Paul Thomas Anderson is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. By some, one of the greatest filmmakers of any time. Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood are held up, almost unanimously, as some of the finest films of the last quarter-century; some would add Magnolia and The Master to that list. (A few might even include Hard Eight and Punch-Drunk Love.)
The Best Actress race? Not so much.
Marriage is a contract. We select one person we love and trust, and pledge to continue loving and trusting them until our dying breath. We give them equal stake in all our assets. We promise to be with them and them only. We will eat, sleep, and travel with this person. Their friends become our friends. Our friends become their friends. Their interests become our interests, and vice versa. Words like “we” and “us” replace “I” and “me.” They will have more influence over us than any other person we have ever known — our parents, our best friends, our siblings — even if we have known this person for only a couple of years. We refer to that person as a “partner.”
And, when you think about it… isn’t that a pretty fucking insane agreement to enter into?
These are the first words of the book This Is Where I Leave You, spoken by Wendy Foxman. How does she say it? “Offhandedly, like it’s happened before, like it happens every day. It can be grating, this act of hers, to be utterly unfazed at all times, even in the face of tragedy.”
These are not the first words of This Is Where I Leave You the movie, which begins instead with a shot of our protagonist strolling merrily through the streets of New York with some coffee in hand. (Real original, right?) It isn’t until several scenes later that Judd gets a phone call from Wendy (portrayed by Tina Fey in the movie), who says: “Dad’s dead.” How does she say it? Not offhandedly. Not like it’s happened before. She’s crying.
From there, we cut to a funeral for the aforementioned dead dad. It’s a beautiful fall day, and everyone is in proper mourning attire, and there’s some overwrought music from the score announcing this as a Sad Moment. It made me incredibly depressed, but not because I was feeling the loss of the family patriarch.
Because at that moment I realized that someone had seriously fucked up the movie adaptation of a pretty wonderful novel.
Where to begin with Cloud Atlas, the ambitious new film spanning at least five centuries? A movie so sprawling it took three directors to tackle it? One in which actors portray ages, races, and even genders that are not their own? An adaptation of David Mitchell’s acclaimed novel that many assumed was unfilmable?
Where, oh where, to begin?
A long-abandoned tent. A long-dead body. A disgruntled local. A kid with asthma. An aging man with heart problems. A marriage in crisis. Rumors that it was a massive grizzly bear (not found in these parts) that mauled two teenage girls. An honorably-discharged Iraq vet, injured in Fallujah, who has taken to putting on a “hair suit” (made of animal furs) and sneaking into stranger’s homes — mainly just to see if he can get away with it.