Review Date: 11.22.04
Alfie, directed by Charles Shyer and a remake of the 1966 hit, is now playing at Santa Cruz Cinema 9. For a big screen movie, it didn't stick around too long, and I think that's a shame, because it's well worth seeing. Starring Jude Law as Alfie, the movie also features a group of wonderful women: Marisa Tomei, Nia Long, Jane Krakowski, Sienna Miller and Susan Sarandon. The critics say it's shallow, but I say compared to what: Spongebob, The Polar Express, The Incredibles, Seed of Chucky? It's not like the choices are legion. The holiday season is a pretty bad time for good movies, and nowadays adults have to be thankful for the occasional R-rated film. This one does some interesting things.
Alfie is a movie about a callow Englishman who loves women-he is what early modern writers would have called, with disdain, "effeminate"-a man who prefers the company of women to the more manly pursuits of money-making, war mongering, hanging with the homeboys. As such, he is not an unsympathetic character, at least not to this woman. Yes, he loves the seduction, the conquest, and tires a bit too quickly of his very beautiful, strong, intelligent and vibrant dates. But he picks interesting women to pursue and he devotes himself to wooing them in a sincere and uncynical manner. He doesn't care much about money; he cares about pleasing the ladies. Our Protestant work ethic culture tends to frown on such a seemingly wasteful way to live-grow up, get a real job, settle down, have children, be productive!-and for that reason alone, perhaps, Alfie's a refreshingly different kind of story. And each of the women he encounters is a serious person with lots of heart, beauty, and brains, all of which he appreciates: a single mom who loves him, the bartender who's engaged to his best friend and wants to settle down and have kids, the rich neglected wife of a CEO who's too busy to notice his dazzling partner, and, finally, Susan Sarandon, the wealthy older business woman who surprises Alfie by holding a mirror up to his life.
As he's wandering through his life, living frugally and cruising Manhattan for beautiful women, Alfie finds himself confronted by the less happy occurrences that are also part of one's existence: rejection, departure (his best friend gets married and moves upstate), a medical scare, a lover's unwanted pregnancy (Alfie conducts himself properly in this situation), and the November-December holidays alone. Spurred on by his loneliness-because, after all, the movie says, being single like that is a lonely thing at the end of the day-he meets someone he decides to stay with for a while. She turns out to be psychically troubled and only intermittently on her medication. But even here, when it's time to break up, she delivers a brief, dignified and moving speech that displays-as do all the female characters in the story-an admirable amount of both realism and wisdom in her sorrowful assessment of Alfie's inability to commit to the struggles that relationships inevitably present. When, finally, Alfie thinks he's going to commit to someone (he tells the florist well, no, it's not a proposal, but almost . . .), it turns out he's chosen the one woman who, like him, moves from object to object in elusive pursuit of some kind of answer that-like the answer Alfie seeks-may not finally be found in the arms of another.
I expected the film to clobber me at the end with a moral. Delightfully, it does not. Instead it leaves us with a question: "what's it all about?" inspired by the title song track of the film. Speaking of which, it's not Burt Bacharach, but the soundtrack to Alfie is excellent, and the cover of the title song is beautifully rendered. All in all, Alfie tells an interesting story and doesn't force us to consent to the reproductive teleology our culture tells us is the only path to happiness and fulfillment. And-unlike any other movie I can think of-it celebrates the hard-headed, softhearted realism and depth of adult women.
Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.