guess hugh just got back today

So it turned out watching every single movie Hugh Grant has ever made was a much bigger job than I thought it was going to be. But I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know I’m back on it and I’m here to provide you with my extremely important opinions about some movies that Hugh Grant made in 1995 and 1996, the years of no particular theme.

Nine Months

This is a new contender for Worst Film Hugh Grant Has Ever Been In. Actually, that’s a little bit unfair. It’s just you know how there was a furore recently because some young people on the internet watched some stuff from the 90s and were all like “wow, this seems really regressive” and the baby boomers were all like “hell, no, you’re not allowed to have opinions about things because that proves you have no sense of humour / can’t take a joke / are what’s wrong with the world”? Basically Nine Months is everything that you look back at and can’t quite believe we thought was funny in the 90s.

Hugh Grant plays a conventionally attractive man in his mid-thirties who doesn’t want children (it’s funny because he doesn’t have normative ambitions and values!), Julianne Moore plays his long-term partner who does want children (it’s funny because men and women are different!), Joan Cusack and Tom Arnold play a random couple who they meet on a beach and who keep cropping up on their lives for no reason (it’s funny because their children are badly behaved!), Jeff Goldblum plays Jeff Goldblum (it’s funny because he’s Jeff Goldblum!) and the late Robin Williams—who it is now impossible to see in anything without feeling faintly sad—plays a doctor with an Eastern European accent (it’s funny because he’s an immigrant!). The basic plot is that Julianne Moore accidentally gets pregnant and Hugh Grant can’t cope and then over the course of the film Hugh Grant is bullied into deciding he wants kids after all. This is a happy and uplifting ending.

The thing about Nine Months it that there’s kind of nothing wrong with it and kind of everything wrong with it. I think it’s just genuinely been years since I’ve engaged with a media artefact that has failed so spectacularly to speak to any of my values or interests. I mean, in a way it was almost fascinating because I watched the whole film with an awareness that it was making a bunch of assumptions about who I was, what I believed in, and what I would find amusing or affirming, and you’d think it would be right just a couple of times by pure chance. But it never was. The pregnancy as plot device setup put me off. The unthinking characterisation of Hugh Grant’s desire not to have children as a character flaw put me off. The equally unthinking assumption that this was something he would grow out of put me off. The fact Julianne Moore seemed to have no interest in anything that wasn’t babies put me off. The way we seemed to be asked to see the genuinely disrespectful, intrusive and flat-out rude behaviour of Tom Arnold and Joan Cusack’s kids as adorable and uplifting put me off. The way Robin William’s character’s accent seems to be taken as evidence of his incompetence put me off. The way Tom Arnold’s character’s toxic masculinity was presented as a valuable and productive element of his relationship with Hugh Grant put me off. I could honestly keep going all day. But basically what I’m saying is that I found this film off-putting.

With my rational hat on, I do recognise that there are probably people for whom this film is not the apotheosis of everything they’re not interested in seeing a film about. And, actually, although I’ve ragged on it in detail, really my profound distaste for it comes down to three very personal things:

  1. I am not hugely interested in babies
  2. This film is all about babies
  3. This film assumes thinks not being hugely interested in babies is an unforgiveable and unnatural personality defect

I could probably have lived with the first two. It was three that made it impossible for me to appreciate the film on its own terms.

Goodness of film: Like 2 or 3? Obviously, I really, really hated it but it’s actually perfectly competent. There were two genuinely funny moments, one of them involving Hugh Grant attacking a man dressed as a dinosaur (Hugh Grant being terrible at fighting is one of my favourite things in a Hugh Grant movie), and the other being the climatic sequence in which they rush Julianne Moore to hospital, gradually accumulating injured hangers-on who they’ve accidentally run over or assaulted en-route. This goes on far longer than it should and is, therefore, much funnier than it has any right to be.

Hugh Grantiness of film: Maybe a 3? He is the main character but he’s sort of phoning it in a bit. He’s basically allowed to do two things, which are to look uncomfortable around children or look misty-eyed about children. Neither of these things, I feel, play to this strengths.

Sense and Sensibility

This is one of my favourite movies so I feel bit weird talking about in this context. Because I’m not really a film person, the one thing I did get from watching Sense and Sensibility for a reason other “because I wanted to watch it” was that it made me pay attention to the kind of grown up movie things (like framing and visual metaphors and shot/reverse shot) I know just enough about to know that I know nothing about them. And my takeaway is that this film is really fucking artful: the sheer number of scenes that are shot through doorways (because, oh d’you see) or use minute changes of physical position to display emotional nuance are almost hilarious by the end if you’ve been following them the whole way through.

There was a really old sketch on, I think, Comic Relief which parodied both the style and production of Downton Abbey and it had this faux backstage interview with one of the actors (actually Harry Enfield) talking about how, because it was a very repressed time, everything is portrayed through “Looks”. And then it cuts to a scene from the spoof costume drama in which everyone is just staring at each other in a really obvious way, and it ends with the family patriarch (Harry Enfield again) saying “Has everyone finished doing their Looks?” And this is has made it basically impossible for me to watch costume dramas anymore because every time two or more characters exchange a significant moment I start to giggle.

Anyway, there are a lot of Looks in Sense and Sensibility. But they are really excellent, Austeny Looks. Everyone wants something different from an adaption of a well-known book and this one just happens to work really well for me. Because it’s an early Austen work, I find the actual book interesting but slightly incoherent, for reasons I won’t bore you with here—but I find this version manages to reconcile that incoherence into something that is both very romantic and a testament to the importance of familial love.

Hugh Grant, of course, plays Edward Ferrars—a perfect, if obvious, piece of casting. One of the nice things about watching lesser known Hugh Grant films is that you get to see him being a character actor (which he’s actually surprisingly good at) but the really odd thing about his role here is that because Edward Ferrars happens to be very much like the traditional Hugh Grant character you get to see him doing character acting and doing the Hugh Grant thing at the same time. Much as I enjoy Hugh Grant playing Hugh Grant there’s a tendency, especially in his later films, for it to be a very surface performance (that’s no reflection on him, that’s a feature of that type of role in that type of film) because it becomes sort of a collection of mannerisms held together with charm, stammering and saying bugger in a British accent. But here he’s playing a character who is just like that for character based reasons, and so he brings a lot of quiet depth to the role.

Goodness of film: 5. I’m biased, but I love this film.

Hugh Grantiness of film: 4. I’d give it a 5 because he’s so good in it but he’s not actually on screen very much.

Restoration

This was surprisingly good in a lot of ways, and quite silly in others. It’s based on a Booker-shortlisted novel, which I vaguely recall reading years ago and remember as a lot more coherent than the film winds up being. All of which said, the movie does weirdly hang together as a kind of whimsical picaresque whose tone veers quite sharply between fart jokes and dead of plague.

The whole thing has this peculiar sense of being at once lavish and also a little bit cheap, which is ironically fitting for something set in and around the court of Charles II. The costumes are fabulous while they’re at court and fabulously drab while you’re in the plague pits and the Quaker-run psychiatric facility. The setting is super vibrant and cleanly realised without that thing which modern historical movies tend to do where you put a brown filter over everything so it looks like the whole worried is covered in poo all the time. And the cast is star-studded, except it’s all people who used to be stars, would be stars about three years later, or go on to have a recurring minor role in Harry Potter. It’s got Sam Neill as Charles II (which, actually, somehow works), David Thewlis as a Quaker who dies, Ian McDiarmid as a Quaker who doesn’t die, Ian McKellen as a paternal servant, Meg Ryan as a mentally ill Irish woman who the protagonist randomly gets pregnant, Hugh Grant (for about five seconds) as an ambitious and scheming painter, and Robert Downey Jr (pre breakdown but post Natural Born Killers) looking shockingly big-eyed and fresh-faced as the main character.

The basic plot is that Robert Downey Jr is a physician called Robert Merivel who comes to the attention of Charles II by squeezing a guy’s heart (don’t ask) and who’s given a place at court taking care of spaniels. This leads into a sort 80s frat house movie plot where Charles insists that Merivel marry one of his (Charles’) mistresses so Charles can keep bonking her without Barbara Castlemaine getting jealous. And Charles is all like “and I’ve asked you do this because you’re a rubbish womanizing wastrel and so I know you definitely won’t fall in love with her” and then he definitely falls in love with her. There is then some intrigue involving a portrait. These are the five minutes of the film that Hugh Grant is in. He gets to wear some amazing shoes. They were so good it took me a while to look at his face, and realise he was Hugh Grant.

Once King Charles finds out that Merivel has fallen in love with the woman that Charles was keeping on special bonking reserve he is exiled from court, stripped of his titles and goes to live with Remus Lupin in a Quaker psychiatric hospital. This is something of an abrupt shift, both for Merivel personally, and for the tenor of the movie. Everything is bad and everyone is sad and Remus Lupin dies of consumption and Robert Downey Jr randomly impregnates Meg Ryan (I should clarify: the character played by Robert Downey Jr randomly impregnates the character played by Meg Ryan). He is exiled, once again, this time from the Quakers although they are slightly more friendly about it (because he did good work while he was there). Then Meg Ryan dies in childbirth. Then there is the plague. Then there is the Great Fire of London. And wow shit got real during the mid-1660s. I mean, seriously, we moan about Brexit. But like you ring up someone from 1666 and they’ll be like “yeah brah, we’ve got 7000 people dying a week and now half the city’s burned down” and we’d be like “but Toblerones don’t have as much chocolate in them anymore.”

Anyway. Robert Downey Jr has grown as a person and won back the favour of King Charles, although really it was kind of the favour of King Charles that ruined him in the first place. So, y’know, a mixed blessing. Point is, he started out as a skilled physician with a good reputation and then his skills deteriorated and his reputation was damaged but now both his skills and his reputation and his favour at Court have been … restored. Because the film is called Restoration. And also it’s set during the Restoration. It’s levels like that get you shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Goodness of film: This is another one where I don’t even. I really liked it but I think it might actually not be very good? But, fuck it, it’s my blog and there’s a scene in which Charles constructs an artificial lagoon under the palace so the mistress he’s palming off on Merivel can gradually be rowed across it looking hot wearing a veil and playing a mandolin on a golden boat, so 4.

Hugh Grantiness of film: 2. He actually does a really good job as an ambitious and scheming yet thwarted painter, but he is in the film for, like, 18 seconds.

Extreme Measures

This one’s a bit odd. It’s basically a medical thriller in which Hugh Grant is a successful young doctor who discovers a conspiracy and all the usual things that happen to successful young professionals who discover conspiracies happen to him. His performance here is unusual because it’s not the subtle character work you get when he’s in something less genre-ey but he’s also not the leading man of a light romantic comedy. So what you wind up with is Hugh Grant putting in a very Hugh Grant performance but in a completely un-Hugh Grant context. You have him blustering and stammering to a nurse and then authoritatively asking for 10ccs of Lidocaine stat. You have him leaning against a wall and saying “fuck” in a despairing Hugh Grant voice only it’s because sinister people with guns are trying to murder him instead of because he’s late for his friend’s wedding.

Also Sarah Jessica Parker is here.

Extreme Measures is a perfectly serviceable mid-90s thriller, although (unless you were super keen to, say, watch every film Hugh Grant has ever been in) there’s no particular reason to watch it over any other perfectly serviceable mid-90s thriller. I will, with once again my bleeding heart liberal millennial entitled snowflake hat on, say that I wasn’t terribly comfortable with its disability politics. The basic premise (spoilers for a serviceable thriller from 22 years ago) is that a renowned neurosurgeon played by Gene Hackman is adducting homeless people, deliberately severing their spinal cords and then subjecting them to experimental nerve regrowth techniques in order to find a cure for … I’m not sure it’s very clear … spinal damage induced paralysis? Wheelchairs in general? A whole bunch of people are in on this conspiracy, including (spoiler again) Sarah Jessica Parker, and every single one of the co-conspirators is a) ultimately willing to commit cold blooded murder to protect these illegal and flagrantly unethical medical experiments and b) motivated specifically by the fact that they or a member of their immediate families is in a wheelchair.

This has two probably unintentional but deeply unfortunate implications. The first is that the moment you see someone in a wheelchair you know that they or someone close to them is actively a villain. The second is that Evil Doctor Hackman is sort of supposed to have a point. There’s a bit at the end where he make a big speech about how important his work is and, as part of this, he gives Hugh Grant an epidural to make him think he’s paralysed which causes him to realise that having a physical disability is so life-destroyingly unbearable that you’ll do literally anything, no matter how immoral, for even the hope of a cure. And, y’know, I am in no way qualified to write about disability issues and I am absolutely not intending to minimise the difficulties faced by people with spinal injuries. But, to me, the film went worryingly close to treating being in a wheelchair as functionally equivalent to being dead. Which, from my limited understanding of these issues, is sort of not really considered appropriate any more.

I mean, other than that (which may well be a deal breaker for some people and a non-issue for others) it’s a slightly silly and largely forgettable movie. I think the thing I most appreciated about it was that Hugh Grant’s tendency to be incredibly bad at fighting continued unabated in it. You often find in this kind of thriller that when your Ordinary Person Protagonist gets thrown into sinister conspiracy world he suddenly becomes an unbelievable (in both senses of the word) badass. Whereas Hugh Grant’s plucky doctor continues to be slightly shit at basically anything resembling physical confrontation. I mean, he navigates New York surprisingly well with a bullet hole through his abdomen but when he has to fight a man with a gun in a lift it’s pleasingly flaily and he ends up shooting Evil Doctor Hackman almost entirely by accident.

Goodness of film: 3. It’s kind of the definition of adequate.

Hugh Grantiness of film: 4. He’s basically always on screen and thriller protagonist Hugh Grant is surprisingly similar to romcom protagonist Hugh Grant. But it’s nice to see that character doing a different set of things and being slightly panicked and confused for a different set of reasons.

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23 Responses to guess hugh just got back today

  1. Juliette says:

    Thank you thank you … this made me laugh so much I’m saving it for future stress relief 🙂

    I’m a big fan of the book Restoration (and its sequel Merivel) and it sounds like they followed the plot closely and yet somehow didn’t make it hold together? I suppose it’s the “voice” of Merivel that holds the book together because it’s narrated in the first person. Which of course one loses in the film.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you 🙂

      For what it’s worth, I actually think Merivel’s character comes across pretty well in the film – he’s torn between his best and worst impulses, as embodied in fart jokes and plague doctoring. But I think just the necessity of compressing a novel that even a quick reader couldn’t finish in less than six hours into a two hour movie just means that a lot of the transitions feel really sharp, so it’s like boom heart guy, boom court, boom estate with hot wife, boom quakers, boom plague, boom fire, boom the end.

  2. Susan says:

    Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorite adaptations of that book. I watch it quite often.

    I was also horrified over the baby-obsession of Nine Months. Don’t have kids, don’t want kids, and I’m happy with that decision.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I should probably stress that I have no problem with people who do have or want kids but the whole “babies fix everything and you are broken if you don’t agree” vibe of Nine Months was profoundly alienating to me.

  3. Zoe says:

    I haven’t seen the movie, but Restoration and its sequel, Merivel, are two of my favorite books. It has more levels than just a play on its title 😉 Robert Merivel is one of my all-time favorite characters because he’s half ridiculous saturnalian idiot and half reflective tragic figure. (The sequel may have made me cry.)

    And, god yes, Nine Months was terrible. My least favorite part of it was that it was a pregnancy story and yet it was still centered around a cisgender man and his “journey.” Like, it’s just assumed that Julianne Moore’s character has no fears or doubts about having a child, being pregnant, or GIVING FRICKIN’ BIRTH. Ugh, Hollywood.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I confess, I was a bit ungenerous about the levels in Restoration – it’s just when something has a title that’s really on the nose I have overwhelming urge to say “oh, right, I see what you did there.” (To be fair, I do this with my own books as well). As I said above, I do actually think RDJ captured the character of Merivel really well. The film abbreviated bu they do a decent job of giving a sense of who Merivel is and precisely which character flaws lead to him being such a massive arse, while also having the potential to be a much better person.

      As for Nine Months, I agree that the way Julianne Moore’s characters is defined entirely by wanting babies is super problematic, although it’s the kind of problematic I’m conscious I don’t have much standing to talk about.

  4. Claire says:

    This was hilarious and I have to say that I much appreciate your efforts in watching some of these films so that I never have to (not that I was in a ton of danger of slipping and suddenly finding myself watching 9 Months, but now I shall actively avoid it).

  5. Kamala says:

    I listened to the actor/director commentary, whatever it’s called, of Sense and Sensibility years ago. All I remember of it was them discussing the complications of getting the sheep on the hill just right. Or something about the sheep, the ever present sheep. Anyway, any time I’ve watched that film since my attention is always riveted to the sheep.

    This was highly entertaining so thanks. And it is always nice to get a reminder of how far we’ve come since the 90’s.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I can weirdly see that (I mean about the sheep) because everything about the film is so rigidly controlled and meticulously framed that it must have been a right pig getting animals who just want to eat grass and wander around to stand in thematically resonant positions. It kind of reminds of this half-remembered anecdote about a scene in, I think, Three Colours: Red (I will stress I know next to nothing about cinema, so this may be a completely incorrect story relating to a completely incorrect film) where the protagonist, like, dips a sugar cube into a cup of coffee and you see the coffee rise up through the sugar cube and then they drop it into the drink. And the director had a very clear idea about how they wanted that shot to play out but it always took too long for the coffee to do its thing. So apparently they spent ages experiment with different kinds of sugar, different sizes of sugar cube or shaving bits off the sugar cube before finally realising they could just speed up the film. Again, this might be an urban myth or possibly a dream I had once.

      • Kamala says:

        I had forgotten all about those movies and can’t remeber a thing about them. The sugar cube thing rings a faint bell although it could be a misbegotten memory bell because I have held sugar cubes in liquid myself and watched them be absorbed. The pristine small, white cubes of regular granulated sugar abosorb rather quickly. European sugar is probably more peculiar. I don’t remember.

      • Askewe says:

        Ah, see now I’m picturing them trying to teach sheep how to achieve the Look. Perhaps those same movie sheep wranglers went on to career success in 2006’s Black Sheep, who knows…

  6. Judith B says:

    I loved reading this. I laughed. A lot. So thank you!

  7. Katrin says:

    I enjoyed reading your views on those films. I‘ve Seen the first two and I totally agree!

  8. Jeanne says:

    I don’t object to babies; found as a grandmother that “baby bed” is one of my favorite “activities”, but 9 Months is just awful. I couldn’t watch it. (My Netflix history says I rated it one star in 2008.)

    I agree with Claire in thanking you for watching and writing about these so I need not do so. And also with all of those above thanking you for entertaining us. And some prior commentor who suggested you could rewrite a phone directory and make it entertaining. (purple and pink hearts!)

  9. willaful says:

    “when he has to fight a man with a gun in a lift it’s pleasingly flaily ”

    Now I’m flashing on the dean in Community seasons 6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNZdFPAiiJo

  10. Curly says:

    Yeah, Nine Months was crap when I saw it in the theatre when it came out. I doubt that it is beloved but troubling in retrospect like Friends, I doubt anyone was ever fond of it.

  11. Dany says:

    I recommend listening to the Broad Appeal podcast if anyone’s not heard it – they did S&S in their recent Emma Thompson episodes (Brian worships Emma Thompson), as well as a fantastic take-down of Love Actually.
    S&S-wise, I think I preferred Dan Stevens & Hattie Morahan in the tv version. But then I still can’t believe you didn’t mention Rupert’s glorious perm in Maurice 🙂

  12. liz says:

    I could only read the first two reviews tonight and I agreed wholeheartedly with your assessment of both. Except I’m not as kind as you are with 9 months. Characters being pathologized is one thing, but characters being pathologized because parenting doesn’t appeal to them is quite another. And why does everybody just love Jeff Goldblum? He tries too hard.
    Anyway, but thanks for the reviews. And the books. And especially the Billionaire book that will be released 6 month earlier than everyone is saying (hint hint). 😉

  13. allie says:

    When you mention a really old sketch about a show that is as new as Downton Abbey you make me feel ancient – as I am.

    Apart from that I think you had Sense and Sensibility spot on: intelligent script intelligently and beautifully filmed. I saw it in Brussels and the line about the Nile being in Belgium got the biggest laugh in a cinema ever.

  14. J.R. says:

    Damn that was funny. I appreciate your willingness to see all Hugh’s movies. Sense and Sensibility is a favorite. If I were going to watch all of someone’s movies, Alan Rickman would be my choice, or maybe I have already. 😉

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