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Tucson Weekly Lifeless Romance

Even A Shift In The Prevailing Zeitgeist Won't Save This Sophomoric Flick

By Stacey Richter

NOVEMBER 3, 1997:  A LIFE LESS Ordinary is a new romantic comedy from the team that made Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. It isn't nearly as good as these previous efforts, but it's an interesting movie anyway because it's so strange. Like Francis Coppola's critically reviled but eventually beloved 1982 romance One From the Heart, A Life Less Ordinary is a visually lush romance set in a cartoonish America where pretty much everything that happens is gratuitous, disjointed, and surreal. Love, apparently, is a very strange, beautifully lit phenomena.

With A Life Less Ordinary, director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge take their knack for investigating the dark side of human nature and try to twist it into a light tale of young love. The result has a lot of blood and damaged bodies in it, a lot of punching and hitting, and just one kiss. Those of you wishing to view Ewan McGregor naked will have to go see Pillow Book; the emphasis here isn't on eroticism but on the extreme, overwhelming unlikelihood that love is even possible.

McGregor plays Robert, a janitor and self-proclaimed "dreamer" who hopes one day to write the great American trash novel. Though the story seems to be set in Salt Lake City, he has an unremarked upon Scottish accent--oh well, there's a lot of other weird stuff going on anyway. For example, a pair of creepy angels (Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo) have been assigned to get him and this beautiful rich girl, Celine (Cameron Diaz) to fall deeply in love; if they don't, the angels will have to remain on earth as punishment.

The wacky idea of injecting a little heavenly interference in an earthly romance gives the filmmakers license to introduce all sorts of fantastic interludes--a giant, animated beating heart, a karaoke dream sequence, the bureaucratic offices of heaven. All of this glitzy stuff seems monumentally out of place within the "main" plot, which revolves around Robert kidnapping Celine and squeezing her father for ransom.

Like One From the Heart, the little love story is really secondary to the visual ambitions of the director. It's too bad though, that the plot isn't more consistent here. A Life Less Ordinary switches from comedy to romance to late '90s hipster surrealism like Sibyl rotating between personalities. Robert turns out to be a wimpy kidnapper--the scenes where Celine tries to coach him on the niceties of ransom requests (she's been a victim before) are pretty darn cute, but when the plot starts to warp into dreams, road sequences, and shoot outs, it just gets hard to understand--or even care--what the hell is going on.

As out of place as these surreal interludes are, they give Boyle a chance to do what he does best--work with color. There's a heaven full of white-costumed police officers, a dilapidated green warehouse where the angels sleep on Earth, red streamers falling through a blue sky, aqua light in a dreamy country-western bar--it's all an unbelievably beautiful, saturated, and utterly pointless use of color. But hey, if it looks this good, does there have to be a point? There are certain cupcakes worth eating just for the frosting.

Despite the fact that the heavenly, cupid-like interference is also pointless, Hunter and Lindo are both such good actors that they can pull off pretty much anything. Hunter purrs through her action-girl/angel role like a she's in the NC-17 version of Touched By An Angel, and Lindo seems just strange enough to be convincingly non-human. They actually seem more like space aliens than angels, and maybe they are. All we know for certain is they come from someplace white.

McGregor and Diaz, on the other hand, are notable primarily for being adorable. It's always disappointing to see a love story where the characters don't seem to like each other, and this is one of them, though this may not be entirely the fault of the actors. Celine's character is hopelessly spoiled--she's absolutely crushed when her credit card is declined. A description of Celine as "glamorous pussy" doesn't do much to deepen her appeal either, and half the audience groaned at this comment. Robert is sweet-natured but boring-- really boring, not to mention badly costumed in an ugly pastel shirt. What kind of glamorous pussy worth her platinum card is going to fall in love with that?

The movie ends with Celine and Robert directly addressing the audience about the nature and meaning of love--two glowing heads waxing philosophical while scenes from the movie we've just seen flash in the background. This has got to be one of the most embarrassing film moments of the year--sophomoric, self-congratulatory and stupid. Up until then I thought that maybe in a few years something could shift in the zeitgeist and A Life Less Ordinary would start to look sort of sweet and hip, in a goofy, late-nineties way. But then I realized all was lost.

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