Lanie Kerrigan: "Well, you heard him, folks. The Seahawks are going to
win, and tomorrow it's going to hail."
Wanna see Angelina Jolie pretend she's Katie Couric while wearing a really, really bad blonde wig? Here ya go…
Facts of the Case
Lanie Kerrigan (Angelina Jolie) is a Seattle television reporter who seems to have it all: she's beautiful, rich, engaged to a handsome Major League batting powerhouse, and is being considered for a spot on a network news show. Everything is turned upside down when Lanie interviews a homeless soothsayer (Tony Shalhoub, The Man Who Wasn't There) who tells her she will die in less than a week.
When Prophet Jack's predictions about a Seattle hail storm, the outcome of a Seahawks/Broncos game, and a San Francisco earthquake all come true, Lanie begins to reevaluate the emphasis she's placed on career success, and her relationship with the glamorous but none-to-bright baseball player. Her search for meaning rekindles a failed romance with her down-to-earth camera man, Pete (Edward Burns, The Brothers McMullen), but how can the two find happiness when she's destined to die?
Certainly romantic comedies are formulaic, but striking the right balance within the confines of that formula can be trickier than one would imagine. The challenge is that for much of the movie the male and female leads must be at odds with each other, while their romantic chemistry bubbles beneath the surface, obvious to the audience. They must treat each other poorly, but remain likable. In order to deliver a memorable, high-quality romantic comedy, a filmmaker has to walk this fine line with the skill and balance of one of the flying Walendas. While director Stephen Herek (The Mighty Ducks, Mr. Holland's Opus, the live-action 101 Dalmatians) ultimately makes it across the tightrope, there's just too much teetering and arm-flailing to make it a completely enjoyable experience for the audience (okay, let's drop the circus metaphor right now).
Half the battle in making a romantic comedy is establishing a fresh conceit, and Life or Something Like It's prophesy of death is certainly unique enough to distinguish it from the crowd, but it fails to deliver compelling lovers. Much as I like Edward Burns, he just doesn't belong in this film. His persona is too laid-back for this role; it works when he's the center of a movie, but not here where Jolie is clearly the star. We know Pete's gruffness is a cover for his love of Lanie only because we're aware of the genre we're watching; there's no genuine chemistry between the two. To be fair, it's not all Burns' fault. The script itself puts the filmmakers behind a sort of feminist 8-ball. Pete's a proven cameraman who's worked in the national media but moved from New York to Seattle, sacrificing his career, because his ex-wife relocated with their son (is this convoluted enough for you?). If he wants to be with Lanie, he can either abandon his son and follow her to New York, or demand that she sacrifice her own career. Neither option, in this day and age, is going to endear him to the film's key demographic of women between the ages of 18 and 40. Instead, he does nothing and looks like a guy who might love Lanie, but not nearly enough to actually communicate his feelings or put up any fight whatsoever to save their relationship. That's not exactly the sort of leading man romantic comedy-loving women go gaga over, either. The whole affair is flat because, while Lanie grows and matures as a human being over the course of the film, Pete is already fully-formed and adult. When forced to choose between Lanie and his son, it's no contest: the son wins in a walk and, while it's a drag to lose Lanie, Pete's pretty stoic about the whole thing. You get the sense that he'll be bummed out for a couple weeks, but he'll get over it. Romantic comedies ain't supposed to work like that, folks.
Don't get me wrong, Burns' performance is competent throughout. He's his usual self, easy-going and smart with a wry sense of humor. He exudes his standard regular-guy charm. That persona is just completely inappropriate in this film. It begs for a guy willing to put aside his dignity and make a complete ass of himself in desperate attempts to show Lanie he's a better choice than a high-profile job in New York. It begs for an older version of Say Anything's Lloyd Dobler.
The other performances are solid. Jolie proves herself capable of working within the genre, although this isn't the sort of material that enables her to live up to the promise shown in her earliest work (Gia, for example), and her wild-child public image probably works against her a bit in what is basically a squeaky-clean role tailor-made for a slightly younger Meg Ryan. The only substantively bad thing about Jolie's presence in the film is the bizarre wig she wears throughout (part Marilyn Monroe, part psychopath from DePalma's Dressed to Kill), apparently a rather heavy-handed symbol of Lanie's shallow, appearances-are-everything approach to living. Always a standout, Tony Shalhoub chews scenery with much panache…and I don't mean that in a bad way. The role calls for over-the-top, and he delivers (no matter the role, Shalhoub is one of those actors who always delivers). Unfortunately, the individual efforts just don't come together satisfactorily; the parts are greater than whole.
Life or Something Like It comes to DVD in both 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and full screen pan and scan transfers. Despite giving each transfer its own side of a dual-sided disc, neither is exactly reference quality. Strong overall, both transfers have a tiny bit of edge enhancement, and blacks aren't consistently solid. The color palette is very natural; colors don't pop off the screen, but I don't think that was the intent of the director or cinematographer. The 5.1 surround track delivers crystal clear dialogue, while traffic and city sounds in the on-the-street scenes, David Newman's score, and pop tunes by the Rolling Stones and Foo Fighters are the only things that utilize the full sound stage.
The disc is far from a special edition, a director's commentary being its only extra. There isn't even a theatrical trailer.
Life or Something Like It is interesting if only as a curiosity: solid individual performances by talented actors fail to mesh and, in the end, add up to very little. The film, to use one final circus-related metaphor, is like cotton candy: despite outward appearances, it's mostly just air.
Hmmmph…what?!? Sorry…I fell asleep there. Verdict? Well, I guess I can't exactly find a film not guilty when it puts me to sleep, can I? Yet, if it was so bad I could passionately dislike it, that would probably have kept me awake, too. Instead, it's just…blah.
Guilty, but free to go with time served. I need a nap. Adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Stephen Herek
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