Sunday, July 6, 2008

MOVIES- Earth Girls Are Easy

EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY is a science fiction film in exactly the same way that THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is a horror movie. And it wants to be ROCKY HORROR so badly. It’s the same type of Rock musical- satirical, silly, and Southern California all the way. But it’s ROCKY HORROR by 80s MTV culture instead of 70s counterculture. And so it’s not ROCKY HORROR at all.

But it’s still interesting in a sort of not-as-bad-as-I-remember-it kind of way. The swipes at SoCal culture are dated, the songs are abysmal, and the whole thing is terribly juvenile. But the direction is sprightly, the musical numbers are staged well, and the performances make the material watchable. And there are even a few genuine laughs hidden in there. For instance when a child at a gas station is yelled by by his mother, Michael McKean (playing the fortyish burnout surfer dude- swimming pool man) yells, “Leave home kid.”

But at best it’s a trifle. Notable more for it’s trivia surrounding its characters than for any cinematic accomplishment.

Some of the trivia is sad. Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum wasted the height of their careers on this movie. They had finished THE FLY two years earlier to rave critical and moderate box-office acclaim. And by the time EARTH GIRLS was released Gina had already stared in another surprise genre hit,Tim Burton’s BEETLEJUICE, and would be up for an Oscar for her supporting actress performance in Laurance Kasdan’s THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (also released that year). Both would go on to star in bigger movies and bigger roles; Davis would headline Ridley Scott’s THELMA AND LOUISE and also star in Penny Marshal’s A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN with Tom Hanks. While Goldblum would turn up in roles in even bigger movies such as JURASSIC PARK and INDEPENDENCE DAY. But the beginning of the 1990s saw their divorce and the end of the 90s didn’t see them much at all. After the blockbusters it seemed casting directors had Jeff Goldblum fatigue. And lets face it, what had started as a unique delivery quickly became a self-caricature. Davis, OTOH, married Rennie Harlan and his influence killed her career like cyanide. ‘Nuff said. Hasn’t been in a hit movie since.

The movie was really a vehicle to launch the career of Julie Brown (an MTV favorite) but instead was the place that Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans would get the notice of the public. Carrey would also get the notice of Wayans, who introduced him to his brother Keenen Ivory Wayans. It just happened that said brother was trying to get a TV show called IN LIVING COLOR launched. The show wound up being home to both for several years and also wound up making both famous. Wayans would work in movies steadily during this period but Carrey didn’t really do much while working on IN LIVING COLOR. However, after leaving the show Carrey would make two movies in 1994 that would launch him into A-List status- ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE and THE MASK. Damon Wayans would eventually get his own TV show, which would break the mold (set by Tim Allen and followed ever since) of the sitcom man of the house being a retard that his wife and kids had to constantly save from virtually infinite stupidity. Both would still be viable actors to this very day. Julie Brown, on the other hand, is now a question for Trivial Pursuit.

I caught this on cable in SD the other night so it was the worst possible way to see a movie that depends so heavily on its visual presentation. It was a good reminder why movies transferred to television by the “pan and scan” method are so disappointing. There are multiple scenes where either a reaction shot is lost or the camera has to jump frenetically from one side of a composite shot to the other to cover both sides of a conversation. An artificial two-shot where once there was a master. You don’t have to have graduated from film school to know that such major changes must matter.

But really, here, they don’t. This is a movie built around the master shots, not the coverage. A director trying to move into a new medium by attempting what every new director has attempted since Orson Welles. To show the old folks how it’s done. That’s why the loss of the wide screen matters in a movie shot during a time when video was driving everything, and most directors were being careful to compose shots that would translate to the conventional home screen and it’s 4:3 aspect ratio. MTV was also trying to find its way; as its original paradigm of being a video version of traditional radio was aging badly. In spite of all this, director Julien Temple would follow the path of Davis and Goldblum rather than Wayans and Carrey. For the rest of his career he would direct more music videos and produce long form music video and compilations. For all intents and purposes his movie career was over. And it may have been a loss. We’ll never know. All that we can say is that EARTH GIRLS could have easily been an embarrassment if not for his ability to give the audience a pastiche of the right style with enough new flourishes to keep it from being silly. Camp is perhaps the hardest form of comedy to do correctly. Here Harlan does it almost effortlessly.

I’m not recommending that you hunt out EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY on Netflix. It really isn’t worth that kind of effort unless your favorite movie is ROCKY HORROR or your favorite director is John Waters. But if you come across it some lonely evening, it might be worth a look.

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