A Life Less Ordinary
The cheerfully daft A Life Less Ordinary reminded me of another, far less enjoyable film that came out last year — Feeling Minnesota, a hipster piffle featuring guns, tough guys, a scruffy male lead, and Cameron Diaz. That movie just sat on the screen waiting to die of lameness. A Life Less Ordinary could easily have been just as bad. It’s one of those ironic crime comedies pitched at the young and jaded (Pulp Fiction was the template), but it isn’t the Tarantino swipe the ads lead you to expect.
This is the third collaboration between four guys from Britain: director Danny Boyle, writer John Hodge, producer Andrew Macdonald, and star Ewan McGregor. Their first effort was 1994’s nasty, off-putting thriller Shallow Grave; last year they took U.K. and U.S. art-houses by storm with Trainspotting. A calculatedly shocking comedy like Trainspotting is a hard act to follow, and Boyle et al. have done the properly perverse thing: They’ve made a romantic comedy crammed with five movies’ worth of Hollywood cheese — lovers on the lam, kidnapping, gunplay, even angels, for God’s sake. The movie is a joke on big studios (Fox paid for this one) and the mass audience. The indie bad-boys are saying, “You want lightweight escapism? We’ll give you lightweight escapism.” But they’ve done it their way.
McGregor is Robert, a janitor and aspiring “trash novelist” who gets fired — replaced by a robot. Robert storms into the office of his boss (Ian Holm), waving a gun and demanding his job back. After a melee with a pack of security guards, he abducts the boss’s daughter Celine (Diaz), who has recently disabled her dentist fiancé (Stanley Tucci) in a William Tell scene that may be a parody of Naked Lunch. Celine goes with Robert willingly; it’s not like she has anything better to do.
All of this is monitored by two angels (the hilariously cast Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo), who are assigned to play Cupids for Robert and Celine; God isn’t happy with the divorce rate on Earth. The angels also pose as assassins who offer their services to Celine’s dad — he wants Celine back and Robert dead. Since the movie begins in Heaven, we know we’re not meant to take it straight. Yet real feeling does develop between the mismatched lovers.
That’s because McGregor and Diaz make a fine off-center couple. Diaz’s sexiness is played down (except for her opening bit in a bikini, when Boyle seems to be saying “Right, let’s get this out of the way early”), and McGregor spends the film in a dorky shag haircut. Yet they also have a brazenly romantic karaoke number in a club, belting out “Beyond the Sea,” and you smile as you realize that Boyle is having his cake and eating it too. The scene is a goof, but it gets to the heart of the lovers’ fantasies with a peppy directness beyond the reach of most Hollywood movies.
What’s fresh about A Life Less Ordinary is that we get to see weary romantic clichés through the eyes of cinema’s new Fab Four — clichés mocked, celebrated and, finally, abandoned in favor of an odd kind of honesty. Celine and Robert pose side by side, talking directly to us and to each other, and in the end they turn into Claymation versions of themselves. Like everything else in the film, this is both a goof and not a goof: People are clay in the hands of God, shaped by fate …. Aah, forget it. The Claymation is just fun. And any movie featuring Holly Hunter as a blood-spattered angel, grinning homicidally as she clings to the hood of a speeding car, is just about impossible to dislike.