If it’s otherwise idle hands in Hollywood who make sitcoms, does that officially make them the devil’s work? Cuz it’s always seemed that way to me, with the typical sitcom’s idiotic pretense to ordinariness (Everybody Loves Raymond and The King of Queens, for instance) as a disguise for the basest stereotypes (Everybody Loves Raymond and The King of Queens, for instance) and its appeal to the lowest of the lowbrow. Except, of course, when it wants us to go all mushy over some moron learning the true meaning of fatherhood or puppies or Arbor Day — then the LAUGH sign prompting the conditioned studio audience switches over to AWWW and the bread-
I ask merely for information, because I’m not sure that this is the essence we want seeping into our movies, especially not the ones aspiring to be more than throwaway junk to be consumed over TV dinners, and surely only Satan himself could be responsible for such things as Ray Romano and movies that look like sitcoms.
I mean, Prime is like what would happen if CBS gave Woody Allen a slot on Monday nights at 9:30: Oops, I Accidentally Screwed My Neurotic Jewish Therapist’s Overmothered Son. Maybe nobody ever told writer/
Uma Thurman (Be Cool, Kill Bill: Volume 2) is Rafi Gardet, one of those creatures found only in absurd sitcoms, a New Yorker with a vaguely defined pretend-
What makes Prime a sitcom is that that goofy and highly unlikely coincidence becomes the basis for all the film’s attempts at humor. Instead of, oh, employing the age difference as a metaphor for the battle of the sexes, filmmaker Younger wants us to titter at Thurman waxing rhapsodic over her new man’s beautiful penis to his mother while Mom secretly kvetches over her little boy’s erotic adventures with this shiksa. What, is David trying to kill his poor mother by actually having a penis in first place, and then insisting on using it on this non Jew?! Prime saves its biggest punches for Lisa, abusing her awfully, not just by making her squirm as she is forced to listen to her patient talk about what a bitch her boyfriend’s mother is, but by making the character such an outdated stereotype in the first place.
There’s a distasteful misogyny in that, which only gets worse when you add in the very sitcomish subplot about David’s best friend, Morris (Jon Abrahams: House of Wax, Wes Craven Presents: They), who takes particular glee in throwing actual pies in the faces of the women he goes out with who turn him down for a second date, which is all of them. Because in this black-
Ah, but Younger, just like the sitcoms he is aping, wants to have his rugelach and eat it, too, wants us to get all sentimentally gooey: see, not only can Jews and Gentiles get along, eventually, but look how this young man David blossoms under the sensitive attentions of his very own Mrs. Robinson to tutor him in the ways of love.
Far from heaven
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio wouldn’t have a laugh track and would air on Lifetime, but it’s a sitcom nevertheless, whipping hardship into a nutrition-
Evelyn Ryan — this is true — was an Ohio housewife with too many kids and an irresponsible drunk of a husband who kept her family together and fed and housed mainly through many fortuitous contest wins through the 1950s and 60s. It’s sort of an enchanting idea, but mostly kind of a sad one: Ryan started out as a newspaper journalist in the 1930s, but then she got married, and middle-
But even that is granting the film — from director Jane Anderson, who adapted the script from a memoir by one of Ryan’s daughters — much more dramatic impetus than it actually has. This is pretty much the tiny extent of the story: Evelyn enters jingle contests and wins stuff, which makes her loutish husband, Kelly (Woody Harrelson: After the Sunset, Anger Management), angry, because it points out what a failure he is, which makes him drink his pay, which forces Evelyn to enter more contests. It’s all setup, and little complication beyond that. And the drama, weirdly, decreases as the film unspools, because the story becomes less likely to have been told in the first place if Ryan hadn’t kept winning bigger and bigger prizes as her need got more and more desperate — so of course she’s going to have a “lucky” win just when she really needs it.
The real problem with the film, though, and where it falls into sitcom territory, is with Evelyn herself. Which isn’t to say that Julianne Moore’s (The Forgotten, Laws of Attraction) performance per se is the issue — she gives Evelyn far more depth than many other actors would have brought to her, but the script gives her so little to work with that Moore still can’t do enough. Perhaps the real Evelyn was as unflappable and level-