Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE TALL GUY (1989)

Stop razzing Michael Bailey about that haircut Superman
used to sport--as Jeff proves, there was a time when his
coif would be considered cool!
"What's you name?"
"Kate. Lemon. Its a horrid name."
"No. Not at all. It could've been worse. You could've been named Hitler or Tampon or something."

1) I've been told this was the first script written by Richard Curtis, who goes on to write such romcom crimes as Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones' Diary. I can only assume it is the fact that he was still learning screenplay writing that makes it avoid all the intolerable femmie crap that that makes those other films the bane of men everywhere.

And to fair, he also wrote last year's Doctor Who episode 'Vincent and The Doctor' as well, so this isn't as total an aberration as it seems.

2) One of the reason this film does work is the odd pairing of Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson as our romcom couple. These two do not look like they belong on the same planet, let alone in the same city...and yet there is a definite, quirky charm and chemistry when they're interacting together. The contrast of Goldblum's constrained manic energy to Thompson's very underplayed, dry delivery is totally compelling to watch.

3) And it's so to the film's credit that there is a balance to this relationship. It does seem like being together brings something out of both Jeff's Dexter and Emma's Kate--in Dexter, a confidence to blaze his own trails, and in Kate, a sense of humor and sensitivity she seems to have submerged to be a nurse.

4) And while we're on the subject of Goldblum and Thompson....these two are masters of the facial expression. There are a number of jokes that would not have been funny without these two actors reacting to them. Thompson, in particular, is glorious during the extended sequence where she has to sit through the opening performance of the musical Dexter is starring in, Elephant! (based on the life of John 'The Elephant Man' Merrick). The mock musical numbers don't really work, but Thompson's reactions--trying to show enthusiasm when she's really appalled--send the show thoroughly over the top.

Ahhh, the 80's...when this counted as formal wear...
5) Maybe because it does happen so early in Curtis' career, but there's something really charming at this point in setting an American-style romcom featuring a at-that-point name American actor (he still had some residual glow from The Fly) in London. Curtis does take full advantage of the city without giving it the usual 'landmark parade' quality other, lesser romcoms use. It lends the film a certain flavor it might not have had if it was set in and around Broadway.

6) Boy, Anna Massey--playing Dexter's agent--is only in this film a very, very short time, but she makes the most of her screen time and is genuinely hilarious. She's a pivotal character, transitioning the film from the relationship segment to the later one involving Elephant, and makes the sudden shift in gears easy to take.

7) Judging from the two sex scenes, which seem...violent (the main sex scene literally destroys a room), director Mel Smith has not had very healthy personal relationships.

Which is worse...that Goldblum's roommate is apparently
an 18th century scullery maid, or that he's wearing
Slyvester McCoy's old DOCTOR WHO Sweater?
8) Look, I get that this was made in 1989, the dawn of the age when every film--especially comedies--were required to have a music video break, but while the film sets up the use of said music video well (Dexter is established early on as a fan of the band Madness, lead singer Suggs makes a cameo...and when the song comes up, it's Madness' then-single from Keep Moving, 'It Must Be Love'), it's...well pretty awful. When you're reduced to having certain lines sung by a pair of soiled underpants, it's time to discard the sequence entirely.

9) Mel Lewis (who started life as a comedian, and was one of Atkinson's co-stars on Not The Nine O'Clock News) directed this. I'm not a fan, but I will applaud his choreography of the last set piece, a running conversation between Dexter and Kate through a overcrowded, busy hospital full of bus crash patients. Lewis makes great use of the set, and has the trust in Goldblum and Thompson to be able to physically traverse the area in a way that's plausible, charming and funny.

10) As preternaturally beautiful Kim Thomson is in playing Dexter's leading lady in Elephant, the whole plot line where they have a liason that leads to Kate breaking up with him seems...forced. It's as if Curtis felt there needed to be a complication in the middle of Act Three so there could be a big make-up scene. Yes, that final make-up scene works beautifully, but I have to wonder if that element could have been discarded for something better.

Overall...much better than it had a right to be, thanks primarily to the exceptional chemistry and physical comedy skills of Thompson and Goldblum. One of these films that fell through the cracks, and maybe undeservedly so.

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