So long time no Hugh Grant update. It’s almost like I’ve been busy with actual work or something. I’m getting scarily close to the end of the Hugh Grantathon, which leaves with me with a tremendous sense of both accomplishment and having wasted a colossal amount of time watching slightly mediocre movies from the mid 90s.
And, therefore, without further ado here’s some slightly mediocre movies from the mid 2000s.
Well this one’s depressing. Remember how between 2000 and 2008 George W Bush was president and left wing people in America thought it was like the worst thing that could possibly happen and everyone was like “oh my God this guy is such a moron, he constantly panders to his deeply socially conservative base while making a real big thing of how down-to-earth and uncomplicated he is to cover up the fact that he’s only really serving the interests of billionaires and his personal friends”? Well, don’t we feel silly now. American Dreamz is an only slightly mean-spirited satire of things that people thought were really, really important in 2007, which is to say a right wing president who’s a bit goofy sometimes and TV talent shows being popular. What can I say? It was a more innocent time.
Although it comes across as very, very dated now and I can’t tell if it’s whacky comedy terrorists have got more offensive or less offensive with time I did sort of weirdly like this movie. Hugh Grant plays a character who is definitely not Simon Cowell right down to his low-cut white shirts. And the emotional heart, or I suppose bleak satire of an emotional heart,of the film is his relationship with a contestant named Sally Kendoo. Basically they’re both ruthless, heartless, mercilessly ambitious glory hounds who hate themselves and are wiling to use and exploit anybody to get what they want, even though they know that getting what they want won’t particularly make them happy. Like, it’s not actually a love story because, well, they’re both too awful for that and also *spoiler* Hugh Grant’s character winds up dead at the end in a Shadow Of The Vampire-esque nothing-outside-the-frame-is-real type moment but I’m just really, really into the trope where two fundamentally terrible human beings each recognise that the other is the only person who understands them.
I mean, ultimately American Dreamz is a set of cheap and obvious jokes about reality TV, a set of cheap and obvious jokes about Islamist terrorism, and a set of cheap and obvious jokes about the Bush presidency (“lol, wouldn’t it be hilarious if the president went on a reality TV programme, wouldn’t that totally undermine and devalue everything the office is supposed to stand for”). Which means it’s not actually good in any useful sense of the word but it’s a weirdly fascinating a cultural artefact. And, as I said above, I was really into the dynamic between not-Simon Cowell and Sally Kendoo. Also, and this wasn’t a really a thing in mass media in 2007 so I’m not sure it’s deliberate, but the character of Sally Kendoo is basically ace. She very explicitly tells Hugh Grant that sex doesn’t interest her but she’s willing to do it if it gets her what she wants. And this is really difficult from a rep perspective because, on the one hand, it’s quite an incidental part of her character and isn’t particularly presented as coming from a place of abuse or damage. But, on the other hand, it is kind of represented as part and parcel of her fundamentally aberrant and basically sociopathic personality. So, yeah, bit of a bit mixed bag there.
Goodness of film: It’s probably a 2 but I’d like to give it a 3 because I actually kind of enjoyed it.
Hugh Grantiness of film: I’m going to give this a 3. It’s very much one of his character roles, although the character is a bit similar to some of the cad archetypes he’s played before and even more similar to, well, Simon Cowell. But a lesser appreciated element of the Grant oeuvre is his ability to portray a truly intense level of self-loathing hence the exactly average rating.
Music and Lyrics
There are two schools of thought about whether Music and Lyrics is a good romantic comedy. Everybody else thinks it’s terrible. I think it’s great. I will say that sexual chemistry wise Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore are, well, they don’t have any. Which for some people watching a romantic comedy I can see would be a bit of a deal breaker. But, for me, that criticism overlooks all the other things that are great about their relationship. They communicate well, they work well together, they support each other, they actually bring out the best in each other, and those are not small things. Nor are they the sort of things that normally get celebrated in romantic films.
The plot here is that Hugh Grant is a washed up 80s popstar (which is kind of the role he was born to play) who is offered an opportunity to revive his flagging career by writing a song for someone who, in 2009, definitely wasn’t Britney Spears and in 2018 definitely isn’t Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus. Unfortunately, he’s good at writing music but bad at writing … um … it’s in the title of the film. However, as fate would have it, the irrepressibly quirky woman who shows up at his apartment to water the plants has a natural talent talent as a lyricist. Stuff happens. They fall in wuv.
I think part of the reason this movie gets filed under the “generic and forgettable romcom” category is that has a somewhat mixed opening that doesn’t quite fit with the movie that follows it. Hugh Grant’s character is set up really well, partly because since he’s an actual celebrity it can open with a TV show giving a potted summary of his career that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about his core conflict. Drew Barrymore’s character, on the other hand, is a bit of a slowburn and the film is so keen to give its couple a meetcute that she comes in being weird and intense in a bunch of ways that she just isn’t for the rest of the movie. Like she’s randomly hypochondriacal and she talks in this incessant stream of consciousness. And maybe the implication is that as she gets to know Hugh Grant’s character better she calms down but it just feels a bit forced. I mean, one of her personality traits is that she takes things more seriously than one might commonly expect and this is sometimes a good thing (for example, when she responds to Hugh Grant’s pop music or insists that they can’t just phone in the last verse of Way Back Into Love) and sometimes negative (like, she tends to over-think everything and experiences an intensity of hurt from the insulting book her former mentor/lover wrote about her that is understandable but out of proportion) but all that is a complex knot of human-ness that is hard to communicate in one scene about plant watering.
Anyway, once you get past that shaky start, it quickly becomes apparent that is a story about two deeply but banally damaged people and how they eventually learn that while they can’t fix each other’s damage they can help one another to move on. I just … think that’s really nice.
Also the songs are genuinely quite good and really well-observed – from the skeevily sexualised cultural appropriation of not-Britney’s big number to the cheesy 80s nonsense of Pop Goes My Heart (d’you see, because the band is called Pop).
Goodness of film: 5. Don’t care. Love it.
Hugh Grantiness of film: 4.5 Like, this is basically Hugh Grant in 2008 playing a character who, in 1989, was Hugh Grant in 1997 because of the weird way Hollywood ageing works. But he’s super charming and very self-deprecating, which I like because I’m English. Also he sings. Also he dances. Also he is bad at fighting. Actually this should be a 5. He does all the best Hugh Grant things.
Did You Hear About The Morgans
This one actually is a generic and forgettable romcom. And I would argue that Hugh Grant has even less sexual chemistry with Sarah Jessica Parker than he does with Drew Barrymore.
I ended up quite enjoying this film but mostly because I went into it with rockbottom expectations. Basically, everything you need to know about Did You Hear About The Morgans is summed up by the two things written on the DVD box. The first is the tag line “they’ve fallen out of love and into witness protection” which is, yeah, that’s the plot of film. It’s also about as pithy and witty as the film ever gets. The second thing that’s written on the DVD box is a quote from a review which describes it as “the perfect date movie.” Something I’ve become increasingly aware of in my old age is that every time you see a quote on an advertisement for anything that quote is the single most flattering thing that the person making that advertisement could find that had been said in any context. For example, I was recently looking at the Steam page for a videogame which included the quote “is bigger and more lavish than its predecessor in every way.” I happened to have read the review from which the quote was drawn and therefore knew that the end of that sentence was something like “but still feels somehow hollow in comparison to it.” In the same way, I can’t help but feel that “the perfect date movie” is pretty much the faintest praise that a film can be damned with. I mean, what it’s basically saying “this is a great film to go and see if seeing a film really isn’t the point of your evening.”
Anyway, in this film Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker fall out of love and into witness protection. Which is to say, they witness a guy getting thrown off a balcony by a nondescript white man in a black beanie and when they go to the police they discover that the crime they witnessed was part of a major on-going criminal investigation into some big crime thing. They’re given police protection but the assassin who have they have seen once from a distance immediately comes to Sarah Jessica Parker’s apartment in broad daylight and shoots a cop in order to reduce the number of people who can place him at the scene of a crime. This leads to the Feds realising that that Hugh and Sarah Jessica need to be sent to Montana to have a heart-warming education in what really matters.
Now I’d say I don’t want to nitpick but that’s not true. I love nitpicking. But as much as I moderately enjoyed this film I really couldn’t get over the fact they shouldn’t have been in witness protection in the first place. The connection that the Morgans have to the crime is that the guy who gets killed was a client of Sarah Jessica Parker’s (she’s some kind of real estate agent) but, the thing is, being able to identify the victim isn’t useful. Generally, and I admit I only really know about this from movies and TV shows, people who get put in witness protection are people who can give cast iron evidence that a particular person is definitely guilty of something. All Sarah Hugh Parker can do is say they saw a guy in a beanie push a guy off a building. That isn’t helpful. The professional killer who hunts them down is clearly and demonstrably increasing his own risk of capture every single time he tries to take them out. Like the only way it makes sense is if the hitman actually is Michael Kelly and what the Morgans are telling the Feds “yes, the killer was definitely that guy who was in House of Cards, here’s his IMDB page.”
But I digress. There follows a film that is exactly like you expect a film about two cynical New Yorkers who go to small town America expecting to hate it to be. Blah blah community blah blah salt of the earth blah blah God’s own country. And the thing is, it’s actually nice. It really is. Like there’s a bit where Hugh Grant runs away from a bear. And a bit where they get taught to the shoot by The Cowboy from The Big Lebowski and Sarah Jessica Parker turns out to be better at it than Hugh Grant because ha! take that gender stereotypes that basically haven’t existed for twenty years. And it all ends with the locals rallying around them to defeat Michael Kelly at a rodeo. Because of course it does.
The aspect of the film I was most worried about at the beginning but wound up liking the most by the end was the source of tension in the Morgan’s relationship. We discover early on that Hugh Grant cheated on Sarah Jessica Parker and we also learn that Sarah Jessica Parker is super keen to have a baby, which made me a little bit uncomfortable because I’ve seen too films (quite a lot of them involving Hugh Grant) where the female lead’s only role is “I want babies now please”, often in the most inappropriate of circumstances (eight weeks, Bridget Jones, eight weeks!). And again, it is fine to want children. It is a thing that some women want and I do understand that. But even in 2009 it was getting to be a problematic stereotype. As the film develops, however, it became clear that I’d made some incorrect assumptions about what the setup was going to be. At first glance it appeared the dynamic in their relationship was basically “she wants to have babies, he wants to have sex with other women” but actually, as they find themselves in a small town with no WiFi forced to talk through their problems, it becomes clear that the narrative was really “they want to have children, she can’t have children, that takes an emotional toll on their relationship that eventually drives them apart” and Hugh Grant cheating is ultimately a symptom of that rather than the basis of it. It’s sufficiently mature and nuanced that I’ll even almost give it a pass on the fact that the assassin tracks them down because Sarah Jessica Parker is so unwilling to lose her appointment with adoption agency that she calls them from fucking witness protection having been specifically told that it’s the one thing you really definitely should not do. Almost. But not quite.
Goodness of film: This is a flat 2. Like, it’s fine. It is, in fact, the perfect date movie. Watch this film if you are more interested in the person you are watching it with than what you are actually watching.
Hugh Grantiness of film: 2. I mean, yes, technically he’s bad at fighting in this movie as well but since the only things he fights badly are a bear and an actual assassin it doesn’t have quite the same joy to it as his classic weedy Englishman duels. He’s fine but he’s basically playing an English man whose personality is he’s an an English man. He gives an okay performance with an okay script in an okay movie.
Pirates In An Adventure with Scientists (called Pirates A Band of Misfits in the US for what I suspect are Madness of King George reasons)
This is a fun animated film in which Hugh Grant provides the voice of an inept pirate captain called The Pirate Captain (there’s this whole thing in the film, and the book its based on, where all the pirates’ names are just descriptions of what kind of pirate they are like The Pirate With Gout or The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate). It’s basically a romp. And so historically inaccurate that I’m sure it must be being deliberately historically inaccurate. It’s specifically set in 1837 which is supposed to be in Victorian England and, I suppose it technically was, as long as it was after the 20th June but Victoria’s coronation wasn’t actually until 1838. It’s got a cameo from Jane Austen who died in 1817, there’s references to Dracula despite the fact Bram Stoker wouldn’t be born for another decade and, let us not forget, there are pirates in it even though they kind of stopped being a thing more than a hundred years earlier. And also the plot is about The Pirate Captain trying to win the annual Pirate of the Year Competition and attempting to do this by teaming up with Charles Darwin (who, bizarrely, is sort of historically accurate in that the story takes place shortly after he got off The Beagle and shortly before he published his notes about it) who is trying to win the annual Scientist of the Year Competition by using The Pirate Captain’s pet parrot Polly who isn’t really a parrot, she’s a dodo. Probably by now you have a very clear idea of whether you’re going to like this film or not. Needless to say I did like it because pirates. Also scientists. Also adventures. And Ducky was very pleased by the bird rep.
I have legitimately no idea how this film would play to an America audience because it strikes me as very, very British. It’s by Aardman Animations, the studio behind Wallace and Gromit, it has a cast of beloved but a bit obscure English people, like Lenny Henry, Brian Blessed and Imelda Staunton alongside some comparatively bigger names like David Tennant and Martin Freeman. And all the jokes are just silly and puerile and faintly bathetic.
My favourite factoid about the film and, warning, this contains spoilers from a 2012 kids movie about pirates and a dodo, is that there’s something of an irony to the plot twist at the end where Darwin is shocked to discover that Queen Victoria doesn’t want the dodo to put in a zoo but because she belongs to a secret society of gourmands whose sole purpose is to eat as many rare and obscure animals as possible. The irony in question being that, in real life, Queen Victorian almost certainly didn’t belong to such an organisation but Charles Darwin actually did.
Goodness of film: 3.5. It’s fun. It’s a cartoon about pirates. If you want to watch a cartoon about pirates, watch this cartoon about pirates. Or, to be honest, pretty much any other cartoon about pirates.
Hugh Grantiness of film: 2? It’s a difficult one because I’m honesty not sure I would have recognised The Pirate Captain was Hugh Grant if I didn’t already know it was Hugh Grant. But it is quite a Hugh Granty in that it is someone bumbling, incompetent and emotionally constipated. Also I was freaked out by him having a moustache in Maurice. He’s got a massive luxurious beard and is a cartoon character.