January 26, 2015

Think Before You Speak: America's Sweethearts (2001)

We have all said something that we wish we could take back; especially when it comes to exes. I like to call it "foot in mouth syndrome." Some of us have a more chronic condition than others, and unfortunately unlike the common cold or seasonal flu, there is no vaccination for it. The only way to cure ourselves of "foot in mouth syndrome" is to simply think before we speak. Otherwise, we'll all continue to find ourselves living in a state of regret of our verbal mishaps. The satire America's Sweethearts (2001) is a great reminder of why we all should be careful to think before we speak, because not doing so causes too much unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings.
Americas sweethearts poster.jpg

In the movie America's Sweethearts (2001), movie stars and estranged couple Gwen Harrison (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Eddie Thomas (John Cusack) are brought together after over a year of separation to promote their final film project together. Despite their hesitation in joining the other for the press junket to promote their film, they ultimately decide to do so; which turns the press junket into a dramatic debacle of cinematic proportions. However, all is not lost as a result of their time together, particularly once the dust settles from the litany of inappropriate remarks and heated exchanges between Gwen and Eddie as well as everyone else involved in their final project.

From the beginning of the movie, it was clear that Eddie still had a lot of unresolved issues with his estranged wife, Gwen, as a result of her cheating on him. The near mention of Gwen's name still conjured up negative emotions and unpleasant remarks that he often found himself regretting even as the words were flying out of his mouth. Gwen, on the other hand, had seemingly moved on and was still in a relationship with Hector (Hank Azaria); the guy she originally cheated on Eddie with. Until, of course, she had to promote her last film with Eddie, which just so happens to be her one last hail Mary to save her own fledgling movie career. At that point, Gwen herself starts to become unhinged, citing concerns over being around her ex for fear that he may attempt to kill her again as he allegedly did before entering the treatment facility. Luckily for the both of them there were others around to buffer the situation, particularly Kathleen "Kiki" Harrison (Julia Roberts), Gwen's sister/assistant.

In the end, after a public spectacle that included verbal sparring in front of the press core following the preview of their film, Gwen and Eddie were able to find their own happy endings. Eddie was finally able to profess his love for Kiki after years of secretly suppressing his feelings for her and Gwen was able to create a renewed interest in her once dimming Hollywood star, which was all she really cared about anyway. 

This movie is a great reminder that even in situations like confronting an ex after a bad breakup it is always best to think before you speak. While Gwen and Eddie had it out in front of the press core that were undoubtedly taking notes to publish a story about their public spectacle, you and I may find ourselves in our own unique set of embarrassing circumstances as a result of our own verbal mishaps. Since living without regret is the most optimal choice, thinking before we speak is one of the best ways to ensure this. Wouldn't you agree?

January 22, 2015

Ignore All The Outside Noise: She's All That (1999)

Shes All That.jpgDo you remember high school? Some of us have good memories, some of us have bad memories, and some of us have both good and bad memories of that time in our lives that undeniably lead us to be the people we are today.

What most of us may have not realized back then is that a big part of the whole high school experience, and subsequently life after that, is mostly shaped by our ability to stay true to ourselves while playing the game of social politics. This means that we have to learn how to tune out all the outside noise around us (i.e. peer pressure). You know, stop listening to all the "peanut gallery" or "negative Nancy's" and just do what is best for us; which obviously is incredibly difficult to do, but nonetheless essential to survival in high school and after. The movie She's All That (1999) is a great reminder of that very important life lesson.

In the movie She's All That (1999), popular high school senior Zachary "Zack" Siler (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) and art recluse Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook) end up forging an unlikely bond as a result of a bet that Zack makes with his friend/rival Dean Sampson, Jr. (Paul Walker). In order to win the bet, Zack had to turn Laney into a desirable high school prom queen; which proved to be quite a task given that his ex-girlfriend Taylor Vaughan (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) was determined to get the crown herself. Taylor, however, proved to be the least of Zack's problems as with each passing day that he spent more and more time with Laney, he began to develop feelings for her. Although he initially he allowed the "peanut gallery" around him to influence whether or not to be with Laney, ultimately he learned to tune out all the outside noise and follow his heart.

In the beginning of the movie, both Zack and Laney were struggling with their images. Though Laney put on airs about not being satisfied that she was not part of the "in crowd," we soon find out that when given the opportunity, she willingly ventures into that world when given the chance. Zack's struggle was a bit different. Zack was the big man on campus, and while he wasn't a jerk like his friend/enemy Dean, he apparently had issues with all the pressure that came along with living up to other people's expectations. However, once Dean challenged Zack to a bet to make a prom queen out of Laney, Zack's true nature was revealed and eventually he allowed it to shine above all other facades; including finally doing away with his relationship of convenience with Taylor.

In the end, Zack was able to come to terms with making his own decisions aside from all the outside noise and Laney was able to venture out of her existing role as the artistic recluse without concern if she would be accepted or not. For both Zack and Laney, and true to real life, when you're ready to be who you want to be and you're confident in that decision, people will generally support your decision; and the people who don't, well, you just have to learn to ignore or tune them out and all the other outside noise. Otherwise, you'll continue to live for others and nobody wins when you take that route.

January 19, 2015

Embrace the Complications: This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

Life can be a mess! We make plans and something undoubtedly interferes with those plans. Rinse and repeat!

This Is Where I Leave You poster.jpgWhen those interferences or complications occur, usually we're thrown off guard, and are forced into a state of introspection. As devastating as this can be (especially for my fellow Type A personalities), it is one of the few sure fire ways to get us all to recognize the true state of our reality, so that we can ultimately deal with it appropriately. Anything less and we probably would just keep doing the same thing over and over again, ignoring all the signs that something is wrong in the first place. This is precisely what happened to the main character in the movie This Is Where I Leave You (2014); which makes this movie so poignant. It reminds us all to learn to cope with the complications that arise in our lives because when you come out on the other side, you're 100 percent better for it.

In the movie This Is Where I Leave You (2014), the life of a responsible play-by-the-rules guy named Judd Altman is turned upside down when he comes home early from work one day to surprise his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) with a birthday cake; only he gets the surprise of his life when he catches her in the act of cheating with his boss Wade (Dax Shepard), nonetheless. While mourning the end of his marriage and new unemployment status, he also learns that his sick father passed away. After going home to sit shiva upon his father's burial, Judd is eventually forced to deal with his wife's year long betrayal and the realization that he will become a father all the while entering into a budding romance with an old acquaintance.

Life for Judd prior to finding about his wife's infidelity was pretty much routinized and he was content with that. Although he told himself that they were happy, the truth of the matter was that he failed to notice that his wife was cheating for a year right in front of him. Coming home the day of her birthday with the surprise cake was the complication that he needed to face the reality of his troublesome marriage. In addition, though he could have used a reprieve from life, his father's passing forced him back home to deal with old family issues and reconnect with someone from his past, Penny Moore (Rose Byrne); someone whom he ultimately came to realize could be the love of his life, complications and all.

In the end, Judd was not only able to come to accept the fact that going forward, his life was would be complicated as a result of raising a child with an ex-wife, but he also was able to embrace the fact that nothing in life goes according to plan and that's ok. Sometimes the best things in life aren't planned for, like Judd's reconnecting with Penny, but if you're too busy resisting the complicated, you won't be able to see the beauty in that detour off the beaten path as it were. So, embrace the complicated. It could be the best thing that ever happened to you, or at the very least it will help expose your true state of reality, which isn't so bad either.

January 15, 2015

Try Something New: Shall We Dance? (2004)

Shall we dance posterA.jpgDo you ever feel like you're in a rut; doing the same thing day in an day out? As much as we all crave stability in our lives, it also tends to breed contempt when we finally get it. Sure,you may not have to worry about looking for a job once you find one, but then at some point you become complacent in that stable job that you once desired more than anything. We can't help it, we as human beings just can't shake our innate desire to experience new things, despite being conditioned over time to crave stability. So, as a result, we seek new opportunities and experiences to fulfill that innate desire that we have; especially when we feel like we are in a rut. The movie Shall We Dance? (2004) is a great reminder that it's ok to not be content with being in a rut, and even more importantly, it's ok to do something about it.

In the movie Shall We Dance? (2004), a settled lawyer named John Clark (Richard Gere) finally takes it upon himself to try something new after becoming tired of the rut that was his life. That something was a dance class that he just so happened to see everyday on his train commute to and from work; which was originally tempting because of the beautiful and intriguing Paulina (Jennifer Lopez) staring out the window everyday as he rode the train home. Unexpectedly, dancing  revived him in a way that nothing else had in a long time. He began to have a zest for life again. However, he first needed to confront the fact that he was both lying and deceiving his wife and family before he could truly be free of conscience.

In the beginning of the movie when John is celebrating his birthday, he is contemplating his life's choices and considering his happiness. When he finally acknowledges that he isn't happy and that his life has sort of fallen into a rut, he boldly decides to take a risk to do something about it. That was the day that he first walked into Miss Mitzi's Dance School and it forever changed his life. Even though he kept his dancing a secret and often lied to his family to cover up where he was, he was happy and even made new friends. At the same time, however, his wife Beverly (Susan Sarandon) was growing more and more suspicious of his actions and change of mood, prompting her to hire a private investigator.

In the end, John was forced to come clean with his wife about his dancing. He also learned to be more honest and inclusive with his longtime partner. While he was initially attracted to Miss Mitzi's Dance School because of something that was missing in his life, ultimately dancing there helped him to appreciate what he already had at home.

That's the beauty of trying something new. Whatever compels you to try something in the first place is often the catalyst that will help you grow as a person. It was true for the character John, but I also believe the same is true for us as well. So, go try something new!

January 11, 2015

Don't Lose Focus: Election (1999)

I've always enjoyed reading about and watching really successful people. One of the traits that they all seem to have in common is that they never allow themselves to lose sight of their goals. They're incredibly focused. No matter what obstacles come their way, they stay the course.They also don't spend much time, if any at all, looking back as doing so only slows them down.The same is probably also true for the rest of us; particularly if we ever want to be successful at anything. That's why I recommend the movie Election (1999), which serves as a reminder to not lose focus.

Election 1999film.jpgIn the movie Election (1999), one overachieving high school senior named Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) and a beloved high school teacher named Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) end up squaring off over the high student council election. It all started when Jim saw the perfect opportunity to finally put Tracy in her place after ruining his best friend's teaching career. He decided to convince a football player named Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run against her in the student council election. However, all of his efforts of sabotage ultimately didn't pay off when Tracy was elected as president of student council, despite him doing his best to prevent the overachieving temptress from succeeding, yet again.

From the beginning of the movie, it was clear that Jim had it out for Tracy; particularly after he learned that his co-worker/best friend had not only confessed to sleeping with Tracy, but had also lost his job because of it. Although it wasn't his revenge to be had, Jim apparently then took up the cause of putting Tracy in her rightful place. Too bad for him, he had no idea that she was such a worthy opponent, stopping at nothing to get what she wanted because she was focused. Jim, on the other hand, became increasingly unfocused, especially when he began pursing an affair with his wife's best friend.

In the end, Jim was forced to move away to start over after losing everything. With the whole Track Flick incident behind him, he began a renewed focus on his own goals in life. That is, until he saw Tracy again with a Congressman, appearing as his aid, which suddenly reignited his animosity towards her. As it turns out, Tracy not only left high school at the top of her class, but she also attended a well respected school (Georgetown). In affect, her focus (albeit morally questionable at times) lead her down a path to her achieving her goals and success, while Jim's obsession and need for exacting revenge nearly cost him everything. The sad part is that by the looks of things in the last scene of the movie, he didn't learn anything.

With so many apparent themes in this movie, it's hard to say definitively which one is the most prominent. However, one of the most positive themes to take away is perhaps the reminder to not lose focus. You can't achieve your own personal greatness when you do lose focus and besides, with so many obstacles on the path to success why add to your workload.

January 7, 2015

Have Some Empathy: Freaky Friday (2003)

Freaky friday post.jpgIt's funny how some of the biggest problems in relationships, of any kind really, could easily be solved with a little empathy. Whether there is a mother who often bickers with their teenager because she thinks the teenager has it easy or a doctor who thinks that his nurse doesn't have much merit, sometimes we all fall privy to a little judgment of another person.

It is those snap judgments, unfortunately, that cause us to not only engender negative feelings about who we are judging but it also causes us to lose sight of the commonalities that we all share as human beings. We forget that everybody has struggled, and just because we don't see their struggles doesn't mean that they don't exist. The movie Freaky Friday (2003) is a great reminder that we all should have some empathy for others, no matter who they are because we never know what they are going through, even if we can't see it.

In the movie Freaky Friday (2003), a mother named Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her daughter Anna (Lindsay Lohan) learn to have empathy for each other after a freakish event causes them to switch bodies. Fortunately for Tess and Anna, the body switch only lasted a day, however, throughout the course of those 24 hours, they were able to live a day in the life of each other and ultimately experience life from the other person's perspective. This taught the mother and daughter to have some empathy for each other and appreciate each other just in time for Tess' wedding; but not without a few hiccups before the happy ending.

In the beginning of the movie, neither Anna nor Tess actually took the time to get to really know and understand what was indeed going on in each others' lives. They were too consumed with their individual problems and simply figured that the other person had at easier. However, all of that soon changed when a life altering dinner at a Chinese restaurant caused them to switch bodies, ultimately forcing them to reckon with their own prejudgments and become more selfless.

In the end, Anna and Tess served as a reminder about how the detriment that can be caused with prejudgments. And that instead of rushing to such judgments, we should have some empathy instead. Not only will empathy take you further in your relationships, but it will also help you make more friends along the way.

January 4, 2015

Don't Limit Yourself: Maid in Manhattan (2002)

A woman dressed in a maids uniform is sitting with a city pictured behind her, she is looking up smiling. Above her against the clouds is an washed out blue image of her dressed elegantly and a man in suit smiling from over her shoulder.Good intentions and all, sometimes family and friends can be a little negative. This makes it hard for us to be around them, especially if you have good news to share or you have high expectations for yourself. The thing is, their negative talk isn't the most damaging, as hurtful as it may be sometimes. It's the negative self talk that gets us in a world of trouble and ultimately causes us to place ridiculous limitations on ourselves.

Instead of diverting our attention to listen to "negative Nancys," we should continue to focus on our goals without losing sight of what's important to us. Only then will we be able to achieve our goals and, who knows, we even may be able to change a naysayer into a believer. The movie Maid in Manhattan (2002), is a great reminder of this personal lesson, particularly as we start off the New Year.

In the movie Maid in Manhattan (2002), a single working class mom named Marisa Ava Marie Ventura (Jennifer Lopez) finally learns to stop imposing limitations on herself in love and her career. Growing up, Marisa's mother, Veronica Ventura (Priscilla Lopez) may have meant well but she constantly placed limitations on her daughter because of her short sided views. For the longest time, this negatively impacted Marisa's self esteem regarding her options. However, once she met and fell in love with a senatorial candidate named Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), she began to envision more possibilities for a better life for both herself and her son. However, Marisa would first have to overcome a few obstacles by way of her mother and another woman named Caroline Lane (Natasha Richardson) eying Christopher Marshall before that could happen.

In the beginning of the movie, Marisa was content with her life as a maid working in the fancy Beresford Hotel in Manhattan, New York. She didn't have much money to throw around, no thanks to her son Ty's unemployed estranged father, but she was able to afford the basic needs for herself and her son. The only problem was, naturally, she wanted more for the two of them, especially when she met Christopher Marshall; even though her mother Veronica thought her daughter should be happy working as a maid as she had accepted for herself.

By the end of the movie, not only did Marisa finally pursue a management position-- that almost didn't happen thanks to the jealously of Carolin-- but she also got the guy and ended up serving as a positive example to both her friends and family. Even in the face of adversity, and there was, she didn't give up striving for a better life for herself and her son, and that makes this movie more than just your average romantic comedy. It also makes it one of the best reminders to not limit yourself.