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Must Love Dogs

Sarah (Diane Lane) comes from a big family, and they’ve all gathered in her kitchen to humiliate her. And by humiliate her, I mean that they’re throwing an intervention. That makes it sound like a party, I suppose, and it is most decidedly not. Nor is it quite as serious as it sounds. They’re not trying to send her to rehab. They’re trying to relaunch her back into the dating world after a devastating divorce. It doesn’t work – at least, not until she accidentally answers her own father’s personal ad. That’s a new low, as you can imagine. So maybe now she’s open to it. Ish. Her sister makes her a dating profile with quasi-consent (a good time to remind you that this movie was released in 2005).

Meanwhile, across town, a boat builder named Jake (John Cusack) is also newly on the market with a bruised heart that’s still trickling blood. He’s also got a friend/divorce attorney pushing him into the internet dating thing, and that’s how they wind up meeting – at a dog park, each with a borrowed canine friend. The date is shaky; Jake is so nervous he can’t stop insulting Sarah. Their next date has crazy beautiful moments of connection and chemistry, and then terrible lows that radiate awkwardness. So there’s wiggle room for a guy like Bobby (Dermot Mulroney) to enter the picture and sweep Sarah off her feet with his smooth technique. Dramaaaaa!

Anyway, it’s nice to see a rom-com for the middle aged. For the sad-sacks post divorce. For the cynics and the chronically depressed. And yet it still manages to charm. Of course, you might hope for a little more from two grown-ups who have loved and lost. You’d hope they’d have grown, that they’d have some insights. That they’d be better at this. And they’re really not.

Must Love Dogs should have Loved Rewrites. There’s nothing in here that you haven’t seen before. It’s not just that you see things coming from miles away – it’s that they’ve literally just traced a rom-com road map and hit up each and every landmark and rest stop along the way. And yet Lane and Cusack are just so good together. Never underestimate the likability of your leads.

I never got to write myself a dating profile, but even if I had, it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to write Must Love Dogs, even though that’s obviously true. And thank goodness I wasn’t able to cock-block myself, because Sean never would have answered such an ad. He grew up with cats. But my little puppy Herbie won him over. No surprise there: Herbie is a stud, he wins over everyone he meets. Sean is a harder sell, and yet he was surprisingly able to win over Herbie, which was the more important part of the equation. I’d only had Herbie about 4 months when I met Sean, but Herbie had already been subjected to quite a few gentlemen callers and let me tell you – he wasn’t impressed. He’d scowl and growl and generally do his best to look ornery and intimidating (he was a four pound fluff ball but in his mind he was a full-fledged hell hound). He kept his eye on Sean for a bit, but he made it clear they were friends. That said, Herbie will never let Sean forget that it’s me and Herbie who are the original members of this household, and Sean’s just lucky we let him in the club. Now we have 3 more dogs because we can’t get enough. And this movie definitely put me in the mood for more. I mean, a gentle wind can put me in the mood for more. I Do Love Dogs! But I live in a city where the bylaws actually state that acquiring a fifth animal would force me to declare myself a farm. And as much as I Super Duper Love Dogs, it seems like a lot of hassle. Or…is it maybe a little bit of hassle and an excellent tax write off? Or a medium amount of hassle and a whole lot more love in my life? Or quite a bit of hassle but a good excuse to buy cute cowboy boots? Or a heck of a lot of hassle that I can offload on Sean, and simply reap the rewards of puppy love while outsourcing the work?

Did I just talk myself into puppy #5?

(The Problem With) High Fidelity

This is going to sound strange, so deep breath in, and bear with me. The problem with High Fidelity is John Cusack.

There, I said it. I feel much better now.

You can disagree with me if you want. You’re wrong, but you can disagree. It is physically possible. It’s just not intellectually advisable.

There’s nothing wrong with John Cusack. He was just miscast. I mean, I get how Rob Gordon might seem like the grownup version of Lloyd Dobler, but he’s not even close. Rob Gordon is actually a pretty pathetic guy, but because he’s played by Cusack, some accidental, unintentional coolness is rubbed off. And I get how some underachieving young men might misguidedly put him on a pedestal. Rob is the ultimate fanboy nerd, but he’s the least losery of his friends, the least socially inept. And he puffs himself up by being snobby about his pop culture obsession. Fine. But the thing about Rob Gordon is: he’s not a good guy.

Nick Hornby makes that pretty damn clear in the book, and the character tells us this repeatedly himself in the film: “I am a fucking asshole,” he tells us, but then Cusack flashes those deep brown puppy dog eyes and we feel conflicted. He’s doing and saying pretty shitty things, but it’s Cusack, so he MUST be likable, right?

He’s not likable. He’s an ungrateful little shit. He’s a womanizer with a serious case of (male, as if it needs to be said) entitlement. He skulks about being a rude human being, a stalkery ex, and a very bad boyfriend. But Cusack is such a charmer, and he’s got such a sweet, sympathetic history with cinema, that we ascribe way more positive feelings toward this guy than the character actually deserves.

At one point, when he’s on a self-serving rampage of reconnecting with ex-girlfriends in order to reassure himself that he’s basically blameless, Penny tells reminds him that in fact, HE broke up with HER because she wouldn’t have sex with him (“I wasn’t interested in Penny’s nice qualities, just her breasts, and therefore she was no good to me.”). Her heartbreak led to what basically amounts to rape, and years of sex phobia, and he’s so relieved and satisfied with that answer that he’s spurred to pursue even more ex-girlfriends, never mind the fact that the one right in front of him has just run out of the restaurant in tears. The man is a sociopath and I’m not even kidding. The next ex-girlfriend he visits is thickly mired in depression, and he practically asks us to pat him on the back for not taking advantage of her.

Rob is jealous and possessive and harassing. He is the stuff restraining orders are made of. And he doesn’t even learn a lesson. In the end, the woman who dumped him takes him back because, having just suffered the death of her father, she’s simply too tired, too beaten down by his coersion, to fend him off. That is not a getting back together story that anyone should feel good about, and almost as fast as they can reconcile, he’s off chasing yet another manic pixie fantasy cunt because he can’t even for 10 seconds actually be the nice guy he pretends to be. This is the height of toxic masculinity, but because it’s wearing a cute and cuddly John Cusack body, we fail to see it. We root for him because he’s less of a greaseball than Tim Robbins’s Ian. But being 10% less of a douche doesn’t make you not a douche. It doesn’t make you a nice guy. It doesn’t make you deserving of anyone’s love. Rob Gordon is not a hero. He’s a romantic failure and a social liability and if we made a follow-up to the movie today, he’d be living in his mom’s basement screaming at her to make him some Hamburger Helper as he trashed-talked 12 year olds on League of Legends.

Better Off Dead

Random thoughts while watching the 1985 John Cusack film, Better Off Dead

  1. How fragile was glass in the 80s that a single newspaper issue could punch a hole right through it?
  2. Lane (Cusack) showers with his (mismatched) tube socks on. And then he blow dries them. Because why?
  3. How is it that, in a very normal suburban home, a teenage boy has been granted an entire room to use as his personal closet? Especially considering said boy is the same one who showers with his socks on. Not exactly the height of sophistication.
  4. Clearly the dad is supposed to be the bad guy. He’s so grumpy! But really: his garage door is full of holes, one kid is systematically ruining his breakfast while the other has left an eyesore dragging in the driveway for months. I must be old, because now I’m feeling sorry for the dad!
  5. Lane and his girlfriend Beth have 8×10 framed photos of each other in their bedrooms. But why do the teenagers all have large, black and white head shots of themselves?
  6. Did he just attempt to street race someone blindfolded??? OF COURSE the guy he hit was mad! We’re supposed to excuse him or something? Lane is a horrible human being! I don’t know if HE’s better off dead, but I’m starting to suspect that everyone else would be (better off without him, that is).

7. Why does everything the mom makes turn out green?

8. I’m not sure which is more disturbing: that the almost 8 year old, cereal loving little brother has leopard print loungewear, or that he seems to be retrofitting toys into real weapons.

9. The script is so bad, Lane has to constantly narrate his stream of consciousness out loud so we know how deeply saddened by his girlfriend of 6 whole months (the aforementioned Beth) dumping him for the hunky new ski fiend. As if the suicide attempts weren’t doing it for us.

10. The paperboy is such a little punk. But do you remember paper boys? And the little card that you’d keep track of, that they’d hole punch each week that you paid. But they’d ring the bell at random times, and always claimed you owed for 5 weeks, which somehow came up to $2.60, but of course you never had it? What a weird time in human history that that was how we got our news.

11. You know how you get up in class to solve an algebra problem at the board but then just stand there fantasizing about the night you lost your virginity in a station wagon (which is only slightly better than losing it TO a station wagon)? Yeah. No.

12. So Lane attempts to take up roller skating to impress a girl (white guys, amirite?) and somehow manages to accidentally tear all the clothes off a cheerleader, who just happens to be wearing a matching set of lingerie under her uniform. As teenager girls do. Obviously.

13. Lane skis in a variety of Bill Cosby sweaters which makes no sense. But still makes slightly more sense than his buddy who complains about not being able to get real drugs in this small town, and yet he somehow procured a top hat in which to ski.

14. Three suicide attempts later, the movie has made 0 mentions of mental health, and Lane’s parents address the situation by a) telling him to “mellow off” and b) forcing him to go on a date with a girl of their choosing against his will. Yes, I’m as surprised as you are that this method of treatment seems to have not really caught on.

15. Did any of your high school dances have live bands?

16. There’s a claymation interlude of a hamburger singing Van Halen’s Everybody Wants Some. It is very bad but still a welcome break in the actual movie.

17. I can’t believe that a French teenager came all the way to America for an exchange semester, and in her 2 allotted suitcases for 6 months, she packed a coverall. Suspicious.

18. Oh he’s legit going to try to seduce her with a saxophone? A SAXOPHONE IS NOT AND WILL NEVER BE AN ACOUSTIC GUITAR, LANE.

19. They take turns skiing under each other’s crotches. Can this possibly be interpreted as romantic?

20. In what I can assure you is an extremely lame showdown, Lane proposes a ski-off to his bully. And despite being the vastly inferior skier, AND having only one ski, AND being relentlessly pursued by the paperboy, he somehow wins. Somehow.

21. But that’s not even half as lame as when he uses the poles to duel his loser neighbour, and then throws the french exchange student over his shoulder when he wins her. Ahem.

22. And then he parks his Camaro on a baseball diamond and makes out with her??? Ladies and gentlemen: peak American obnoxiousness.

23. John Cusack has only ever seen the first 20 minutes of this movie because he walked out, embarrassed and furious at the director. I watched all 97, but can assure you that even 20 is too many.

Romcoms, Curated By Batman

Apparently (Lego) Batman has a special fondness for cheesy romantic comedies. Sure the Dark Knight tends to enjoy a rather solitary existence, but he unwinds at the end of a long day by watching kiss-a-thons. For every baddie that he puts away, he likes to watch a good smooch. Nothing wrong with that.  In his new movie, currently out in theatres, several of his favourite love movies are highlighted, so here they are, to the best of my memory:

must-love-dogsMust Love Dogs: Poor Diane Lane is so love-starved that her family takes her new singlehood into their hands, fixing her up with an internet dating profile she doesn’t want, or necessarily know exists, but which insists that all suitors ‘must love dogs.’ This is a pretty good gambit because along comes John Cusack, with a borrowed dog and good intentions. And that’s okay since her dog – a Newfie named Mother Theresa – is also not technically hers. Thus a relationship is born from the ashes of lies and non-shared non-interests. Condom hi-jinks and some VERY suspicious coincidences: classic.

Serendipity: Two people, attached to others, nevertheless share dessert when they try to buy the same pair of cashmere gloves for Christmas. They part – reluctantly – but both return for missing items and spend more time together. It’s magical (ahem). But her phone number gets blown away in the wind, a bad sign, obviously, so he puts his info on a $5 bill, hers in a used book, and if the universe thinks they’re meant to be, they’ll find the info and live happily ever after. Did I mention it’s John Cusack again? Batman must have a thing for Johnny.

Marley & Me: Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson are newlyweds who work at competing 232247-marley-and-me-marley-gif.gifFlorida newspapers – she successfully, he decidedly not. When they think about starting a family, they adopt a dog instead, to test the waters. The puppy is incorrigible but provides fodder for a column and suddenly he has a career too. The babies come, eventually, and changes in home, work, and friends. Marley’s there through it all – but well all know dogs don’t live forever. I’m sure this one hits Batman right in the feels. Dogs are the one thing he likes more than John Cusack.

Jerry Maguire: A sports agent eventually falls in love with the single mother who absconds the firm with him. She supports him, he fails to appreciate her. She has the kind of life that previously horrified him. They separate. It’s quite pathetic until he realizes that she’s had a profound impact on his life and that he wants to be with her no matter what, at which time it becomes even more pathetic. You had me at hello, 10lb head, show me the money, etc: you betcha Batman quotes along with this one.


So, do you have much in common with Batman? Which one of these would pair well with a cuddle?

Love & Mercy

beachboysLove & Mercy tells the story of two Brian Wilsons (the heart and soul of the Beach Boys): 1960s Brian, portrayed by Paul Dano, at the height of his creative genius, working doggedly on a game-changing album that no one else believes in while fighting the ugly spectre of an abusive father, and 1980s Brian, portrayed by John Cusack, a broken shell of a man under the care of and heavily medicated by a shady, domineering psychiatrist.

Both Brians are sad to watch on-screen. No matter how much or how little you know about Brian Wilson’s life going in, you do know the Beach Boys, and you understand pretty quickly that the Beach Boys were nothing without him. The man was so talented that he took a harmonizing boy band in matching shirts and pushed them toward musical complexity to rival (and inspire) The Beatles. And he did it all while in the throes of a nervous breakdown.

The recording sessions in the film were some of my favourite. Sean has a nice little vinyl collection and of course Pet Sounds has always been part of it – Rolling Stone’s definitive list of the top 500 albums OF ALL TIME rates Pet Sounds at #2, only being eclipsed by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album The Beatles made in response to their hearing and adoring Pet Sounds. So it was really neat to see and hear the hard work and the many layers and the sheer creativity that went into producing a sound that had never been heard before. And even if you don’t know the album, I guarantee you’ve known some of these songs for nearly your whole life. They’re part of our cultural lexicon. And now you get to peek behind the curtain thanks to scenes that were mostly improvised with real studio musicians and shot in a documentary style with 16mm handheld cameras.

This is not a traditional biopic. It depicts two very specific times in Brian Wilson’s life, and this parallel narrative is very effective, contrasting the height of his career with his crashing mental 01-love-and-mercy.w529.h352.2xand emotional downfall. We see him change from vitality to despondency, and to heighten that disparity, director Bill Pohlad kept actors Cusack and Dano separate so that they would each develop their own organic understanding of Wilson in their respective time periods. In the second portion, the John Cusack years, Paul Giamatti plays Dr. Landy, the evil psychiatrist while Elizabeth Banks appears as a love interest. These two are of course at odds with each other and the battle over Brian Wilson, when Wilson is too traumatized and petrified to fight for himself, or to even recognize the need for it.

Tonnes of original Beach Boys recordings are featured throughout the movie, lots flawlessly mixed in with Paul Dano’s own voice. And I’m giving props to composer Atticus Ross who had a mountain of a task to compose a score that would flow in and out of all of these iconic songs, and yet he didn’t just do a competent job, he elevated things, drawing inspiration from such varied sources as The Beatles’ Revolution 9 to Jay-Z’s The Grey Album and it sounds exciting and alive and masterful.

boysThere are significant gaps in this film, which is narrow in its scope, but it is an otherwise mournfully accurate account. Lots of the characters and events feel larger than life but if anything, Wilson felt that perhaps some were treated “too fairly” and after all he’s been through, you can understand where that’s coming from. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, from the recreation of several Beach Boys album covers to Elizabeth Banks’ impressive 80s garb, and as much as I can tell you so, you really just have to see it yourself.

Movies Set in a High School


As I’m writing this, Jay and Sean must be driving home from Sean’s twenty-year reunion. It’s got all of us thinking back to our high school days and our favourite high school reunion movies. Funny how Wandering Through the Shelves seems to be on the wavelength.

grosse pointe blank

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)Jay revisited this one just a couple of weeks ago preparing for the reunion. John Cusack has never been cooler as a hit man coming home to his own ten-year reunion. First of all, I’m a sucker for Prodigal Son Returns movies. Second, I loved seeing Cusack return to high school since many of us remember him from ten years earlier in high school movies like Say Anything. Oh, and the soundtrack is just perfect.

election Election (1999)– Speaking of actors we knew from high school, Ferris Bueller is back as a teacher trying to sabotage an election for school president. Director Alexander Payne is the master of cringe-worthy moments and the satire always rings true. There were definately some Tracy Flicks in my school. Both Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon do their best work ever here.


Elephant (2003)– Here’s one I’ll never forget. Gus Van Sant offers no theories or explanations as to what the motivations of the shooters were in his depiction of a high school massacre. Based in part on the Columbine shootings, we follow several students through what at first appears to be just an ordinary day at school. Once the massacre begins, the film is harrowing and unflinching, refusing to even try to make sense of things.


Grosse Pointe Blank

I dug this old DVD out from our shelves recently because one of the Assholes (coughSeancough) is just old enough to be attending his own high school reunion. It’s impractical to tease him about it 24 hours a day, so I took a 107 minute break to watch this movie.

John Cusack is attending his own high school reunion in this movie – his 10th – and going back to grossepointeGrosse Point, Michigan means confronting the feisty prom date he stood up a decade ago (Minnie Driver) and his tenacious feelings for her. Oh, and did I mention he’s a hitman? You’d think ‘professional assassin’ would be a card you kept close to your chest, but actually Martin Blank plays it frequently, confessing to anyone who will listen, only no one ever believes him. I mean, would you, Sean, take the kid who repeatedly forgot his geography homework seriously if he told you he killed people for money? Or would it take finding a bloody corpse with a Bic pen sticking out of his neck crumpled by your old locker to think “Gee, this guy might be a psychopath”?

Going back to your old haunt after so many years away is never easy, and to be honest, I believe that high school reunions are for two types of people: 1) the geeks and nerds who have grown up to be either hot or rich or preferably both 2) the popular kids who ruled and peaked in high school and now, having gone down hill, want to relive their glory days. Not my cup of tea.

And for spouses, it’s even more awkward. This is not your school. These people are not and never were your friends. I liken it to being in a grocery store full of strangers, only for some reason you’re required to shake everyone’s hand and stand around making chit-chat with them as if you care. And you don’t care. You don’t want to see pictures of their stupid kids. You’re there for one of two reasons: either 1) you’re a trophy wife to show off or 2) you’re a crutch for when your spouse’s old high school insecurities start to flare. And now you’re obliged to stand around in uncomfortable shoes for hours while people you don’t know reminisce about things you weren’t there for. And it’s pointless to get invested – these people haven’t spoken to each other for 20 years and will go back to ignoring one another until their 40th. No one really cares, they just want to see and be seen. They hope that their social standing will have improved. They hope their successes will compare favourably to their peers’. But they don’t really care. If they really cared, they wouldn’t have lost touch. I mean, hello, it’s the age of Facebook. Aren’t high school reunions kind of obsolete now? What’s stopped you from Facebook-stalking any of these losers? They’re just somebodies that you used to know.

Okay, you can see that I’m hard on this whole high school reunion thing. I don’t get it. Have you been to yours? Would you? Was it terrible? I’m watching movies to prep myself, because that’s what I do. Next up: Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. That should be educational, right?

Ode to John Cusack

It’s impossible not to encounter an AWFUL lot of John Cusack when you’re perusing teen comedies. He practically had right of first refusal back in the 80s.

Say Anything

This one seems to lose a lot of sparkle the more I see it, and I’m not sure if it’s because it’s not aging well, or I’m not. Either way, the things that used to get me – the Peter Gabriel on the boomsayanything box, the post-virginity snail mail, it all starts to feel like not quite enough. Like, is this really the gold standard? I’m not sure if it used to impress me, but nowadays I just can’t shake the feeling that Lloyd Dobler is a loser. “Noble underachiever” is a phrase that can only be used by someone with the word teen at the end of their age. Unemployed, unambitious lazybones is more like it. Does that make me sound like my mother? Sure he’s sweet, but I like my sweet with a steady paycheque and some hobbies that go beyond stalking.

Better Off Dead

This movie is so bad I can’t even. Hadn’t seen this before, and should have kept it that way. The effects are terrible, although not quite as terrible as the wigs on the stunt doubles, but nothing holds a candle to the terribleness of the sentient hamburger animation. I can’t believe this didn’t derail Cusack’s career then and there. This comedy, which deals repeatedly with Lane (Cusack) better-off-dead-burgerwanting (and attempting) to kill himself because his girlfriend dumped him, should be much too dark for a burger playing an Eddie Van Halen song. And yet!

Turns out, no one hates this movie more than John Cusack. He walked out of the movie after 20 minutes of the screening and accused writer-director Savage Steve Holland of tricking him. “Better Off Dead was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don’t speak to me.” He felt used and foolish and finished working with Holland only out of contractual obligation. Too bad they don’t mention any of this on the back of the DVD.

Sixteen Candles

Poor Molly Ringwald. She’s trying to turn 16 and it’s all going horribly wrong. John Cusack is only in this peripherally, as a skinny little nerd, but even he’s not enough to keep the nostalgic glow sixteencandlesalive. Matt recently re-watched this and couldn’t get over the overt racism – a gong literally sounds every time not-at-all-racistly-named Long Duk Dong comes on-screen. For me, it was the rape that was unbearable. There’s sexism throughout the movie, of course, but rape is rape. This isn’t creepy or questionable. It’s legally, certifiably, conviction-worthy rape, but the movie plays it like it’s just par for the course. John Hughes died in 2009, recently enough that a look back should have been painful, but we’ll never know what he thought because he all but retired from the spotlight in 1991 after John Candy died suddenly of a heart attack. He wrote a few terrible scripts – Maid In Manhattan, Drillbit Taylor – under a pseudonym but kept his privacy well-guarded. He was nevertheless a genius of his generation and I wish we could have heard him say he knew now that it was wrong. Because this movie does get it very, very wrong.