Friday, December 26, 2008
Peter Bogdanovich's They All Laughed
So we ended up with a copy of this on DVD this Christmas. Santa brought Mrs. Sgt. Tanuki a bunch of Audrey Hepburn movies, because Mrs. Sgt. Tanuki loves Audrey Hepburn; mostly they were classics like Charade, How To Steal A Million, Sabrina, My Fair Lady. But Santa Tanuki also found this one on a certain riverine webmerchant and got it. Knew nothing about it.
This is the first of Bogdanovich's films I've seen; somehow he's been a blind spot in my exploration of '70s cinema, and his Sopranos cameos are about all I know of his work. This is probably not the best one of his to start with - imagine One From The Heart being your first Coppola.
Enough preamble. This turned out to be a weird film, but I enjoyed it. It's trying to be a semi-screwball romantic comedy in the style of the classic ones Audrey Hepburn starred in in her prime, but with a thoroughly 1981 cast and vernacular. So, snappy dialogue, but delivered with spaciness rather than sparkle. Which sounds disastrous, right? But somehow it's not.
The thing this film lacks that something like, say, Roman Holiday or Charade had is focus. Those films were tightly centered around the story, even if it was a convoluted story; in classic Hollywood fashion every scene and every character supported the story. They All Laughed works in a different way: half the time you're really not sure what the story is, and every character seems to come from a different movie universe entirely. It's a New York romance with a country music soundtrack and private eyes that seem drawn equally from Bogey and Cheech & Chong; John Ritter doing his best Peter Sellers, a hard-boiled female taxi driver, Audrey Hepburn looking like Yoko Ono; Colleen Camp talking like Katharine Hepburn but singing like Joan Baez; frustrating pacing; precocious kids, roller skating, and did I mention lots of country music?
Despite that, and only if you surrender and take the movie on its own terms, it works. All the performances are good, entertaining, memorable, and the dialogue really does have a certain snappiness to it, if you can match its frequency. Some nice camera work (such as the series of shots when Ritter runs up and in to the courthouse; Wes Anderson notes this sequence, too, in his conversation with Bogdanovich on the DVD, so I'm not original here; but it is a nice sequence). You may not know what's going on half the time, but it's not an unpleasant feeling here.
As an Audrey Hepburn movie, on the other hand...let's just say Mrs. Sgt. Tanuki was disappointed.