Who would have thought that Betty White would be the last Golden Girl standing?
Here are two movies opening here in the Valley this weekend:
Please Give—It’s been a while since I enjoyed a movie about neurotic Manhattanites as much as this low-key ensemble comedy. Married couple Catherine Keener & Oliver Platt run an antique shop which they supply by swooping down on the bereaved heirs of dead New Yorkers, relieving them of their parents’ furniture & reselling it at a disgraceful markup. She feels guilty about this; he’s smart enough not to. She also gives obsessively to homeless people & makes feeble attempts at volunteering.
Keener & Platt own the apartment next door, but they can’t break through the wall & expand their own place until the long-overdue demise of its current occupant, a nasty ancient lady (wonderful Ann Guilbert). This joyless crone’s needs are tended, in return for absolutely zero gratitude, by one of her granddaughters (Rebecca Hall); the other (Amanda Peet) can’t grasp how her sister can go to so much trouble for the old bitch.
Platt & Peet represent the segment of humanity that’s quite comfortable with the pursuit of their self-interest, while Keener & Hall embody those afflicted with the awful, gnawing sense that they aren’t giving of themselves for others enough, & with an equally persistent sense of futility when they try. These four & few other characters are bounced off each other by writer-director Nicole Holofcener quite amusingly, but with tenderness as well, & a stinging awareness that unabashed selfishness can come across far more attractively than the oppresive unselfishness of the do-gooder.
Splice—Sarah Polley is Elsa & Adrien Brody is Clive, a hipster geneticist couple in the service of big pharma. They surreptitiously make their very own embryo by blending DNA from several species, including human. The result looks, at first, like a baby doll crossed with a kangaroo rat, but she matures, at an accelerated rate, into a rather elegant & fetching specimen…
Elsa quickly forms a parental bond with the spliceling, dubbing her Dren—she arrives at the name the same way Joanie coined it for Potsy on Happy Days. Clive is appalled at the reckless experiment, but goes along with it. They stash Dren in a barn at a remote farmhouse, where they all go through a sped-up dysfunctional family dynamic. Trouble, it need hardly be said, ensues.
Once the plot is motion, it isn’t really too hard to see where this Canadian horror fantasy is heading. But the direction, by Vincenzo Natali, is brisk enough, the special effects, which range from the gruesome to the ethereally erotic, are well-executed, & Brody & Polley, oddly decked out like New Wave swells, work hard to give the silly tale some conviction.
Splice, like The Human Centipede (which plays this weekend at MADCAP Theatres, by the way; info here, & you can read my review here) suggests The Mad Scientist may be making a comeback—even Elsa & Clive’s names, I’d guess, are a reference to Colin Clive & Elsa Lanchester of The Bride of Frankenstein. It also suggests that anxiety over both the moral & practical implications of emerging genetic science is very much on people’s minds.
As I noted yesterday, the Arizona legislature recently passed a bill that banned the sort of experiments depicted in this movie. Laughable though it is on a practical level that this is what Arizona’s lawmakers regard as the most pressing matter with which they need to contend—why not pass legislation forbidding the transformation of lead into gold?—it’s also reactionary on a moral level. I don’t mean to suggest that this sort of science should proceed headlong, without caution & circumspection, but the Arizona bill (Louisiana has one too) suggests the sort of panicked resistance that even the sanest of scientists will face in trying to unlock the potential benefits of gene-juggling.