ZATHURA, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, THE AWFUL TRUTH

Video Picks & Passes
by STEVEN D. GREYDANUS | Source:
ZATHURA: PASS

(2005)



HIS GIRL FRIDAY: PASS

(1940)



THE AWFUL TRUTH: PASS

(1937)




CONTENT ADVISORY: Zathura contains much moderate sci-fi action menace and violence; some crude language; brief, oblique sexually related references; normalized depiction of divorce The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday contain much dissembling and romantic complications in divorce-and-remarriage plotlines; Girl Friday also includes an attempted suicide and dubious treatment of capital punishment theme.

Light on plot and story logic but strong on narrative thrust and fantastic imagery, Jon Favreau’s outer-space adventure Zathura, just released, captures the spirit of writer-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg better than previous adaptations (Jumanji, The Polar Express). Alas, Zathura is also a family film of the contemporary family as well as for it. The two young siblings Walter and Danny now come from a broken home (their parents’ marriage is intact in the book) and have a disaffected teenage sister. Where E.T., say, was raw with grief over the breakup of the family, Zathura is a family film for the no-fault divorce age.

Though not without merit, what ultimately pushes the film just beyond the pale for me is the one-note sourness of Walter’s treatment of Danny for most of the running time. Though ostensibly about quarreling siblings learning to deal with their differences and get along, the film’s inevitable rapprochement is too little, too late.

Blasé attitudes about divorce are not a recent Hollywood invention. This past week’s Cary Grant box set offers a pair of classic screwball comedies so highly regarded that I wish I could recommend them, but I can’t. His Girl Friday and The Awful Truth each co-star Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy as two-thirds of a romantic triangle together with, respectively, Rosalind Russell and Irene Dunn, who in both films is divorced from Grant and engaged to Bellamy.

Both films cast Bellamy as a slow-speaking, honest, decent, corn-fed type with short apron strings to his mother. Grant, by contrast, is sharp and shrewd, manipulating the situation to get his wife back while professing that he doesn’t deserve her and that Bellamy will do much better by her — though in fact he’s out to make Bellamy look ridiculous. In the end, a disillusioned Bellamy goes home with his mother, leaving Grant with the heroine.
Some ro­­man­­­­tic comedies use divorce to teach the leads how much they really belong together. Awful Truth never gets there, spending so much time with the principals trying to show one another up that it never develops the bond between them, making their eventual reconciliation hollow. Girl Friday is worse. Russell is a former newspaper girl, Grant’s employee as well as his wife, who is trying to escape the fundamentally dishonest and callous life of a reporter to settle down marry Bellamy.
Grant’s efforts to keep her around and show up Bellamy reach new lows here: He repeatedly has Bellamy arrested on false charges and even has Bellamy’s gray-haired old mother carried off by a thug. The girl’s no better: Her callousness in the face of a condemned death-row inmate who seems to have gotten a raw deal is off-putting; she makes up a blatantly false rationale for his actions, not to get him off, but for political purposes. This, and an attempted suicide, are in very dubious taste.

Though Russell knows Grant well enough not to put anything past him, when she discovers that his supposedly noble attempt to persuade her to escape the newspaper life and marry Bellamy is a sham, she concludes that Grant must really love her after all. Am I the only one not laughing?


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