Mr. Woodcock

2007. Craig Gillespie

Tara and I found ourselves wanting to go to the movies this weekend and we only had about a two and a half hour window to do it in. That meant Into the Wild and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford were out and so I picked out this little number. I actually thought the trailer had some laughs and I think I saw a good review of it in the New Yorker or L.A. Weekly or somewhere. In any case, it turned out to not be the movie I was expecting it to be and a decent diversion for that Sunday afternoon.

First and foremost, the movie isn’t very funny. Certainly not to anyone who has seen the trailer because all the best bits are given away in that two minute span. The audience we saw the film with was about 40 heads and I can’t recall a single part where everyone laughed in unison. And while that might seem like a condemning piece of information, I don’t actually think that the movie was going for those kind of laughs most of the time. With the exception of Amy Poehler, who is terrible and practically rolling on the floor, grabbing our shirt tails hoping for a chuckle at least, the actors don’t often go for the cheap laugh. Ethan Suplee is also awful and his character should have not existed, but even hey plays it from the heart. Director Craig Gillespie actually seems to be interested in the story he’s telling about a child’s selfish desire to keep their parents from remarrying and being happy.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a good movie or a deep movie by any means, but it’s a failure in a different sense than you might suspect. Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott and Susan Sarandon all hit some great notes and by the end of the movie, I felt like I watched some real people go through something. The situations themselves get way out of hand, but the way each character reacts to them and each other is surprisingly true. But that’s the major fault of the movie. Gillespie seems to be wanting to make one movie while New Line clearly wanted another. The ending reeks of reshoots and catering to test-screening suggestions and goes a long way towards souring what came before. There’s also too many “gags” that are set up to be showstoppers but Gillespie doesn’t seem to have the heart to go through with it and backs off. For example, a scene where Scott inadvertently gets caught hiding under Thornton’s bed while he has sex with Sarandon would be at least 5 minutes in an American Pie film and be exploited for every laugh possible. Here, it lasts less than a minute and we’re quickly on to the next thing before you get a chance to realize how ridiculous it is, or how unnecessary.

I wish I could see more of Thornton and Scott together because their relationship had a lot of potential and I felt like I was being teased with the promise of a good movie that never delivered. Instead, it’s a failure at being a teen-pleasing comedy and a failure at being an examination of its themes. But it’s interesting at least and makes me think there might be something to Gillespie’s other effort coming out this fall, Lars and the Real Girl.

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