Indisputably, people don’t know why they exist. Are they in hell? IS there a hell? Edmond, the anti-hero in Stuart Gordon‘s film Edmond, would like to know. Really, it is David Mamet‘s film too; he authored the script and Edmond is the 2005 screen version of his Eighties play.
His protagonist (William H. Macy) leaves his wife and wanders into an ugly urban environment, one requiring too much money for a prostitute and a measure of furious self-defense. Temporarily losing his mind, Edmond knifes to death a waitress played by Julia Stiles. Along with being intelligent, the film is unspeakably grim and, in the end, grimly perverse. Which is why I don’t like it.
As it happens, hetero Edmond gives in to, and starts an intimate relationship with, an incarcerated black man who threatens to kill Edmond if he doesn’t sodomize the creep. It’s an instance of prison rape. Mamet means this to counteract Edmond’s earlier racist outbursts after some black-on-white crime occurs, for his protag, you understand, enjoys the relationship. He takes comfort where he can find it, but it’s an unacceptable counteraction. No true insight, no true uplift, and not much plausibility exist in this. . . Until the finis, Mamet’s screenplay (and play) is savagely honest, but also too hideously pessimistic and sans the brilliance of the play Edmond is famously reminiscent of: Buchner’s Woyzeck.
In 1969, the year of True Grit‘s release, critic Stanley Kauffmann found the movie offputtingly conservative. Mattie, the Kim Darby character, keeps mentioning that her family owns property, you see.
Whatever. It isn’t offputting to me. I enjoyed it for showing us the sweaty, economical drama that every intelligent Western is. It’s an acceptable adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel, neatly directed by Henry Hathaway. And, unlike Kauffman, I thought Darby filled the bill in her role.
The 1975 film, Smile, directed by Michael Ritchie and written by Jerry Belsen, is a morally searching comedy about a California teenage beauty pageant drenched in insincerity. Contest officials include extroverted Brenda (Barbara Feldon) and mobile-home salesman Big Bob Freelander (Bruce Dern), both of whom are generally amiable but also inclined, without knowing it, to morally settle: settle for something less than what character demands.
Brenda, for example, is wholly devoted to the pageant but frigidly keeps her sad-sack husband, Andy (Nicolas Pryor), at bay. Now Andy drinks. But such facts must never be revealed in the sphere of pretense the California town has constructed. Men here are frequently lecherous, ogling the young contestants who are innocent in several ways but can demonstrate selfish ambition as well. Smile is satire, often Swiftian but also humane; and it resembles traditional satire (the best kind) in that it purveys a standard of goodness in the course of its action. This standard is the behavior of Robin (Joan Prather), a humble, unhypocritical girl who loves, and is loved by, her widowed mother.
However, the film is not satire only. It is occasionally non-comedic: not meant to be funny. And its people often cease to be objects of jabs and ridicule, since, for one thing, they will do something admirable.
Certifiably Smile is flawed but, too, it is smart and interesting. It has splendid wit. It was written originally for the screen and it boasts a talented cast as long as some of the supporting players are excepted. But Dern, Annette O’Toole and others are savvy comic worthies. Further, a young Melanie Griffith (0ne of those mediocre supporting players) appears topless, but it isn’t gratuitous.