A Life Less Ordinary Reviews
This late-90's offer from Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) will celebrate its twentieth birthday later this year, but this is the first time I've heard of it, let alone seen it. To say this movie was sold hard to me would be an understatement. My friend with whom I watched it (we'll call him Turk), lists A Life Less Ordinary as one of his favorite films of all time. As a teenager in the 90's, he apparently saw it four times in theaters (making him the only one to do so judging from its middling box office take). Knowing Turk, it's easy to see why he connected with this film the way he did. He started his tenure in the industry making experimental films in North Carolina and has lived a - shall we say - colorful life, blurring the lines between youthful idealism and life-threatening violence. If that doesn't cover A Life Less Ordinary in a nutshell, I don't know what does.
Ewan McGregor's twenty-something burnout Robert Lewis is a surrogate for Turk's roller coaster youth (he told me himself several times between sips of bourbon). His violent, unconventional, and divinely-intervened meet cute with rich firecracker Celine Naville (Cameron Diaz as the prototype of 90's beauty complete with Claire Richards hairdo) is something straight out of my friend's northern Florida upbringing.
Boyle strikes an absurdist tone early, poking fun at the bourgeois idea of a romantic arc. From what I know of Turk, his love life has also been quite the mockery of tradition. When women aren't coming at him with knives, they're screwing the bartender from the local franchise restaurant on his couch. So the failed attempts of Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo's angels to create a spark between Robert and Celine must have struck a certain chord with him. Love isn't the "boy meets girl" ideal that most romantic comedies nuke on high for mass consumption. It's a battlefield of false starts, mutual hate, and (at least in my buddy's case) a lot of blood.
I always try to give credit where credit is due, and to this effect, A Life Less Ordinary largely succeeds. It subverts romantic comedy clichés even as it stuffs them in one after the other. Like the meddling angels, we want Celine and Robert to end up together despite their absurd magnetic repulsion. No romance that involves kidnapping, murder, armed robbery, tommy gun shootouts, gravedigging, and Bilbo Baggins on a vendetta (Ian Holm plays Celine's father with a cartoonish whimsy) should end in happily ever after, but the audience's conditioning demands it nonetheless. It's intended as irony, but I can only imagine the literal analogues to Turk's life that he watched one by one.
When you watch a movie that looks like the inside of your head, it's hard not to fall head over heels for it. Watching FX's Man Seeking Woman for the first time had that effect on me just as A Life Less Ordinary must have had on Turk. But to quote BoJack Horseman, "When you look... through rose-tinted glasses, all the red flags just look like flags."
A Life Less Ordinary has clear intentions with its subversive narrative, but intentions do not a good movie make. Its framing device of Heaven's police department treating lovers like murder cases, while initially amusing, becomes distracting and dissonant as time goes on. Though the best moments of the film belong to Hunter and Lindo as their botched attempts at matchmaking go off the rails, it feels like a counterpoint from a completely different movie.
For absurdism to really work in the context of a story, there need to be clear rules. That's why Man Seeking Woman and Adventure Time in particular work so well as surrealist narratives. The former creates a realistic metropolitan setting and all of the wackiness (ie. interdimensional monsters, calls from the president, dates with bridge trolls) are exaggerations of real emotions and situations. In the latter, the fantasy genre allows for a certain suspension of disbelief that let the creators to get away with say, injecting a race of hotdog people.
A Life Less Ordinary establishes nothing like this. We're never quite sure if this is supposed to be the real world, a satirized version of it, a fantasy realm, or an all-out piece of avant-garde museum cinema. With nowhere to plant our feet, the film is still amusing, but allows for minimal investment. Scenes are played out for maximum shock value and don't move the story forward very much (they sometimes move it sideways if anything). Toward the end, I found myself wondering how the surreal addition of Heaven's police department aided the story at all. It really didn't.
If you decide to take this movie on its twenty-year spin, do so for the visceral experience. Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz have amazing chemistry (even if the dialogue gets ham-fisted from time to time) and the bullet-ridden absurdity of it all is a bloody good time. Plus, you won't see an unwound Holly Hunter climb a truck hood grinning like the devil's mistress anywhere else. 4.2/10
If you research the term honeymoon, you'll see that the movie has historical relevance, in that the husbands' of yore used to kidnap their wives' for about a month when her family would give up looking, if she liked her imposed mate, she was lucky (obviously not many were at that time). The term "Honeymoon" actually came from the fertility drink of fermented honey and water she would have drunk during that first month.
For the record, I met my husband working at Barnes & Nobel when we were in our very early 20's (2005) and have been happily married for 10 years, spending our vacations road tripping around these majestic United States. We plan on traveling the next decade around Europe if our home improvement projects don't cost too much. ;)