Of the two, 10 Years is clearly the better. It's an ensemble movie with a lot of talent playing nice together in small roles, along with Justin Long you've got Channing Tatum and Max Minghella and Rosario Dawson and Anthony Mackie and Scott Porter and Nia Vardalos and Mimi Rogers and Ari Gaynor (more coincidence, also in For a Good Time, Call..., ) more. It's about a high school's 10th reunion, picking up as the characters start to fly and drive their ways in that morning and then have the wee hours breakfast after.
You can fill in a lot of the characters from that basic description. There's the drunk guy with a supportive wife, the successful guy, the successful guy who isn't so much, the old flame now married, the guy with a secret. And oftentimes, movies like this where you think you can write the script yourself when you know the premise tend not to be very good ones for that exact reason.
Not that way here. Linden's script (Linden also wrote the script for Dear John, a very good Channing Tatum vehicle, and We Are Marshall which is one of those movies I didn't get to and in retrospect wish I had) is very well-observed and very sharply written, it's the first script since Woody Allen's for Vicki Christina Barcelona where I felt so strongly that things were so sharp on a line-by-line basis. It's not a perfect script. The guys are more memorable characters than the gals, at least I thought so, in fact I spent most of the movie wondering why the guys seemed very white and so many of the girls a little more exotic in appearance, like they hadn't all gone to the same school. But it's a good one. The lines and gestures seemed right, the way people greeted one another at the reunion, the wee hours apology for doing something you realize in retrospect you really shouldn't have. Even the characters types that I don't like seemed reasonable enough, in particular the drunk guy. Though getting back to the guy v gal thing, I understood the drunk guy a lot more than I did his loyal and unshakeable wife. I couldn't get, and the movie really needed, a line or a scene to explain better what she was getting out of the bargain. I wasn't 100% absorbed in the move all the way long, my mind wandered a bit, but the cumulative effect of it was quite strong, and I was getting a little teary-eyed at the end.
For a Good Time, Call..., here Justin Long is the gay guy between two girls with bad bodily fluid between them dating back to college. They need to room together, soon they have a phone sex line they're running together. But the movie has no place to go. It's not a romantic comedy. It's not Boogie Nights. As we got to the final reel of the film, I decided to rest my eyes for a bit.
I haven't said much about Justin Long. You know, what is there to say? He's a really pleasant and likable actor in pretty much everything, he fit in perfectly with the strong ensemble work and strong cast of 10 Years, and if there were problems with For a Good Time, Call..., he isn't one of them.
After a lazy Saturday where I was very happy not do do anything after a few very busy weeks of tennis and WorldCon and Ann Arbor (see previous posts) and some family business in between, Sunday was a much more productive day, for I saw not only these two movies but another movie and play besides.
The third movie was Arbitrage, which is nifty. This really is the kind of perfect role for today's Richard Gere, as a rich businessman with some Chappaquiddick stuff going on in his life just as he's trying to close a business deal that will give him the cash to fill in a big hole in his books that could bankrupt a lot of people. Gere is nicely supported by Susan Sarandon as his wife, Brit Marling as his daughter, Tim Roth as a cop, Stuart Margolin (Angel in the Rockford Files) as a trusted attorney/consiglieri to Gere. Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, the script doesn't go entirely as you might predict, it goes very very smoothly. It and 10 Years, I'd recommend both.
I wish I could say the same for the play, Detroit, which has David Schwimmer from Friends and is in previews at the Playwrights Horizon. It's quite clear that there are going to be some good reviews for the play, there were laughs to be had. But what you noticed was that the "comedy" didn't have any laughs where everyone was laughing, there were people who were laughing and people who were not. I didn't find the characters to be very likable, it's possible they're believable white trash but certainly not likable white trash. Since I didn't like them, I couldn't laugh with them. It's very contrived. Contrivance is fine when the author can set up an initial contrivance then let the characters roam free within it. But this is a play where a character gets injured from a table umbrella, then another character reveals she has a planter's wart, then a third character gets injured falling through a porch. Doesn't this seem a bit much? David Schwimmer doesn't seem to have a handle on his role until halfway or two thirds thru the play, he seemed downright awkward to me in the opening scenes. Just about everyone seemed awkward in the opening scenes. Are they rehearsing from the end back, and they haven't fully integrated the notes from the director on the opening scene yet? Sometimes you can get a play where a character comes on at the end of an act or play to fill in some gaps and it seems right and proper, a coup de theatre, but here there's a final scene that casts a new light on everything that's come before, but not in that good "Sixth Sense" kind of way. This fills in all kinds of gaps that aren't hinted at enough along the way. And then it still doesn't make much sense of the ending.