Saturday, April 25, 2015

Reviewing The Rewrite; Reflections on an Ever-Present Past

 Grant & Simmons enjoying Speidie & Rib Pit in Binghamton, NY 
I'd like to start out this post by saying Happy Birthday to the blog! It has been five years since this little adventure launched, and it has led to amazing things in my life, including becoming a column in my local paper, which has been an honor and a boon because it forces me each week to sit down and write about one of the things I love best - movies.

I recently took a trip back to my alma mater, Binghamton University, since this year marks a decade since I graduated with my Bachelor's degree in - what else? - English and Rhetoric. It had been almost five years since I had been back in the area and it was time to visit "the old country" once again. Binghamton is an incredibly special place, and though it has grown and changed since the time I have been there, I find it encouraging that it continues to thrive and attract a huge eclectic group of students from all walks of life. It is that eclectic nature of the school that drew me there in the first place. I made lifelong friends in the time that I was there, such as writer and fellow blogger Libby Cudmore, who has contributed her writing to this site and has her first novel, The Big Rewind, hitting the shelves early in 2016. She and I and Corey Christopher, engineer and amazing leatherworker who I featured on the Critic's Pick of the Week not too long ago, hit the streets of Binghamton this month for a fun adventure of running around the Nature Preserve, hitting up a local comic shop, blasting "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" by Wang Chung, and, of course, drinking lots of bubble tea at K&K's The Old Teahouse. (See picture below).
Badass BU broads in the Nature Preserve

When I found out a film called The Rewrite - about a disgruntled film writer (Hugh Grant) that came out late last year had been filmed at Binghamton, good or bad, I had to watch it. What a perfect way to wrap up such a moving nostalgia trip, of visiting all my favorite places and seeing so many of my lifelong dear friends and fellow alumni - although due to time constraints, not as many as I would've liked to!

I wasn't expecting much. Hugh Grant rom coms tend to be a tad formulaic, and with only a 40 percent audience rating score on, it didn't bode well. What I wasn't prepared for was remarkable writing, snappy dialogue and humor so edgy you can cut your tongue on it. Grant plays stylishly weathered has-been screenwriter Keith Michaels, who after winning an Oscar years ago has since fallen into a desperate slump. His agent, an all-business LA bottle blonde, finds him a teaching job at what the synopsis amusingly calls a "remote" university in the Northeast - certainly a far cry from Los Angeles. One of my favorite actors, J.K. Simmons, plays the head of the English department that brings Michaels on with a cautious optimism that is characteristic of anyone who has been privy to the mercurial world of academia. Simmons proves he had reason to be cautious - Michaels proceeds to make a complete ass out of himself, screwing up his foray into college teaching in every possible way. Marisa Tomei offers a welcome reality check as Holly Carpenter, a hardworking single mom of two who has gone back to college for her degree, and arm wrestles her way into Michael's class.

The Critic at Binghamton U, circa 2002.
What is refreshing about The Rewrite is how unabashedly funny it is. Very few movies make me literally LOL - and this one did, several times. It pushes the envelope and pulls serious punches - addressing sticky issues such as Michaels bedding one of his students without much moral reflection on the matter with a boldness that acknowledges the reality of the situation without belaboring the ill-fated consequences on a professional career. Grant plays his role with a kind of comfortable uneasiness, a paradox of a personality that he has honed over the decades. Buoyed by excellent writing and a supporting cast of talented students (particularly the venomous but sympathetic Karen played by Bella Heathcote, whom first catches the rakish Mr. Michael's eye), it runs a brisk 107 minutes and doesn't belabor the inevitable romance to spring up between Michaels and the more sensible Holly. My only real complaint with the film is an unnecessary scene in which Holly and Karen have a rather public catfight with one another, which is cliche and beneath both characters. It makes Holly, to anyone who has spent any time in the real world, appear to be an insecure older woman threatened by this young filly, which runs counter to the poised, confident nature of her character throughout the rest of the film.

There is plenty of school spirit to go around - sweeping vistas of the campus (Oooh lookie, that's the room I took Anthropology in, and the New Student Union!), quips about the weather - Michaels darts into the bookstore to buy an umbrella because it is pouring and goes outside to beautiful sunshine a few minutes later - and enough BU merchandise on everyone. They even make a big deal about the plethora of antique carousels and the famed spiedie sandwiches, which offers a comforting taste of home for any BU alumni, and a fun backdrop for a smart comedy for anyone unfamiliar with the area.

Toby sez: Hilarious razor-sharp comedy and a heartfelt plot make this film stand out from a slew of mediocre rom coms, and those with a connection to the university will enjoy revisiting "greatest hits" of the Binghamton area on the big screen.