Meet Lanie (Angelina Jolie). She’s a successful Seattle-based local TV reporter and a contender for a network spot in New York, despite the fact that she dresses like Sexual Harrassment Barbie and her “trademark” platinum-blond coiff is painful to look at against Angelina Jolie’s dusky complexion.
In the moral universe of the Hollywood romantic comedy, Lanie’s professional success means she must be a failure at life, because she’s driven by ambition and Doesn’t Know How to Have Fun.
Meet Pete (Ed Burns). He’s a cameraman who dresses and behaves in slacker fashion, drinks beer on the job, sleeps around, and says rude things to Lanie. This means he’s an alright guy who Does Know How to Have Fun.
You might think that, just as Lanie has something to learn about loosening up and having fun, Pete has something to learn about responsibility, discipline, maturity, or at least class. That, however, would be in a more nuanced and subtle movie, such as Pretty Woman. In Life or Something Like It, Pete’s bohemian style makes him the Zen master of life well lived. So, basically, it’s only Lanie who has anything to learn.
Pete: “You know, it wouldn’t kill you to have some fun.”
Lanie: “I have fun.”
Pete: “It’s not ‘fun’ if you have to pencil it in.”
A big scene halfway into the film has Lanie showing up drunk for a story and doing some very unprofessional things on the air. Needless to say, Pete is overcome with emotion at this courageous display of un-penciled-in spontaneity, telling her later that it was at that moment that he saw “the real you.” You see, the years of discipline and success were just a facade; it wasn’t until she got drunk that she finally became herself.
For someone as uptight as Lanie to achieve this degree of personal fulfillment, you need an act of God. Like the similarly-themed The Family Man, in which Nicholas Cage’s glamorous but empty Wall Street existence was derailed by the intervention of Don Cheadle’s supernatural grocery-store thief, Life or Something Like It turns Lanie’s bourgeois upwardly-mobile lifestyle upside down when an oracular homeless man named Prophet Jack (Tony Shaloub) foresees that she will die within a week — a prophecy she begins to take seriously when he correctly calls the point spread on that night’s Seahawks game as well as a surprise hailstorm the following morning.
Yet in The Family Man, the individualistic pursuit of ambition and glamor was contrasted with prosaic suburban domesticity, hard work, dirty diapers, unfashionable sweaters, and playful marital sensuality. In Life or Something Like It, the individualistic pursuit of ambition and glamor is contrasted with going to amusement parks, playing Scrabble, eating French toast and ice cream, and committing fornication. I wasn’t crazy about The Family Man, but Life or Something Like It is not a move in the right direction.
unfortunate twist: Pete, the picture of bohemian enlightenment, turns
out to be divorced and shares custody of a son with his
Dramatically, this development serves to make Pete seem less self-centered and individualistic and more responsible and respectable. (When Lanie says to him, “I thought you said you didn’t have any responsibilities,” Pete’s high-minded reply: “Well, I don’t exactly think of him as a responsibility.”)
Practically, though, it functions to further undermine the importance of family obligations in the film. “I don’t know what’s worse,” Pete muses at one point, “the two of us getting divorced, or trying to stay together for Tommy.” But of course they’ve already made that decision: Apparently they thought (or pretended to think) that staying together would have been “worse.” If Pete seems unclear on this point now, perhaps it’s simply because the film lacks the nerve to articulate its anti-family premise by saying, “It’s better not to stay together for the sake of the child.”
It’s also worth noting, as does the OFB review, that “Pete’s crack that as a Catholic if you get a woman pregnant you have no choice but to marry her” is hardly “an accurate description of what the Church advises.”
The movie opens with Lanie engaged to a studly Mariners slugger (Christian Kane) who’s even shallower than Pete. Once her eyes have been opened by Prophet Jack’s warning, she begins asking questions about their relationship that apparently never occurred to her before, such as: “What binds us together? What are our shared beliefs, our values? What’s going to keep us together ten, twenty, thirty years from now?”
Fine questions, these. Significantly, they never get asked about her new relationship with Pete.
Ironically, while paying lip service to Georgia’s high standards, My Life in Ruins really has its sights set on Nico’s lowest-common-denominator approach. Although the film shoot was granted unprecedented access to shoot in some of Greece’s most historically significant sites, including the Acropolis, there’s little effort to communicate any real sense of the history and significance of the sites.
Now, the top of the Empire State Building is a lofty destination, an end in itself. By contrast, a bridge is only for going from one place and another. Like all of New York’s major river crossings, the Manhattan Bridge is undeniably a marvel of modern engineering; but for romance and evocative appeal, the Empire State Building surely has the edge by a considerable margin.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.