I have a game to propose. Read on to see how to play. It’s about recommending better movies to watch. And rewarding artists.
The new film The Other Woman is making heaping wads of blockbuster cash. Even though, evidently, it is nearly every kind of awful and sets women back thirty years. Linda Holmes produces a most scathing and informative critique of the movie that is a must-read (h/t Amanda at Skepchick). You can also see the trailer for the gist of the plot.
What struck me as I read that review is that I had seen this movie before. Except, in every single way Holmes points out this one sucked, that one didn’t, but did exactly the opposite of everything Holmes rightly complained about. It was as if a time traveler read her review, went back in time, and made the movie Holmes would have liked, based on her review.
That movie is If I Were You, starring Marcia Gay Harden, Leonore Watling, and Aidan Quinn (and directed by Joan Carr-Wiggin). Even apart from the fact that I have a major life-long crush on Marcia Gay Harden, I can vouch for the fact that this was a fantastic film, unique, funny, engaging, well-written, well-directed, and superbly performed. You won’t ever have seen anything like it.
The stock description reads:
After Madelyn (Academy Award Winner Marcia Gay Harden) and Lucy (Leonor Watling) meet by chance, they make a pact to fix their unhappy lives: they will only do what the other one says and ignore their own instincts. But Madelyn has a secret. She knows her husband is sleeping with Lucy, a much younger and beautiful woman. Madelyn’s plan backfires when Lucy, an aspiring actress, orders her to play King Lear in a very amateur production, with Lucy playing the Fool. Madelyn’s life is transformed in unexpected ways as, like Lear, she struggles with matters of mortality and betrayal, loyalty and love.
Yeah. That. Huh? Right. BTW, one of the best King Lear performances I’ve ever seen. By a woman.
Even though it’s about two women hand-wringing over a man (sort of like The Other Woman, only unlike The Other Woman, there’s just one other woman, and the man is likable enough to plausibly explain why both women want him), it still Bechdel tests well (although the trailer doesn’t). The story isn’t identical to The Other Woman (obviously…I mean, hello, the wife ends up playing King Lear), but it is similar enough that one can see that if someone who had all of Holmes’ concerns about The Other Woman decided to write a similarly themed film, they’d end up with something like If I Were You. Smarter, funnier, more compelling, more moving, more plausible (yes, even the playing of King Lear). No one is a caricature. The woman are different and well motivated and emotionally complex and have fuller lives than just the man they are after. The “other woman” is dumber than the wife, but believably so, and sympathetically. And the man isn’t a ridiculous wax-moustachioed sexist villain. (He’s just a so-so guy who cheats on his wife.)
This got me to thinking. How often does this happen?
- Big, major blockbuster film gets made and earns tons of cash, despite being a total piece of crap (predominantly that means: badly written, full of eye-rolling cliches, stereotypes, and unforgivable implausibilities, and probably insulting to millions of people).
- Little, barely-seen-or-even-known film very similar to it had already been made years before, which is an artistic achievement, with great writing, acting, and direction, that is in every way better than its awful mutant blockbuster twin (fraternal twin, since we aren’t saying the films are identically plotted, just similarly themed enough that most of what’s special about the bad one is in the good one, so if you accidentally burned one of them the world would be a better place).
- And the money goes to the crap.
I had a similar experience when I learned about God’s Not Dead, the deeply offensive, absurdly written garbage pile that is now the shame of Kevin Sorbo (in this case, the review to read is by philosopher Dan Fincke: in summary and in detail). Watching the trailer to that (yes, actually in a theater, having never heard of it before) I kept thinking (between bouts of Jen and I busting into laughter), “Wait, I’ve seen this movie before, only it didn’t go in the bullshit direction this one clearly is.” That movie is Salvation Boulevard, starring Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosna, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Marisa Tomei, and Ciarán Hinds (and directed by George Ratliff).
Again, Salvation Boulevard isn’t the exact same film. But it shares similar themes enough to be curious. For example, it centers around a debate over God’s existence between a caustic atheist professor and a Christian (in this case a big-money preacher), although this opens the film rather than serves as its climax. Likewise, the central character is a naive Christian struggling to deal with what’s going on through the course of the film, and comes to realizations and renewed confidence by the end. And there are several lesser themes loosely similar. But contrary to what God’s Not Dead does, which is deviate from every plausible reality and produce awful cliches and insulting caricatures (even of its heroes), Salvation Boulevard uses only a few and relatively minor reality-stretching plot points and even those it makes poignantly plausible, and then sends us on a ride that explores a world of religion and faith and loyalty and corruption much closer to reality.
It’s also funny.
(As you can tell from the trailer, but I say, don’t watch that, or read about the film, because spoilers–just watch it not knowing what’s going to happen and let the plot twists surprise you.)
I think to “get” the game I have in mind, you have to at least read Holmes’ review of The Other Woman and watch the trailer to God’s Not Dead. Then puke. Then actually buy and watch If I Were You and Salvation Boulevard (both are available on Amazon instant video, as well as DVD; see links above). Then you’ll see what I mean. I’m not looking for movies that are exactly or even mostly the same, but that are enough the same that you can compare and contrast them fruitfully. Yet one is a major cash-earning pile of puke, and the other is a far lesser known masterpiece of good writing and acting. It’s a “Don’t watch that. Watch this.” kind of game.
How many movie-pairs like that can you come up with? This is something definitely worth crowdsourcing, because the lesser known movies by nature have been seen by too few people. You will have seen lots of those I haven’t. And so on. Maybe we can help reward actually good filmmakers who deserve to have their work seen and supported more, and send them a little royalty money, by boosting their signal just a touch.
So this is what I shall dub The Other Woman Game: bookmark this post, then post in comments (even if it is months or years from now) every time you think of a pair of movies that scores a hit according to the criteria set above, in the same way Salvation Boulevard pairs with God’s Not Dead and If I Were You with The Other Woman. That’s the challenge. Go!