©2008 Big Empire Industries and Randy Shandis Enterprises
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This week:
Ghost Town

Filthy says:
"As good as bad gets!"

Man, I really wish more mediocre romantic comedies were as good as Ghost Town. I don't mean Groundhog's Day good; I mean not some horrible shit written to make really gullible and lonely women get misty.

There are rules to romantic comedies that dictate that the story sucks. I don't know who wrote the rules, but it's probably the same dumbass who did the rules for the WNBA and forbade tear-away jerseys. I spent four fucking years watching and re-watching every minute of televised women's basketball before I realized that, even if the all the ladies on both teams did get into a massive catfight, their tops still wouldn't get ripped off and tits would be swinging every which way. I thought that if the boobs were exposed, all those competitive lesbians start licking and sucking and moaning. And when that happened, I would no longer have to watch alone, or get punched in the nuts when I asked for the Tavern's TV to be turned to ESPN2 for the next Detroit Shock-LA Sparks rumble.

The jerseys can't be torn off. The semi-metallic under-armor bras they strap into prevent it. Those are the rules that prevent WNBA from being all that it can--and should--be. Romantic comedies have similar constraints to keep them from greatness. The guy has to be a cad and/or improbable lover at the start. Maybe it's because he's always been her best friend, or because he was misunderstood, he was unseen or because he hadn't transformed from asshole to gentleman yet. The woman has to be smart and successful, but feminine, but romantically confused. Usually, she's been hurt before and now in a relationship that we can see within ten minutes is bad for her, but that she (smart and successful) can't.

I know this shit not because I took a class. Although, I would guess some of those East Coast film schools spend a year alone on the subject. I know this because I am unemployed and watch a shitload of Lifetime Channel Movies, because the WNBA isn't on all the time. And one of these times in one of those fucking awful movies with all their scenes of women showering while pondering their dilemmas, Lifetime is going to screw up and let us see Jane Seymour or Joanna Kern's ass reflected in a mirror. I am a patient man.

Anyway, in romantic comedies, the rules dictate that the man realize what a fool/cad he's been, and that the woman somehow find a deeper level of profundiity that means she can see why the cad/fool is right for her. Of course, just when she figures this out, something from his past, or some secret, comes back to bite him in the ass, and she gets mad at him. That gives him the chance to really prove he's changed and worthy of her love now.

Essentially, the woman in the romantic comedy is the passive object of desire, and her inherent beauty of sweetness is enough to drive a man to perfection. Of course, that's a bullshit fantasy as any woman who has ever married me (IE. Mrs. Filthy) knows. Men don't easily change, and not without enough alcohol to make us believe our eyes are slowly leaking out of our heads, Swedish-furniture porn and a no-nagging clause if we occasionally come home with an unemployment check's worth of spicy tacos.

Ghost Town follows the formula, and it ends with a load of bullshit that can't possibly please anyone but very sad, delusional women. But it has Ricky Gervais in its lead. He's short, dumpy and has bad teeth. He's really funny without being desperate and hammy. He plays Bertram Pincus, an impersonal jerk of a British dentist in New York. During his colonoscopy, he briefly dies. When he wakes, he can see dead people, and they all want him to do them some favors. They are in some sort of purgatory and can't move on until they resolve their last issues.

Tea Leoni is the pretty--but not threateningly sexy to the Lifetime crowd--smart and successful widower who lives in Gervais' building. Her husband (Greg Kinnear) was hit by a bus and is now one of the ghosts that haunts Gervais. Kinnear thinks she's about to marry the wrong guy and wants Gervais to stop her. As must happen in a romantic comedy, Gervais falls for her and must overcome his own boorishness to win her heart. He also has to prove he's not a weirdo, but a guy who really can talk to the dead.

As I said, the plot is predictable. But Gervais is great and his character is clever. He's not a total prick, even when he does everything he can to avoid personal contact. He's not handsome or particularly charming. He's arrogant, rude, self-centered and as played by Gervais, likable. Maybe it's because he's smart without the movie pointing out that he is, or maybe it's because Gervaiis understands subtlety and value in comedy based on the audience wincing at the foibles of a sympathetic protagonist. The movie rarely resorts to a cheap joke or forces a gag, instead relying on the jokes that come naturally from the characters. And that's fucking great.

Leoni is fine as the smart, vulnerable broad, but she doesn't get any sharp lines or much to do. Well, she's really into mummies, which I find hot, but not in a necrophilia kind of way. Necrophilia is gross to me. But, having sex with a mummy watching, That's fucking sexy.

The cast is rounded out by sidekicks and bit parts that achieve a level of subtlety never seen on Lifetime. Leoni's fiance (played by Billy Campbell) isn't as big an asshole as Kinnear wants, but he is annoyingly earnest and melodramatic. Aasif Mandvi has a fine, touching cameo as a fellow doctor whose social skills are the exact opposite of Gervais'. And Kristen Wiig has a great cameo as a proctologist with a spray-on tan.

The setting is New York City, and it looks the same as it does in every romantic comedy not made by Woody Allen. Too many shots of Central Park and tall buildings, plenty of brownstones in the background. No assholes yelling into their cellphones or shoving you down the subway stairs just for throwing up on their empanada stand. No hordes of rats scaling the walls of the Hotel Carter. The setting adds almost nothing to the movie and emphasizes the idea that, without a few bonuses, Ghost Town would be the same old shit.

Overall, though, Ghost Town is inspiration not to give up on romantic comedies. Three Fingers for the idea that even lame-ass ideas can be salvaged by an unexpected flair. Which is why I will continue to watch the WNBA. One of these days, one of those ladies may bring a pair of wire cutters into a game, a jersey will come off, and I will have premium fuel for my fantasy machine.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Peter Travers of Rolling Stone

The Duchess: "Kiera Knightley scores a knockout! Impurely delicious. Ralph Fiennes is superb!"

Burn After Reading is "A crazy-quilt comic thriller! Brad Pitt is dynamite! Hi Chad is a potent comic creation. George Clooneyt is hilarious. John Malkovich has never been funnier!"

Apaloosa is "A potently acted powerhouse that sticks in the mind and the heart. Harris and Mortenson make a knockout team!"

Seems ol' Petey loves his potency and knockouts.

Filthy's Reading
Jay Cronley - Walking Papers

Listening to
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Take Them On, On Your Own


Grizzly Man