Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Film Night - What's a Plot without a Romance?

What's a Plot without a Romance?

By Tessa Radley

When My Spy came home from the video store I can't say I was expecting very much—I hadn't even heard of it. Even though everybody in the universe knows who Antonio Banderas and Meg Ryan are, who has ever heard of My Spy? Turns out that the movie is better known as My Mom's New Boyfriend, and before that as Homeland Security. And I hadn't heard of either of those titles either.

Most of the reviews for the movie are terrible. So my expectations were rock bottom.

But the premise caught my attention: it's not every day that an FBI agent returns home after three years away and is persuaded to spy on his mom and her new boyfriend…to catch a thief. The moral dilemmas that presented caught my attention.

There were certainly elements in the opening that I struggled with. I found it a little hard to swallow that a devoted son like Henry Durand (Colin Hanks) had left his mother, Marty (Meg Ryan), depressed and down-in-the-dumps for three years—even if it was for the sake of career advancement.

The Mom Henry leaves behind

Faced with Meg Ryan in a fat suit I totally lost the ability to suspend disbelief. I found it even harder to believe that Henry hadn't kept in touch sufficiently to discover that Mom has a life-changing epiphany when a passerby, thinking her homeless, drops a coin in her takeout coffee causing her to lose weight, take herself off to India and Tibet to find herself—and nor did Marty know that Henry had acquired a fiancé, Emily (Selma Blair), an FBI profiler (who unfortunately didn't have a great deal she could do with her scripted part).

The New Mom Henry comes home to

But yet something in all this hooked me. And it wasn't Henry's story, which the movie is supposed to be about.

It was Marty. She was much more interesting. Why? It always comes back to character—and Marty is easy to relate to. Who hasn't felt depressed and dumpy? Who hasn't wanted to lose a few pounds and get a new life like Marty does? The ugly duckling becomes a swan. Classic romance hook.

Transformation…I love transformation stories.

Marty even admits to having led three lives: The one where she fell pregnant at 17 and married Henry's father (a no-good who dies in jail! Not hard to see why Henry headed for the FBI). A second life raising Henry. And the one she has now. Slim, sexy…with a different boyfriend almost every night—and sometimes the emphasis is on boy! It should have been incredibly tacky but Meg Ryan aka Marty manages to carry it off with wacky style.

The action really starts to hot up when Mom meets Tommy (Antonio Banderas). And, yes, he takes Marty, Henry-the-FBI-agent, Emily-the-FBI-profiler off to the art gallery to assess a fine piece of marble statue.

Too late Tommy-the-art-thief learns what Henry and Emily do for a living. Lovely moment. Antonio Banderas takes over the movie, frame by frame. But then he does have an interesting character to portray—and he manages to add nuances that make it so watchable.

Back at work Henry discovers that Tommy is part of an international gang of art thieves planning a heist. And he lands the unsavoury job of spying on Mom and Tommy. And it is unsavoury. No question about it. If Henry squirms while Marty and Tommy steam up the screen, trust me, I think the audience squirms more. There's something very Oedipean about a son as unwilling voyeur—even if it is the interests of national security. Despite the terrible situation he's in, for the main character, Henry whines far too much to be really comic…or tragic…and this is billed as caper comedy.

Yet despite the flaws in the main plot—this movie cannot be compared to Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief—the romance between Marty and Tommy works. There's a car chase with a difference…Mom's having fun. And the chemistry between the two of them sizzles. We can see Marty falling in love… and we start to believe Tommy is falling too.

Over dinner Tommy tells Marty loves her eyes—they have no lies. For Marty life is too short for lies. But there's a problem. We, the audience, that Tommy is a thief. We know he's lying. He describes himself an international business consultant. We also know Marty's not in a hurry to repeat past mistakes—like the one she made with Henry's dad, the jailbird. Yet the FBI is closing in on Tommy. And that all makes for great emotional conflict. Utterly delicious.

Once past the midpoint as with all romances, the stakes begin to rise. And everything goes wrong. I'm not going to say what. But it's all enough to make Marty reach for her first cigarette in three years. That's when I really felt for her, felt her sinking back into the abyss she'd fought so bravely to free herself from. She wants the truth from Tommy. But apart from telling her that she has changed his life, and insisting that he has a job to do—the heist we know—he won't tell. It's clear he too is at a crossroads in his life with a choice to make. Will he cross over from the Dark Side? Real Dark Moment Stuff.

When Tommy tells Marty he loves her, is should have been sappy. But it isn't. It's just pure romance.

Even if you struggle with the script and squirm through the main plot, watch this movie for the chemistry between Tommy and Marty, for the romance. It's lovely. Touching. Very romantic. And I suppose that's the reason why Meg Ryan and Antonio Banderas are known throughout the universe…

Happy movie watching this festive season!

Tessa Radley

Tessa's latest Silhouette Desire, Pregnancy Proposal is available now. Much to Tessa's delight it hit #3 on the Walden's list this week!

1 comment:

  1. It does sound interesting and who wouldn't want to watch anything that has Antonio starring in it. But for me, Meg Ryan is the reason I probably won't rush out to rent it. I absolutely hate her, she makes me want to punch the tv when I see her!!! And I don't have anger issues I just never understood the fuss over a woman who has little or no credible acting abilities. Pity, cos like I said, it certainly sounds different.