch the work of Kutcher and Murphy here and see if you too don't get caught up in the cow eyed affection and obvious sexual sparks these two give off. At its very center, Just Married wishes to be a romantic comedy for a new generation, one removed from the suave gentile goading of Cary Grant and Doris Day and plugged directly into the Elimidate / Real World idea of lewd lightning crashes of lust. Just Married hankers for the emotion between Sarah and Tom to explode all over the people and events that would conspire to keep them apart. And thanks to the magic manifested between Ash and Britt, it combusts in bundles.
For at its heart, Just Married is a film about making believers out of those who lost their starry-eyed romanticism around 1968's mandate of free love. It's about regaining the notion of human commitment in a world that allows for quickie divorces and drive-through nuptials. It's about watching two young people discovering and developing that limitless tie that binds two souls together. It's about love in bloom over and around the cynicism and short attention span of the modern individual. While it tries to advertise itself as a bone break belly laugh fish out of Gulf Stream waters story, what Just Married really confirms is the power of personality to overcome even the greatest cinematic blunders of lame script with rote direction. It radiates a devotional energy between two actors that is believable, visible, and real. This critic never once laughed at the object to forehead or forehead to proboscis humor. This critic never once bought the stuffed suit as possible suitor subplot of practically perfect Peter Prentiss. He never understood why Sarah's mother was named after a cat and/or female reproductive organ and he found most of the faux foreign actors to be oddly flat and faceless. Okay, he giggled at the grunting pig-dog once. And he also thought the line about a fire poker up the ass was pretty hilarious. But the main reason why this movie is getting a recommendation, not a flat out rejection, is because this commentator can see a little of his own courtship in this cornball tale of overcoming universal odds for love. No, he never tried to plug an oversized steely dan into a European wall socket. But he does love his wife of nearly 18 years as much as he did when he was Just Married. Maybe more so.
Presented by 20th Century Fox in a flip disc, pan and scan/widescreen offering, Just Married gets a rather royal treatment for a movie most critics consider to be pond scum. If there is an obvious choice for viewing version, the widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio wins out. In full screen, this looks like a special travelogue episode of Saved by the Wedding Belle. In letterbox, the awe-inspiring vistas of the Alps and the gorgeous Venice locations come to life in breathtaking grandeur. You don't lose much compositionally watching Just Married in full screen except your license for being a movie buff. As for sonic surroundings, the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround is wonderfully evocative and immersive, using the ambience of the foreign locations to really round out the overall landscape luxury. The channels may not be in for a fast and furious action exercise, but they do preserve many wonderful multi-faceted on screen moments. On the bonus side, we get various extras like deleted scenes (with and without commentary), trailers (oddly enough even for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), a three minute studio puff piece wrongly labeled a "making of" featurette, and a weird episode of the Comedy Central show Reel Comedy, featuring Ashton and Brittany being grilled by a raving Mario Cantone about their newlywed status in a kind of gay Bob Eubanks manner. By far the best extra is the full-length audio commentary featuring the two leads and director Shawn Levy. While the filmmaker controls most of the discussion and offers the best production insights (only nine days of filming in Europe, most of the movie was shot at night to compensate for Kutcher's '70s day job), they all offer warm platitudes and praise for the work here. Again, it sounds silly to hear the participants call this a classic comedy that people will visit lovingly years from now, but it's their digital dime; they can spend it how they like.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only thing in this world aside from beets and head cheese that can be as bad as it wants to be and still get some manner of respect for it is Dennis Rodman, and even his 15 minutes of mental instability and shock value are dissipating like silly sand in the hourglass. Just Married is, to coin a rather Madison Avenue style soundbite, Just Shitty! It cannot tell a cohesive story even if you applied the epoxy that 67.23% of the time holds the heat shields to the bottom of the Space Shuttle securely. It's main stars are moments away from evaporating into the atmosphere of real entertainment entities in their lightweight, TV sitcom style personalities and personas. There is no consistent tone, unless you call haphazardly moving from physical shtick to romantic interlude to ridiculous sex gag unswerving. And worse, it sells itself as a sickeningly sweet slice of overly sentimental pap, hoping to hide its hidden anti-compatibility agenda in the doe eyes of Brittany Murphy and the clueless clunk-skull of Ass-ton Kutcher. Apparently, as long as our lovebirds look longingly enough in each other's general direction, we will experience a passion beyond all time and space. Instead, we get the distinct impression that each of our lover leads are merely measuring each other up, wondering what a post-production attack of the paramours would do/undo in their career. Just Married is just plain horrible. Some people are absolute romantic saps.
Rotten Tomatoes, that website which reduces critical analysis to a statistical blip on the entertainment news map, lists Just Married as "rotten," having achieved an unfathomably low 19% endorsement rating (76 out of 94 approved RT reviewers think this movie bites bug butt). The majority of the online brethren bothering to give this disc a spin find it to be the cinematic equivalent of leprosy of the groin. Run over to Amazon.com and read rave after teeny bopper rave, all spelled in a Prince clever number and letter abbreviated cuneiform that, somehow, denotes the death of the written word as we know it. And the Internet Movie Database, that verbose voice box of the common bulletin board contributor, splits the difference, awarding the film five stars based on nearly 1,400 online votes. But it's been said before (and is the basis for the entire review here) that movies are a personal experience. People can be bored or breathtaken by works as divergent as 2001, Armageddon, or Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead. One man's masterwork is another's undeniable piece of celluloid slop. To argue beyond the individual and into the general avoids that specialized connection. It turns every night at the movies into a majority opinion—unless 51% of the people surveyed enjoyed the story and/or characters, the consensus is the movie fails as a piece of entertainment and no one can like it. But that's the magic of film; it can speak to people in ways so distinct as to be literal. And for some reason, Just Married spoke to this critic in a way that leaves him open, obviously out of step and seemingly alone. But that's okay. Sometimes, a sole fighter needs to battle on, even if it's a losing cause. Just Married is not that bad. But that's just my opinion.
Just Married is just found non guilty of being a total disaster of a movie. Instead, it is convicted of the lesser-included charge of aiding and abetting mediocrity for the sake of a realistic chemistry and affection between its lead actors. 10 years in Romance Reform School.
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