the science of sleep
Have you ever watched a movie and thought, "Wow, that was a mess, but I loved it"? I have, and I have a name for movies that make me feel that way. I call 'em "beautiful failures."
Beautiful failures are usually too long, too weird, too sloppy or just plain stupid, but they're always strangely compelling and, well, beautiful. They're the movies you think you hate but you can't stop thinking about. You come back to them over and over and you can't figure out why. They can be very complex, pretentious or even too simple or mass appealing. Other film buffs might tell you different, but there's really no formula to creating a beautiful failure.
Some of my favorite beautiful failures are Steven Soderbergh's Solaris, Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and David Cronenberg's awkward 1996 thriller Crash. I love these films for different reasons, but I recognize that they're all a little ... dreadful.
Here are a few titles I've recently added to my list of beautiful failures. Please, share some of your favorite "bf's" in the comments.
The Science of Sleep
The problems start with the packaging and advertising for director Michel Gondry's follow-up to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The trailer and DVD box try to sell the film as a quirky romantic comedy full of whimsical dream sequences and cute one-liners. What you really get is a seemingly chaotic but densely structured character study of an unlikable, mentally ill manchild (Gael Garcia Bernal).
There's a lot of good here, though. Bernal's character has trouble disassociating fantasy from reality, and Gondry illustrates this with some charming and singular visual tricks. Also, the ending is somewhat of a stunner that brilliantly unites all the disparate ideas and elements that came before. Unfortunately, most viewers will be confused and sick of all the seeming randomness before the third act. Bernal and the rest of the cast are great, but most of the characters are unappealing or hard to relate to. Still, I'll go back to this movie again for its brave storytelling, strange comedic bits and great visuals.
View the trailer
Where to start? The Fountain is the perfect beautiful failure. It's at times fiercely incoherent, silly and pretentious, but it's also visually impressive and features a very strong lead performance by Hugh Jackman.
All of the "big ideas" director Daron Aronofsky (Pi, Requim for a Dream) attempts to convey here can be gleaned from the preface of one of those Don't Sweat the Small Stuff books, but he delivers his dime store philosophy in an extravagant package that constantly switches from compelling to laughable (picture a bald Jackman reaching nirvana while sitting in a lotus position). Add to that a bunch of muddled biblical references, plot strands that go nowhere and performances that range from sleepy (Rachel Weisz) to irrelevant (Ellen Burstyn) and you have a "bf" that, somehow, demands repeat viewing.
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This campy comic book adaptation is about a guy with a flaming skull for a head, but that's the least ridiculous thing about it. After delivering two joyless duds based on Marvel books (Daredevil and Elektra) writer-director Mark Steven Johnson amps Ghost Rider's absurdity factor up to 11. Unfortunately, that's way too high -- even for a comic book movie.
The film is a poorly written, painfully simplistic and predictable popcorn flick, but its worst attributes are what will keep me coming back to it. You have to admire a film that so economically delivers the cheap thrills and seems willing to suck ass to do so. The cast members do their best to make sure that Ghost Rider makes you smirk for 90 minutes and slips out of your system faster than a Diet Coke. It's a sick and fascinating thing to watch Nicholas Cage violently hammer tons of trite quirks and ticks into his character (He eats M&Ms from a champagne flute! He listens to The Carpenters! He speaks with an undefinable accent!). Peter Fonda and Sam Elliot ham it up, but the real kick here is Wes Bentley as the film's impossibly witless and fruity villain, Blackheart.
View the trailer, I dare you