Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Men, Women & Children"



 1.5 / 5 

"In this dirty-minded world," fictional feminist Jenny Fields famously observed, "you are either someone's wife or someone's whore."  The two aren't necessarily exclusive in director Jason Reitman's wild-eyed anti-Internet screed Men, Women & Children.

The film starts in outer space, referencing Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" essay as Emma Thompson's unseen narrator explains how small and meaningless human existence really is.  Men, Women & Children starts with the really big question: Why are we here?  Then, for two hours, it offers one possible answer: because loose, sex-crazed women are a danger for all right-thinking, emotionally centered men in the world.

What's that, you say?  The answer isn't related to the question?  The filmmakers don't seem to mind that little problem.

In Men, Women & Children, one woman takes quasi-pornographic pictures of her daughter and sells them online.  A 15-year-old girl will do anything to lose her virginity to the high school's bad boy, and pays the price with the blood of her unborn child.  A prudish mother obsesses over every keystroke her daughter makes on the computer, fetishizing her concern and spending her time constructing a digital chastity belt, while desperately imploring, "You have no idea how dangerous that is," waving hysterically toward the computer.  Another woman has grown distant from her husband and realizes she can only come alive when she meets up with a stranger in a hotel and loudly exclaims how badly she needs his penis inside of her.

The men, meanwhile, may be clueless but mostly because they're trying to figure out these crazy women, who tease them and play with their emotions and cause all sorts of sexual dysfunction.  The men aren't to blame for the apathy and disconnection that is sweeping the earth, according to the movie -- they are just the victims of the women who can't keep their panties on.

Men, Women & Children might be the most staggeringly misogynistic movie yet made in the 21st century -- and I'm writing that just hours after having seen Gone Girl.

Astonishingly, a woman co-wrote the screenplay with director Jason Reitman; a woman was at least partially responsible for a movie in which 15-year-old nympomaniacs are seducing 15-year-old boys, who are so sexually frustrated by spending hours with Internet porn that they have to practice having sex with Nerf footballs.

Yes, there is a scene in Men, Women & Children in which a 15-year-old boy tries having sex with a Nerf football, and no it is not played for laughs -- even though, unintentionally, it gets them.  I laughed a lot in Men, Women & Children, but I don't think the film was intended, at any level, as a comedy.

There's another scene in which Adam Sandler, in full sad-sack schlump mode, hires an $800-an-hour prostitute, then expresses disbelief when he learns his wife is having an affair.  Of course a man may need to turn to a hooker to meet his sexual desires, the movie seems to indicate, but only because his wife isn't able to satisfy him anymore.

Ostensibly, Men, Women & Children wants to explore how we've become so addicted to social media and the Internet that we can't relate to each other anymore.  There are scenes that are live-action equivalents of those shots in Pixar's Wall-E where all the people are floating around staring at screens, unaware of the world around them.  In Men, Women & Children, that vision isn't a futuristic one, it's an observation of what's happening today.

In that, Reitman has a fair point and a valid subject for a movie, but between the pseudo-intellectual references to "Pale Blue Dot" and a prurient fascination with the sexual lives of 15-year-old kids, Men, Women & Children spectacularly loses its focus and turns into a screeching, overwrought insistence that the world is falling apart at the seams.

Weaving together a half-dozen intersecting stories, Men, Women & Children has aspirations to be a Grand Statement like Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious Magnolia or Paul Haggis's astonishingly overrated Crash, but can't come close to managing it.

In Up in the Air, Reitman memorably and sweetly captured the widespread anxiety and concerns of the moment.  He wants to do the same thing again here, but instead of seeming wise and prescient, Men, Women & Children manages only to be breathlessly, sometimes hysterically, paranoid.

The large and impressive cast, including Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort, J.K. Simmons and Dennis Haysbert really do their best -- but did they read the script?  One key plot point has a character attempting suicide over a video game, while another key moment comes when a mother tries to justify her own kiddie-porn pictures of her daughter.

If only those harlots would stop leading such virile, virtuous men astray.

Viewed Oct. 5, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks

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"Gone Girl"


 3.5 / 5 

If you've read Gone Girl the novel, you've already seen a lot of Gone Girl the movie.  The images David Fincher assembles in his film version often look exactly like the images you probably had in your head when you read the book.  It's uncanny sometimes, the way Fincher has made a dark and brooding movie (because he's Fincher) that is filled with moments of cinematic déjà vu.

Gillian Flynn's novel was a terrific mystery that -- not surprisingly, given Flynn's background as an entertainment writer -- often read like a screenplay treatment, and in fact she ultimately wrote the screenplay for the film, smartly tightening the story, bringing more of its misanthropic view of humanity into sharper focus.

That's a quality Fincher amplifies in the movie: There are no good guys.  Gone Girl takes a breathtakingly dim view of the world, a view amplified by the sheen and polish in which they live.  Their contempt for each other in spite of their privilege left me feeling ready for a nice long shower, the way I felt after seeing Barbet Schroeder's disturbing Reversal of Fortune

In Gone Girl, the upper-class pretension is replaced by a post-recession credit-card driven, suburban McMansion malaise.  Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), haven't been having a good time of things, especially since moving from Manhattan to the Missouri sticks, a fate Gone Girl regards as a sort of death sentence; there couldn't possibly anything good out in the middle of nowhere?

Just as their marriage is rockiest, Nick comes home to find his wife missing.  It looks like there has been a struggle.  The lead detective seems sympathetic enough, but she begins to suspect there might be more going on than Nick is revealing, and soon enough Nick's twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) is learning some mighty suspicious stuff.

It's when the detective (Kim Dickens) finds an envelope helpfully marked "Clue One" that everything begins to unravel.

About midway through Gone Girl, there's a plot twist that shocked most readers of the book and that Fincher manages, despite this familiarity, to make mildly surprising, even for audiences already familiar with the story.  Obviously, I can't say what it is, and its prominence makes it impossible to describe any more of the film's story, since it launches the second half of this long (150-minute) movie.

Every frame of Gone Girl is executed with style and assurance.  As a friend said when the movie ended, "There's not a single thing I'd complain about."  And that may be both the highest praise and the most troubling aspect of the movie, because for all of its cool composure, there's something vital missing, an urgency and sense of malicious fun.

There's nothing wrong with Gone Girl, but it lacks the gallows humor of Reversal of Fortune, the supreme messiness of Fatal Attraction and the danger of Double Indemnity.  There are moments when it comes close to being an incisive commentary on the fascination with media coverage of crime -- for a time, it seems maybe Nick likes all the attention he's getting.

But Gone Girl doesn't play with those ideas; it focuses on presenting its story cleanly, efficiently, with just enough slight tweaks to the source material to keep fans of the novel surprised and guessing.  Affleck is eager and sympathetic -- maybe too much so; there aren't many moments where Nick becomes distasteful.  Pike takes her cool detachment to an extreme; it would be impossible, based on the cinematic evidence, to know what makes Amy do the things she does in the movie.  The best characters are the supporting ones, like Dickens' determined detective and Tyler Perry's smooth lawyer.

Maybe Gone Girl would simply have been too bleak if Affleck and Pike brought real passion to the roles; the misanthropic underpinnings -- no one is good in this movie -- would have been overwhelming.  As it is, Gone Girl is calculated not to enrage but to entertain, and that's something it does very, very well.

Viewed Oct. 5, 2014 -- ArcLight Hollywood

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Pride"



 3.5 / 5 

About halfway through Pride, a lone female voice rises up in, well, pride.  She's the wife of a Welsh coal miner, a group of people who stood in defiance of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, knowing full well that to do so would cause grief and anguish and would likely turn public opinion against them.

That defiance struck a chord with a group of gay and lesbian Londoners, who recognized unlikely parallels with the coal miners.  Pride is the unlikely true story of how one group of marginalized people stood up for another and came to an unexpected alliance.

After raising a few hundred pounds for the striking miners, whose livelihood during their yearlong strike depended on the altruism of others, the gays and lesbians pay a visit to the depressed coal town in southern Wales, where they aren't exactly welcome.  Until they begin to dance.

Pride is that kind of movie, where deep social divisions can be broken down in moments by a well-timed disco dance.  In other words, it might be based on a true story, but you would be wise to wonder how much of it actually happened this way, especially that made-for-the-movies moment where one voice slowly becomes a chorus of women, who look knowingly at their husbands until they sheepishly join in, joined by the gays, who sing with smiles in their voices.

At that point, I half-expected the first-act curtain to drop, because Pride seems at times less like a movie than proof of concept for investors in the all-but-certain West End musical version.  If it comes to that, the book will need a little retooling, because Pride sometimes lacks focus as it veers from a coming-out story of young Joe (George MacKay) to the story of two long-time partners (Andrew Scott and Dominic West), one of whom is estranged from his conservative Welsh mother, to the private lives and prejudices of the Welsh coal miners, including one played by Bill Nighy, who drops a not-unexpected surprise around the time that an eleventh-hour showstopper will be needed during the musical.

Pride touches on Thatcher-era politics, gay rights, the AIDS crisis, issues of class distinction and anti-gay violence -- it does a lot of things, and sometimes has a hard time keeping up with all of them.

There are so many characters the movie struggles to keep up with all of them.  They include the founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, an idealistic man named Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer); the headstrong chairwoman of the miners' welfare committee (Imelda Staunton), the quiet wife (Jessica Gunning) who finds her sense of self; the angry, embittered widow (Lisa Palfrey), who can't abide the gays; the quiet leader of the miner's group (Paddy Considine), who has to defend his support of the gays and lesbians.

Each character gets so little time, and the history of the mining conflict is incorrectly (for American audiences) presumed to be familiar history, that Pride rolls around a lot, sometimes ignoring key plot points until they're convenient, like the scene in which one character is savagely beaten -- then forgotten.

Still, it's not only possible but entirely advisable to forgive Pride these failings, because what the movie really wants to do is rouse the spirit and focus on one strange and unexpected moment in which two entirely opposite sides came together -- pretty permanently, according to the end credits.

Pride makes up for its shortcomings with a genuinely warm heart, a magnanimous spirit that insists there is nothing so wrong with the world that a little friendship and a lot of dance music won't fix.  The joy of Pride is how it makes you believe that.

Viewed Sept. 27, 2014 -- ArcLight Hollywood

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

"The Skeleton Twins"



 4.5 / 5 

Maybe their father, the day he jumped from a building in a last-ditch effort to flee their overbearing mother, fated them to be this way. Maybe melancholy and dissatisfaction is in their DNA.  Maybe they just have to accept, at long last, that they weren't meant to be particularly special.

Whatever the case, Maggie and Milo Dean live the opposite of charmed lives.  They're the kind of people who screw things up just because they can, the way their father did when he jumped, the way their mother does even now when she air-kisses them and aligns their chakras after a few too many bottles of wine.  They wish she could just be a mother; she wishes, half-heartedly, they would come visit her in Sedona.  She has no idea that the reason her son is spending time with his sister in upstate New York is that he just tried to slash his wrists.  He, in turn, is unaware that only the call from the hospital about his incident prevented her from swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills.

This all sounds like an arch tragedy by Tennessee Williams, but The Skeleton Twins offers much more than mere melodrama, and the deft way it balances genuinely difficult characters and situations with grace and humor is in large part due to the pair of warm and magnanimous performances at its core.  Perhaps thanks to their time together on Saturday Night Life, Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader do seem as close as fraternal twins might be, even though the movie posits that they haven't spoken to each other in 10 years.

Though they have a fast and deep bond, Maggie and Milo haven't exactly been supportive of each other.  He's a waiter-slash-actor in Los Angeles, she's a suburban housewife who brings him to live in the sweetly perfect home she shares with her husband (Luke Wilson), the kind of guy who has "dude's days" and whose hearty guffaws stem from an honest optimism.

Maggie and Milo simply aren't happy, and they both know that the fact there is no identifiable reason for their depression is not reason for hope; they are just made this way.

Not long after he arrives in town, Milo pays a visit on a former boyfriend (Ty Burrell), whose shock and embarrassment at seeing Milo is due only partially to having a grown son and a girlfriend with whom he wants to "make things work."  They have a complex history, and in one of the many dramatic surprises of The Skeleton Twins, it's neither simple nor straightforward.  It's also wonderfully underplayed and underwritten, offering the actors (all of them, not just Wiig and Hader, but also Burrell, Boyd Holbrook and the terrifyingly chipper Joanna Gleason) the chance to hint at enormous backstories and turmoils.

The Skeleton Twins is always balancing the tensions and disappointments of its characters with genuine humor in ways many films manage but few pull off convincingly.  Even the scene in which Milo tries to cheer up Maggie by lip-synching to Starship's Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now (I imagine marketers will use this scene try to pass it all off as a wacky comedy) quickly veers away from camp territory as both characters make it clear that the song is not a cure for their unhappiness -- it's a diversion, a way to mask their pain with mock smiles.

An even better sequence takes place when Milo and Maggie venture out of the house for Halloween. He's dressed in full drag, she's donned a cowgirl costume, and even while the laughs are still going, Craig Johnson and Mark Heywood's screenplay throws a sucker punch; one of the movie's biggest revelations is made as Milo and Maggie confront an ugly past -- and do it while still in full Halloween costume.

A little incongruously filled with '80s music (wouldn't these two have been in high school in the mid-'90s?), The Skeleton Twins is the cinematic offspring of Say Anything and Ordinary People -- an odd hybrid, to be sure, but it works, and beautifully.  I don't expect to see many movies more emotionally honest and satisfying than this one.  Both Maggie and Milo do some pretty terrible things to each other, and neither one lets the other forget.

The Skeleton Twins is unflinching in its look at the realities of two people who grew up and discovered, much to their shock, that life didn't turn out the way they planned.  Their only two options now are to face facts and get on with it, or to end the disappointment right here and now.  The trouble is, neither of those options seem like good one -- but they don't have a choice anymore.  That's what being an adult is all about.  And, yeah, it sucks.  But sometimes, for a few moments, it doesn't.

Viewed Sept. 20, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

"The One I Love"



 3.5 / 5 


Every couple who has had problems -- which is, to say, every couple -- has heard the story: There's this great place, this quiet and peaceful retreat way out in the country, that specializes in getting you "reconnected."  You'll learn who your partner is again, you'll discover unbelievable and wonderful things about each other, and you'll both leave the weekend better than you've ever been.

Uh-huh.

Often, the people who tell these kinds of stories do it with the same sort of glassy-eyed, slightly crazed look and overly cheery disposition that seems more at home on a member of "Up With People" or one of the Manson family.

It makes you a little afraid of what actually goes on during one of these weekends, the kind that promise that you won't leave as the same person you were.

The One I Love takes place at one of these country retreats, and that's just about all I can say about that.  Maybe I've already said too much.

The movie stars Mark Duplass, who was in the criminally underseen Safety Not Guaranteed, which I thought was one of the very best movies of 2012, and still puts a goofy smile on my face when I think about it.  Duplass specializes in playing a certain type of hangdog almost-loser, the kind of guy who is too focused on the things he didn't get in life to take solace in the things he did.  He's an almost-handsome actor, perfect for the indie rom-com vibe that runs through The One I Love.

Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men is his wife, and while it's hard to see what he could dislike about this pretty, smart, feisty woman, that's exactly the point: They have both completely lost sight of each other.  The best they can do at this point is try to remake the favorite moments of their courtship, and it's questionable whether they even like each other all that much anymore.

Their therapist (Ted Danson, for a few fleeting moments) sends them away to the retreat, which the movie uses as a launching point for a story you will find either refreshingly engrossing or utterly confusing, possibly both.  There have been a few precedents, perhaps, but it would be impossible to say you've ever seen a movie quite like The One I Love.

Part door-slamming farce, part philosophical musing, The One I Love combines the sensibilities of Charlie Kaufman, Neil Simon and Rod Serling in daring ways that may not be entirely satisfying (the ending is maddeningly vague) but are always disarming and compelling.

Toward the end, when things are either going drastically wrong or wonderfully right, depending on the way you look at it, Moss's Sophie tells Duplass's Ethan to stop worrying, they can find a way to stop the madness that's happening and be a better couple, which makes him stop her right there -- he doesn't want them to be different than they were; he likes that they have troubles, that their lives are messy, that they don't always get along and have a difficult, complicated relationship.

That's the moment The One I Love won me over.  Despite the machinations, it's at heart an honest movie about people who don't want to be perfect, they just want to be better, and much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they discover they've had what they needed all along.  It's how they get to that revelation that sets The One I Love apart from anything else you've ever seen.  Whether it needs quite the level of complex invention it displays is another question altogether.

Much like the couple at its core, The One I Love is simultaneously convoluted, frustrating, exasperating and confusing -- but also charming, rewarding and worthwhile.  It may not be perfect, but in the midst of a summer riddled with thundering superheroes, giant robots and marauding monsters, its imperfection makes it all that much more intriguing.

Viewed August 23, 2014

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"The Hundred-Foot Journey"



 3.5 / 5 


For such a light and frothy concoction, carefully created to ensure maximum sweetness, The Hundred-Foot Journey contains the slightest hint of an unexpected bitter aftertaste, like a chocolate soufflé made with saccharine: simultaneously rich and delightful, just a bit too airy and intangibly artificial.

The film sets up two restaurants at war with each other, an elegant, Michelin-starred French bastion of haute cuisine that faces a dilapidated old building transformed into the garish Maison Mumbai by a family of Indian food lovers.

That it's altogether sweet and adorable should be no surprise, since The Hundred-Foot Journey (give thanks to a properly punctuated title, at the very least) is directed by Lasse Hallström, who made such crowd-pleasing favorites as My Life as a Dog and Chocolat, to which this film bears no small resemblance.

The undercurrent of bitterness comes from the film's indecision over the short trip in the title, which refers to the hundred feet that separates the two restaurants.  The journey is made by Hassan, the oldest son of "Papa" Kadam (Om Puri), whose family fled India during violent political upheaval.  Hassan, who's played with a wistful soulfulness by American actor Manish Dayal, has a love -- and a talent -- for cooking, instilled in him by his mother, who was killed on the family's last night in Mumbai.  On the road from London (where "the vegetables have no soul"), the family breaks down in the sort of painfully picturesque French village that makes any non-European yearn for a life filled with town squares, rickety stone buildings and slightly bumbling mayors.

Papa decides right then and there that he will open an Indian restaurant in the village, where the family can dedicate themselves to serving aromatic, spicy food to townspeople who have never tried such a thing.  He determines the best location for this restaurant is the vacant building across from Le Saule Pleurer (or, The Weeping Willow -- I looked it up and discovered it's the name of a real Michelin-starred restaurant in the south of France).  The restaurant is owned by a frosty, regal woman named Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), who scoffs at the idea that there is such thing as worthwhile Indian cuisine, much less refined Indian culture.

After the briefest of struggles, Papa's restaurant finds its footing and -- lo and behold! -- the French villagers like their curry.  Madame Mallory doesn't take kindly to the encroachers, and for a while the film plays as a charming war of cultures.  Then, one of them wins, and The Hundred-Foot Journey becomes a little problematic as it begins to imply that the only way for the Indians to truly succeed is through assimilation.

Momentarily, The Hundred-Foot Journey dabbles in some ugly (but compelling) issues of racial intolerance and violence, but Madame Mallory sees the error of her ways and extends an olive branch to the Kadam family by inviting Hassan to join her kitchen staff.

It's here that The Hundred-Foot Journey turns questionable, because Hassan accepts the offer, and the movie makes it clear that in Western culture, a journey of change and acceptance only works one way: The foreigner has to submit, there is no possibility that the established cultural mindset could be the one in need of change.  Madame Mallory allows for the slightest of spicy flavor to be added to her menu, but only if Hassan first learns how to properly prepare pigeon with truffles and perfect the five basic sauces of French cuisine.

It leads to an odd and disjointed sequence in which Hassan's fame (he helps Madame Mallory raise the profile of her restaurant, which was her motive all along, then moves to Paris) proves to feel empty, which results in everyone finding a way to be happy and content there in their little village.

But only if Madame Mallory is allowed to remain in charge.  Only if the French way of life isn't disrupted too much by these strange foreigners with turbans and embroidered silk robes.

It all plays out with a happy smile, of course.  Everyone lives happily ever after, a revelation that cannot possibly spoil the plot for those inclined to see it.  And The Hundred-Foot Journey most certainly is worth seeing.  It's filled with beautiful French countryside, a sensual fetishizing of carefully created meals, and wonderful performances by both Puri and Mirren -- who in a rarity for Hollywood films, is allowed to show the femininity that lurks beneath her stiff and proper exterior.  Everything glistens with a fine sheen; at first glance, at least, it's a fine and fresh meal.

It's just under-cooked ever so slightly, made less than outstanding by the uncertainty it feels about that central journey.  The Indians are exotic, slightly silly, outsiders who threaten the hard-won simplicity of a homogeneous lifestyle; they aren't really to be taken seriously, in the end, though the film takes care to introduce them as complex, intelligent characters.  Yet they end up as mild caricatures nonetheless, existing mainly to provide that slight bit of spice to 200-year-old recipes that are tried and true.

Yes, the heavily accented people with dark skin can give the dishes -- and life in general -- a little twist, as long as the taste remains assuredly, unwaveringly French and familiar.

Viewed Aug. 18, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Favorite Films: "The World According to Garp"


Robin Williams died.

It's not the reason I should be writing about The World According to Garp, because if there's any film that qualifies for the moniker "Favorite Films" in my book, it's Garp.

A lot of people don't like The World According to Garp.  These are mostly, I've discovered, people who love John Irving's source novel.  They would have preferred the film to be a more faithful, literal filmization of the book, but anyone who has read the sprawling, beautiful, unforgettable novel knows that would have been impossible.  It would also have offended and repulsed people, it would have seem stilted and contrived, much in the way that the film version of The Hotel New Hampshire did.

The World According to Garp takes most of the novel's sharpest, most dangerous edges and smoothes them out, but never dulls their impact.

George Roy Hill, who directed The World According to Garp when he was in his 60s, had mostly been known for movies that took genre conventions and turned them on their ear -- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a Western that had a real, believable relationship between two men at its core and is mostly known for a sweet interlude featuring Burt Bachrach singing "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."  The Sting was a film with wall-to-wall men but that resonated with women, if only because they fantasized about Redford and Newman.

So, when it came to Garp, maybe those films blinded audiences to the idea that its director understood the conventions of gender -- and how to play with them.  In Garp, no one is what he or she seems.  Each character is fully realized, with on-screen time that is so vividly portrayed you can imagine what these people do when they leave each other.  The most important characters, of course, are T.S. Garp (Williams) and his mother, Jenny Fields (Glenn Close).  They are the ones we become closest to, and that's due in large part to the way Close plays the role.  As in the novel, Jenny plays with the expectations of what a feminist is -- and in the 1970s, a feminist was generally either a beautiful woman who derided men about focusing on her beauty, or a stout matronly woman shouting about the inequalities of gender politics.  Jenny was neither.  She was a mother to Garp because she wanted a son -- and, boy, did she ever want one.

T.S. Garp.  The bastard son of Jenny Fields.  Writer of short stories no one buys.  ("The same nobodies who lined up not to buy my first book are going to line up not to buy my second.")  Garp and his mother (though mostly Garp) have their ambitions, their visions of what life will be.  They are warped, unusual visions, perhaps, but visions nonetheless -- variations on the same kind we all have, imagining what will happen in two years when we get that promotion, or in 30 years when our parents die, or next month when the obnoxious guy down the street finally moves out.  We see into our lives looking only ahead, not thinking about the things that fling themselves at us from the sidelines.

In The World According to Garp, some of those things are little -- a dalliance with a babysitter, a gardener who drives too fast down the street, a chance encounter with a prostitute.  Some of them are big; bigger than big -- cars that kill young boys, women who carry lifelong grudges, men who want to influence politics.

Helping us navigate the course are the people we would never have consciously selected for our own crew: the overbearing mother, the sexually confused football player, the son whose brother died, the wife or husband who has every possible, every valid, every entirely justified reason to leave us forever ... but doesn't.

The World According to Garp makes something more clear on film than it ever did as a novel, a simple lesson: We do not choose where our life goes or who helps us along the way.  The variables that influence our lives are random, and they will be there with us until the end -- an end that end will come, whether we are ready or not.  Death is inevitable.

The World According to Garp is not a movie about death, but it recognizes, with kindness and even joy, that death is part of life.  Some people are murdered.  Some people are in horrible accidents.  Some of the dead are people we know well, some are people we never met but whose influence lasts long after they are gone.  Some people, the actor who plays Garp in the movie reminded us this week, even take their own lives.

"You know, everybody dies," Jenny Fields tells her son, quite matter-of-factly but with a look of saintly love and caring that perhaps only Close could have brought to the role, "My parents died.  Your father died.  I'll die, too.  And so will you.  The thing is to have a life before you die.  It can be a real adventure, having a life."

And many of those adventures will end far too prematurely.  There is no way to know when or why.  Only those not ensnared by death are left to worry about such petty questions.  For the others, they have only one last request, the one uttered by Garp at the end of the film:

"Remember, Helen."

"What, my love?"

"Everything."

"Yes, my love."

"I'm flying ... ta-ra-ta-ra-ta-ra."

Robin Williams died.

He is one of those rare people who had a real adventure.  In his last minutes, I hope he remembered everything.  I hope we will, too.  It isn't all wonderful, this life.  It doesn't go the way you hoped.  But it all ends up the same and, if you're lucky, in your final, final moment, you'll look up in the sky and realize that finally, at last, you are flying.

Robin Williams was, perhaps, never again as honest and effusive as he was in The World According to Garp, where Williams played the character and didn't allow it to play him.  To watch the arc of Garp's life is to mourn, finally, for Garp's last moments ... the way we will mourn for Williams.

It matters little how either of them -- how any person -- dies.  What matters is how they lived.  To have a life before you die.  Garp did.  Williams did.  I am forever grateful that more than 30 years after it was made, The World According to Garp will still instruct me on how to do just that, will remind me in the non-adventurous moments that I am not doing it right, and in the moments in which I can seize the courage or have the heart, living a happy life is its own reward.

It won't seem happy at the time, most likely.  There will be impossible developments.  You will turn around one day and find someone has been shot.  Or lost an eye.  Or divorced.  Or changed sex.  That is what happens.  It's what makes it all so much more interesting.

The World According to Garp should be mandatory viewing for anyone affected, in any way, by Williams' own death.  This fine, I might almost say perfect, film version of the novel will serve only as a reminder that even in the darkest, most inconceivable moments, there will, in the end, be a smiling baby ... in the end, if you look for it (and mostly if you anticipate it), there will be a smile and a laugh, because what other end could there possibly be?