No review of Barbershop here, I’m afraid, despite the fact that it
remained at the top of the box-office chart
for the second week running last weekend. It was my girlfriend’s birthday,
so she got to choose, and she chose 8
Women instead. (She’s got a thing about French movies.) As it happened,
we’d seen True Lies on
DVD the night before, and, to my astonishment, the two films actually
have quite a lot in common.
Never mind the fact that both films are chock-full of knowing references
for the film-buff crowd, albeit references to very different sets of
movies. Ultimately, both films are hugely enjoyable romps which venture
deep into camp but which still maintain an extremely high standard in
their set-pieces. Pastiche is all too often played for cheap, broad
laughs; in these films, it’s combined with a genuine love of, and ability
in, the genre pastiched.
I’m not sure which film would have been harder to make. On the one
hand, François Ozon had to deal with eight superstars, all of
whom needed and received loving attention. I fear to think,
for instance, of how long it took to film the scene where Emmanuelle
Béart lets down her hair, transforming herself into a latter-day
Marilyn; or of the time spent setting up the lighting for the shot where
Fanny Ardant, a wry smile on her face, smokes in the corner by the velvet
drapes while watching a classic performance by Catherine Deneuve.
On the other hand, the stunts in True Lies are amazing. Think of Jamie
Lee Curtis dangling from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s arm, who himself is
dangling upside-down off a helicopter silhouetted against the setting
sun. Or the pair of Harrier jump jets firing two missiles each at a
low causeway, which then explode one! two! three! four!
each just behind the escaping truck, except the last, which sends the
truck flying up into the air along with a section of road. Either of
these shots, or any of half a dozen others, probably cost more than
the entire budget for 8 Women, and would have taken weeks to set up.
For if it takes a lot of skill to pull off the kind of couture-fest
which we see in 8 Women, it surely takes just as much to be able to
blow things up with quite the aplomb of James Cameron. Great pure action
films are rare indeed: Die
Hard would have to be on the list, of course, and Speed,
but I’m not sure that Raiders
of the Lost Ark really counts, or even James Cameron’s own Aliens.
(I would include Starship
Troopers on the list, however.)
Both 8 Women and True Lies pull off a very difficult balancing act:
they’re ridiculous enough that we laugh, but accomplished enough that
we don’t laugh at them. We laugh just because we’re having a
rollicking good time and because the films have transcended the unbelievable.
We love to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger play a world-class tango dancer,
just as we relish the super-exaggerated plot twists in 8 Women. But
we also genuinely admire whoever came up with the idea of Arnold riding
a horse up a hotel elevator, just as we can often barely bring ourselves
to read the subtitles in 8 Women, the performances are so magnetic.
Both of these films are highly derivative, and both of them are all
the better for it. So do what Arnold should have done in that elevator:
get off your high horse and enjoy the ride. Have some fun!