I don't tend to lambaste movies. Filmmakers don't generally go out of their way to make a bad movie. Things happen. Something doesn't work. And there are usually good things in them to find. So, I prefer to keep my criticisms limited. There are exceptions, though, because of specific reasons. We shall get to those soon.
Second general statement: I like to watch small, charming, little-known British comedies. I like whimsy, and they tend to be filled with whimsy. So, periodically I track one down that sounds interesting or was recommended to me. This isn't just for feature films, but TV, as well, which is how I discovered the brilliant Doc Martin even before it hit these shores. And the stunningly funny People Like Us (which I wrote about here).
Last night I took a chance on a small film called The Decoy Bride. It starred a little-known British actress, Alice Eve, who I've been yammering about for quite a few years to a producer about a mutual project we're working on. She's started to get more work since I've begun my yammering (most recently, she played Dr. Carol Marcus in the latest Star Trek), though I suspect there's no cause-and-effect... Also starring in the film in the main roles are the wonderful Kelly Macdonald (best known to U.S. audiences in HBO's Boardwalk Empire as Margaret), and the joyful David Tennant, who was one of the more recent actors to play Dr. Who. It seemed like a good bet. And it had a 6.1 rating on iMDB, so I figured it was a very passable choice.
The premise was a bit cloying, but okay. A gorgeous, major Hollywood star (Eve) is hounded by the press over her impending marriage to a writer (Tennant). And they fix up a fake bride (Macdonald) to throw off the press.
It turns out that the story isn't exactly that, though close-ish enough. It also turns out that the movie is insanely, teeth-chattering, gut-wrenchingly stupidly idiotic. It is so relentlessly head-banging and gnawing in its near total unbelievability devoid of reality that I feel compelled to vent and get it out of my system, lest I implode.
By the way, to be fair, the acting is all extremely good, at times bordering on wonderful, and the film is well-shot - all of which supports what I noted above about finding good things even in lousy material. But none of that is good enough to overcome the essential concept of the willing suspension of disbelief. Because I believed almost nothing in this movie. To be fair again, I don't want to blame this on the writers -- for all I know they were pushed to make changes they were against. Or scenes were cut out that explains things better. Maybe not. So, I'll just leave it as general, crushing unhappiness for the film. And I think it's crushing because there were elements that were so good. And that makes them a waste. But mainly it's crushing for a reason I'll explain below.
There are a lot of unbelievable sequences throughout the film, cropping up at any moment'. Yet I'm going to leave those out. I can accept those. When other things work, we can accept the sloppy details. I've had sloppy details in my own work, I'm sure, head-scratching "gee, guy, I don't know..." passages. It happens. You try not, but what you think is clear isn't always. What galls me, though, and the core issue here, is when I sense filmmakers aren't trying. When they get SO lazy that they figure the audience won't mind the otherworldly leap in credibility, especially when they're plot points on which everything else revolves. Still, even with such moments, with just the smallest of effort, good writing can often explain such leaps in logic away. Even if the audience doesn't quite buy the explanation, there at least is an explanation.
Instead, I'm just going to limit this to simply two of those "not even trying" moments. Two sequences when the writers and directors and producers and actors went over the screenplay page-by-page during pre-production to justify everything, and somehow reason fell through the cracks -- assuming your definition of "cracks" is the Grand Canyon -- and no one cared to address them, figuring perhaps they'd be "cute" or oh, the audience will accept it because without it there wouldn't be a movie. Given that The Decoy Bride has a 6.1 rating, perhaps enough people did accept it. Or perhaps the charm of the acting and lovely Scottish scenery was enough to make them miss it. If so, they weren't paying very close attention. Or have standards that a four-year-old wouldn't accept for My Little Pony.
The first lapse comes a couple minutes into the opening sequence of the film, which sets the plot in motion. That's never a good sign. The bride (Eve) walks up the aisle in her beautiful bridal gown, as the packed church looks on admiringly, and her finance (Tennant) waits for her at the alter, full of anticipation and joy. Suddenly, standing next to him as the minister begins, the bride hears clicking, discovers a paparazzi snapping pictures, and she goes ballistic -- screaming at him, chasing him down the aisle, threatening him with blunt objects and pushing him out of the church. And then -- she calls off the wedding.
Say what?? The church is packed. The bride is gorgeously attired. They were standing at the altar. The paparazzi is gone. And she sends everyone home???!
I'm sure I can figure out some "explanation" that the filmmakers justified in their minds. But not only would it be an unbelievable movie explanation -- they don't even attempt the explanation. "You have to try. You have to accept as a starting point that, in real life, this simply would not happen. So, you've got to try to give it a razzle dazzle reason that we can semi-accept and remotely-believe. It's called "the willing suspension of disbelief." But a woman in her bridal gown -- indeed an Oscar-nominated movie star -- standing at the altar calling off a wedding and sending everyone home because an unauthorized photographer is taking pictures doesn't cut it. Half the people in the church are probably taking pictures with their mobile phones...
(None of this even touches on the other unbelievable moments in the scene. But they aren't plot points, so they're easily allowed to pass.)
But this opening scene, it isn't the worst lapse in "not even trying" unbelievability. That comes later, in what is the film's major plot point, the issue on which the entire movie twists.
They've found a secluded island in Scotland to have the wedding. One day on a walk, the bride spots the same paparazzi. She freaks out and runs away. Her PR people (remember them?) come up with a plan. They'll find a local girl to act as a decoy and throw the press off, while they try to find the hidden bride. (Don't worry, none of this is the bad "they aren't even trying" part.)
Then, having hatched this idea, the head PR guy says that they can't tell the fiance about it. He has to believe it's all real, the PR guy says. What I say is -- wait, wait, excuse me, what?? Why???!! Why in the world does the fiance have to believe it's real? Why in the name of all that is holy and good can't they tell him? It's never explained. I suspect that's because no one could think of an explanation. Not to worry, though, that's not the bad part either.
Okay, at the church now, with the decoy bride (Macdonald) all covered up in a veil and hidden layer after layer under a flowing bridal gown -- which completely invalidates the long sequence leading up to this, but that's unimportant -- they hold the wedding ceremony with a real minister. And all I can think is -- wait, what, hunh??? They couldn't figure out to stick in some fake minister to hold a fake ceremony? But no worry, that's not the bad part either.
Because even more critical to the plot is that after the ceremony when the groom cleverly figures out the deception, that the woman under the veil and layers isn't his intended -- the Big Twist that these two characters have to deal for most of the remainder of the movie until deep into the third act that they're now married. And all I can think is --
NO, THEY'RE NOT!!!! To get married, you have to be licensed by the State, you have to have blood tests, you need to be registered with the church and sign real documents, and...and...and this is most important, I'd think...you also have to be the Actually Same Person you say you are and that your spouse says "I do" to. When the minister asks Katie Aoidh if she, "Lara Tyler" takes this man to wed, and Katie says, "Yes, I, Lara," do -- she's not actually, really Lara Tyler, but rather she's Katie. And...and...and it does count that you really need to be the same and right person!!!
There's more of this inanity throughout the film. And more and more. (Like when they "unmarry" by getting another minister to hold a ceremony where he asks them if they "take this person to not be your lawfully wedded spouse". Because as we all know, that's exactly how divorce works, especially when you weren't really married in the first place and don't actually need a fake divorce ceremony. Or how an old deaf couple mistake the husband for a bagpiper whose record album they own and insist he play for them, despite the fact that they're...well, deaf. Or when the PR guy locks the "married couple" in a room for no apparent reason -- and it takes them hours to realize the room is fake. Or how Katie becomes a successful author by writing a very small guidebook about this teensy island in the Outer Hebrides that has 75 residents, some hedgehogs, and not much else. Or how an actress trying desperately to avoid PR at all costs goes screaming and pushing and attacking a paparazzi as he blithely keeps snapping pictures of her, while her PR reps do nothing.) There's so much more, but I'll leave it at that.
Yes, I know this was a long vent. And yes, I know it's for a movie most people have never seen or heard of. And also, yes, I also know there are some nice things in it and has a 6.1 rating. But -- I hate laziness and stupidity and when filmmakers don't even try. Especially about plot points. And mainly, I just had to get the toxins out of my system.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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