So Mean to Josephine directed
by Peter Wellington
her 1996 Sundance entry Joe’s So Mean to Josephine, Sarah Polley
told a Toronto journalist, "I can’t believe it was written by a man!"
Polley’s female-chauvinist comment proves how rarely our culture provides
insight into male behavior, masculine pain. Joe’s So Mean to Josephine,
a criminal-class-boy-meets-upwardly-mobile-girl love story, resembles a Vancouver
Breathless. It has no Godardian innovations, but its depiction of how
wrong two hearts can be reveals the way class tensions and emotional inexperience
affect relationships–the things indie movies are thought to do, talked
about doing but rarely, if ever, achieve.
From the start, when Josephine
first sees Joe at a local bar, Wellington investigates pop infatuation. Their
love story might be out of the Shangri-La’s ("He’s good-bad but
he’s not evil"). Eric Thal bases Joe’s blocked, damaged character
in convincing swagger while Polley aces Josephine’s girlish hunger for
excitement. His petty thefts heat up her bored propriety. Casing Josephine’s
home, Joe argues with her mother ("Don’t get smart with me, young
man!" "Don’t get stupid with me, lady!"). Josephine’s
won over by what she idealizes as rebellion. Wellington views their confusion
about class and desire convincingly. He has an uncommon sense of lower-middle-class
neighborhood locales, the mien of social exchange. I haven’t seen much
like this outside Frank Borzage’s 1931 Bad Girl. I thought of Borzage
during the berserk Isn’t She Great when Bette Midler and Nathan
Lane talked to God in Central Park; the wack scene defied credulity, whereas
Borzage, in Bad Girl and After Tomorrow, perceived a true union
of souls when his pairs of lovers simply stood side by side talking about the
economic (seemingly cosmic) barriers that kept them from marrying. Wellington
comes close to that in scenes of Joe and Josephine’s inarticulate companionship.
Their reunion, after a short absence, balances Joe’s wrenching stupor with
Josephine’s perplexity. It’s a classic face-to-face, lovers drowning
in the gulf between them.
When Joe attempts making
up with social-climbing Josephine by offering her an unexpected gift, her pretentious
response, "That’s very magnanimous of you," proves her growing
distance–and is perfectly wounding. In such moments Joe’s So Mean
to Josephine approximates the exquisite new Scritti Politti song "First
Goodbye." Opposing the current facile notion of people reinventing themselves,
this emotional crisis shows two lovers coming into their first young adult creation.
Somehow Joe’s So
Mean to Josephine never found theatrical distribution in the U.S. while
last year Polley appeared across the country in the dreadful, Miramax-hyped
Guinevere (a simple jailbait movie). So it’s official: You can’t
wait for good movies to be brought to your attention by big-budget ad campaigns.
There may be a treasury of poignant comedies and dramas in the netherworld of
video and indie cable. Take that as a warning and take Joe’s So Mean
to Josephine as a cinematic billet-doux.
built-in facetiousness of Scream 3 is its worst fault. Some reviewers
stop short from rightfully condemning the movie because they think it’s
not meant to be more than trivial. Yet even if viewed half-consciously, Scream
3 perverts the fun principle. Pop taste doesn’t have to sink this low.
Wes Craven, the film’s director, has no idea how to improve his franchise,
so he reprocesses it. Without shame about the tired plot and tacky conceits,
Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courteney Cox Arquette) and Dewey (David Arquette)
once again run scared from another masked killer through a maze of movie in-jokes.
But third time’s not the charm. Craven’s trio find themselves doubled
on the set of a movie, Stab 3, where a group of self-involved actors
and filmmakers travesty their past real-life nightmares–and with a new
slasher loose on the lot. There’s no suspense here, just–unironically–a
series of hackings. Sure that only the thickest movie buffs will fall for this
junk, Craven also works in buff flattery: he emphasizes cameo appearances by
trash guru Roger Corman and his bastard progeny Kevin Smith. But they never
ask: How many Psycho ripoffs must the culture endure?
Coming off last year’s
Hitchcock Centennial, where everybody gave lip-service to The Master, a sad
fact remains: Gen X prefers cheap thrills. (That’s how Scream’s
original writer Kevin Williamson turned its shtick into the I Know What You
Did Last Summer franchise.) At first the series’ blatancy gave some
ready-made sarcasm to the teen-sex-comedy gimmicks. In a culture where the universal
adolescent horror of Brian De Palma’s Carrie has been reduced to
"just an old movie," Scream seemed a logically dumbed-down
retreat from one’s personal anxiety and general narrative expectation.
Yet by congratulating such skepticism, the series’ jokiness wound up making
blatancy its point. And The Blair Witch Project, sensing the minimal
stimulus modern viewers will respond to, sniffed the trail. It proved we are
well into a callous new movie era. Inanity fancies itself clever. (We might
as well give up on this generation of moviegoers and concentrate on the newborn.
The Blair Witch-Titanic-Speed-Pulp Fiction generation is lost.) Now Scream
3’s audience sits still; waiting for manipulation, waiting for Craven
to go "Boo!" It’s a hell of an achievement for a man whose recent
promotional biographies boast his master’s degree in philosophy from Johns
Hopkins. Scream 3’s depressingly predictable $35-million first weekend
gross should earn Craven an honorary MBA from Three-Card Monte U.
Despite Craven’s cravenness,
Scream 3 simply isn’t entertaining. Here’s why: Its
suspense effects lack a light touch. Without even the low-grade humor of a genuine
trash compactor like John Carpenter (come back Mr. Halloween, almost
all is forgiven), Craven’s obvious set pieces are dully presented. After
hiding out as an anonymous aide at a suicide crisis line, Sidney gets trapped
(and lost) in the soundstage replication of her past trauma but Craven hasn’t
the panache to ignite her fantasy/reality frisson. Think of the vision-on-the-staircase
sequence in The Fury (with Amy Irving spinning through her widescreen
clairvoyance) as an example of how such a moment should be played. De Palma,
an artistic philosopher, created imagery that uncorked the subconscience and
the memory; he amplified the movieness of his characters’ experiences.
Craven’s bluntness dulls cinematic appreciation. And reviewers who don’t
understand that, yet praise Scream 3 for its blitheness, are leading
film culture to the toilet.
It’s media facetiousness
that Scream 3 represents by way of movie-cult in-jokes. When a Stab
3 cast reading turns into a stalking and the alter-ego actors’ fuss
escalates into fright, they all jump thinking their cellphones have gone off
at once. That’s a good goose of L.A./Manhattan biz mania (and a cellphone
black comedy might be a good idea if Anthony Drazan hadn’t already done
it in Hurlyburly) but Scream 3’s satirical impulse doesn’t
go much further than a goosing. Its most impudent setups fizzle. Other in-group
jibes–a hall-of-mirrors routine, a videotape summary of Movie Trilogy Rules–pall.
In Gale’s first scene,
lecturing to a journalism class about her career as a tv anchorwoman for Total
Entertainment, she stresses the importance of "story, facts, fame"
as career goals. She’s…well, craven. But Scream 3–like Stab
3–is similarly, depressingly desperate. Courteney Cox did greediness
with more vivacity in Scream 2 but Craven seems to be backing away from
her glamour, devitalizing her in pursuit of drab, sexless genre commentary.
"Violence in cinema is a big deal now," a studio exec says to Stab
3’s young director named Roman (for a dumb poke at Polanski, though
the humor is so vague you can’t be sure). Another character even pronounces,
"Pop culture is the politics of the 21st century." This glib thinking
actually depoliticizes everything. Patrick Dempsey playing Mark Kincaid, a jaded
Hollywood cop investigating the studio murders (he’s Craven’s moral
stand-in) aphorizes, "This is not the city for innocence; either play the
game or go home." But the line fails to hit the kind of serious L.A. critique
Steven Soderbergh found for The Limey. Like Terence Stamp in that movie,
Dempsey has a real actor’s face, handsome and character-filled (he’s
aged past his 80s teen-comedy goofiness). When he confesses, "To me Hollywood
is about death–seeing haunted movies in your head whether you want to or
not," he goes beyond Craven. In this sketchy role (Kincaid’s precinct
desk is covered with books titled Write It Sell It and Film Design
in the Thirties) Dempsey approaches William Holden’s Sunset Boulevard
Yet Dempsey’s role
is trashed. Craven treats even his bit players (Liev Schreiber, Patrick Warburton,
Jenny McCarthy) coarsely, as disposable puppets. It was plain from the bland
way Meryl Streep was lighted in Craven’s Music of the Heart that
he can’t connect to human feeling. His crop of indie stars is badly photographed,
esthetically nullified. Neve Campbell’s tough and weepy Sidney ultimately
bores. David Arquette, except for giving Dewey a John Wayne limp, can’t
keep the character in focus. After being so good in Wild Bill and so
promising in Dream with the Fishes and Johns, Arquette now seems
over–a tv commercial clown. Matt Keeslar, playing the actor impersonating
Dewey, flashes only a little of his gifts before being dispatched. And casting
Courteney Cox opposite Gale’s imitator, the singular Parker Posey, should
have percolated–a tv-joke facing its multidimensional parody. When these
two actresses meet–Cox in yellow/Parker in chartreuse–you expect Almodovarian
zing. However, Craven doesn’t have the wit for camp. Scream 3’s
facetiousness molders. Any moviemaker who kills off Parker Posey and Matt Keeslar
doesn’t know the meaning of entertainment.