Gone Girl (MNM)

Rating:

SPLIT DECISIONS

Main Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike

Director: David Fincher

Taj Mahal by Dmitrij Rodionov

With a little sprucing up this could be an acceptable venue for my performance.

Joseph, my manager, has been in talks with several of the finer cable networks regarding my holiday special, to be anchored by the absolutely spectacular footage of me and three hundred ardent young tappers doing a splendiferous routine to Hava Nagila on the steps of the Dancing with the Stars studio.  The tentative title is Dancing with the Star:  MNM’s Salute to Holidays around the World.  I’ve been hard at work in the studio on some of the other numbers.  I have representatives working on booking the Taj Mahal for our salute to Diwali.  I’ve been searching for a suitable piece of music but everything I listen to from the Indian subcontinent has all these odd quarter tones and I find them impossible to sing.  Finally, Normy reminded me of my old Warner Brothers picture in which I played an Anglo-Indian school teacher who ventures to China and ends up entertaining in an opium den.  There’s got to be something in one of those Sari Wong numbers.

UCLA Bruins by Eric Chan

I don’t want to get lost in the huddle, but look at those splendid gold lame pants!

If that wasn’t enough, rewrites have been coming in thick and fast on my potential new Broadway musical, the football extravaganza Any Given Sunday in the Park.  The first act finale has been extensively rewritten and now features the entire cast slowly creating a stunning tableau based on the famous Berkeley-Stanford band play of 1982.    The lyrics begin “Sunday, with our blue purple yellow red bruises on the green yellow plasticized surface of turf…”  I can’t help but feel that it’s a bit derivative of something else I’ve seen.  While I love a good ensemble number, I can’t help but feel that my character is still too much on the sidelines and likely to disappear behind mountains of shoulder pads and tight ends.

After spending a couple of hours looking at set renderings for both projects, I decided it was time to get out of the house and unwind.  Normy was busy working on Act V of his operatic version of Stephen King’s Cujo (the bass aria for the title character is thrilling), so I took myself off to the Cineplex where my choice of matinee was Gone Girl, David Fincher’s new film version of Gillian Flynn’s semi-celebrated novel.  I am always a bit unnerved at David Fincher’s films.  He has a way of communicating unsettling things through finely wrought visual detail that leaves me alternately engrossed and repulsed.  This film lives up to his usual standards.

Gone Girl deals with the lives of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), a pair of thirty somethings whose marriage has entered seven year itch territory.  Once aspiring writers living in New York, the economic crash of the last decade has stolen away jobs, money, and self-respect leaving them living in small town Missouri where they have moved to help care for Nick’s mother in her final illness.  With even this purpose gone, Nick whiles away his time running a bar with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and teaching at the local junior college and Amy sinks further into ennui in suburbia.  On their anniversary, Nick returns home to find furniture broken and Amy missing.  The police, represented by Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) arrive followed soon thereafter by Amy’s ritzy parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes).  Suspicion soon falls on Nick and the case rapidly becomes a national cause celebre fueled by a Nancy Grace-esque cable news host (Missi Pyle) with multiple axes to grind.  All is not as it seems, however, as we learn more and more about Nick and Amy’s marriage and lives; who is manipulating whom and to what ends whipsaws back and forth multiple times, eventually involving Nick’s nubile young mistress (Emily Ratajkwoski) and an old boyfriend of Amy’s (Neil Patrick Harris).

The film is deftly plotted (screenplay by Gillian Flynn based on her novel) and the story holds more than a few surprises as both heroes and villains are shown to be full of shades of gray and to have complex motivations.  The twists and turns are, at times, somewhat implausible or overly contrived.  (The reason that the case explodes nationally so quickly is that Amy’s parents based a series of children’s books about ‘Amazing Amy’ on a highly fictionalized version of her childhood and adolescence. Nick lands a high powered defense attorney (Tyler Perry) with a minimum of fuss.)  The final denouement is both a satisfactory explanation and a highly unsatisfactory resolution as two people remain locked together in psychological mortal combat suggesting that we never fully expiate our sins.

The film succeeds for two reasons.  First, Fincher’s amazing use of space and setting to tell his story.  The carefully sterile interiors of the Dunne home have all the warmth and invitation of a Restoration Hardware showroom.  There is no sense of individuality, no sense that people live in that home and we can easily understand Nick and Amy’s alienation.  This contrasts with Margo’s messy and untidy home that is thoroughly lived in and a gorgeous lake home full of Prairie Style architectural detail, both fancy and distancing.  He is helped by Donald Graham Burt’s production design and Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography.  The second is impeccable casting.  For the most part, the film has cast actors rather than stars.  Rosamund Pike, as the doomed Amy, in particular is sensational, pulling off all the transitions in character necessary.  It’s not a performance I would have expected from an actress that I best remember as a former Bond girl.  Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens are real people, not glamorous Hollywood creations in roles that would have, in a lesser film, gone to aging Hollywood ‘it’ girls.  They’re both terrific.  Ben Affleck is the only real star in the film and he has, since the overly hyped days of Bennifer, given up on taking Hollywood glam projects in favor of films that actually force him to act and he’s not bad.  You can buy him as a man whose life has fallen apart because we all know, subconsciously, that he’s been there.  I find the choice of his character’s name interesting as I assume it’s a nod to Dominick Dunne, the chronicler of true crime and celebrity murder.  The film has a lot to say, in an oblique fashion, on America’s fascination with tabloid crime and its lionizing of the heroes or the lynch mob mentality of such stories.

There are some shocking moments in the film, such as an unexpected throat slashing, and enough psychopathology on display to make you doubt the essential goodness of humanity.  This makes it not everyone’s cup of tea and I’m not sure that I enjoyed it as much as I have found it staying with me and making me think.  It’s several days later now and I cannot get certain moments out of my head.  Fincher’s films have a way of doing that.

Upright photographs.  Sugar snowstorm.  Gratuitous robot dog.  Symbolic game of Life. Idiot neighbor.  Bad timing selfie.  Ozark mountain retreat. Gratuitous putt-putt golf.  Unusual use of wine bottle.

To learn more about the fabulous Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction.  You can find her entire back catalog here.

photos by Dmitrij Rodionov and Eric Chan

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