Friday, January 7, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#7) Lumet's THE MORNING AFTER

(and now back on track with a somewhat forgotten, if not totally disworthy of not finding until now, Sidney Lumet directed vehicle for Jane Fonda and Jeff Bridges)

What happens when you can't remember what you did at all the night before thanks to liquor?  And, you know, it's not good right next to you in the bed.

The smash comedy from 2009 The Hangover dealt with this idea with a modicum of outrageous gags and a string of befuddled faces on an epic one 1/2 day quest.  The Morning After sees this premise much more seriously.  No, perhaps, on paper, better being in a film-noir mode.  This premise could come right out of a pulp fiction thriller: a washed-up alcoholic actress wakes up after a night of heavy drinking next to a macho body-builder from TV, and he's got a knife right in his chest.

She doesn't know how he got there, or if she did it, or if someone else might have done it.  So she has to exit for a moment, almost leaves the state, and then runs into by stroke of luck a guy getting an old jalopy ready to go.  He might be of help - he's an ex-cop who was kicked off the force due to an old injury - but she's still the prime suspect, and she has little place to turn save to her sometimes-husband hairdresser (Raul Julia) and her dependable bottle of booze.

So the potential is there.  And having Sidney Lumet as director could give the pulp some good dramatic tension and some interesting camera timing with the actors.  And the stars are a sight, Jane Fonda in her workout-fase and Jeff Bridges in good-guy mode, on the flip-side of another neo-noir he made in 1986, 8 Million Ways to Die.  Oh, and Raul Julia is there too!  There is some genuine chemistry, when it's alotted by the little moments between the actors, sometimes between the lines or in looks or pauses, or the way Fonda can bring out those pearly whites or Bridges has that grin that says "I'm alright, I think."  And there are a few lines that are genuinely clever, and/or make things realistic for such a dynamic of an ex-cop and a flopped actress who is going by a stage name anyway (her real name, Alexandra, is fine, as long as you don't yell it).

I think that Ebert lays it out a little better than I could, but I can emphasize it: the actual murder plot kind of gets in the way of what is some good interactions between characters- Fonda and Bridges, Fonda and Julia.  It's not a bad plot at all, though it doesn't seem like the cops are doing as much investigation as one might think with such a case involving an (ex) actress and bodybuilder douche.  It wraps itself up just fine and there's a quasi-expected twist or revelation or what-have-you, but I could tell it wasn't really what Lumet was most interested in.  More time with the characters is what makes it count, since they are good, sympathetic characters we want to see alright (that is Turner and Alex, not so much Julia's hairdresser, though he has a couple of awesome sinister-moments).

And yet with the asides those, too, have some problems.  There's a consistent reference to potential racism of Turner, or maybe of Alex too, but it's a kind of weird way the movie addresses it that's distracting.  It's good at first as a kind of throwaway joke (what, Turner, you're part of the Klan or something? yeah, part of the Klan, haha, let's move on), and then another reference comes back to something else, and again, and again.  Is it maybe brought on by the booze, asking such inquiries about "Spics" or "Jews".  It's meant in an off-handed quasi-joking or maybe even realistic manner, but it comes off more as awkward; better is when the characters get to interact outside of that.  If they were going to address it it should be more straight-on, with more explanation, or just one or two throaway jokes or lines at the expense of a "country boy" like Bakersfield native Turner.

But for the film's faults with plot focus and those diversions into odd race talk, Lumet still makes it an enjoyable lot of A-goes-B form of moviemaking.  The colors and images of Los Angeles are bright and poppy, the soundtrack a sometimes (intentionally?) 80's horn-and-synth combination to go along with Fonda's VERY 80's hairstyle, and a lot of those compositions of Fonda walking around in the streets are just fantastic to look at, making her seem small in her surroundings or, when she's inside, more isolated than ever.

It's an LA of bright-grit, if that contradiction could make sense, pastels and suburban-looking streets, and an old run-down place that will be turned into skyscraper territory but for the moment is a home for the wayward Turner.  And I enjoyed both of the stars in it, especially Fonda who knows how to play drunk just right, that it's a kind of happy, turbulent experience to have, and when it's done so often and so much it's alright to be a bit warbly, or with the mood swining like spastic arms.  So many ingredients here, and I would include the climactic showdown, are good here.  It's just the mixture of it all that isn't entirely surefire.

Oh, one last question: what happened to the cat?!
And one last observation: the poster for this movie is fantastic design,

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