Thursday, July 14, 2005

A Lot Like Nostalgia

Nostalgia is getting worse, judging by the movie A Lot like Love. When I was a child it took about 20 years to elapse from spacetime point A to B, where B involves getting all misty eyed and weepy for ever-sundered A. I'm just old enough to remember the 70s movie Grease - a paean to the fictitious hot-rod culture of the 50s. About a decade later, it was the era of the 60s flashbacks, with programs like The Wonder Years, and lots of Việt Nam-era war movies. In the times since, I've noticed the nostalgia cycle getting shorter and shorter. Going by A Lot like Love, we now are down to 5 years. Five fucking years for nostalgia to kick in. That's seriously sick.

It makes me wonder as to the possibility - say, by 2012 - these cycles are going to shorter and shorter until we all hit some sort of nostalgia singularity. Some one-hit wonder hits his or her personal apogee in a week and then crashes. A week later, the magazines print the inevitable "Where are they now?" obits for the poor ex-celebrity. On the other hand, Peak Oil will probably interrupt this process. In the future, the only nostalgia people will have is for enough petrol to drive down to the shops. Oh, and having enough to eat. But I think I'm getting sidetracked here...

You can observe a lot of nostalgia in this flick. At the start, we meet the main characters seven years ago, when they are decked in full grunge/Reality Bites/op-shop mode. A few years later, we move to the start of the 90's dot-com craze, where our hero is trying to get venture capital for his on-line diaper dispenser company. Then comes the dot-com collapse. A few years after that, the inevitable happy ending. The whole film is a rambling story about two people who fall in love (as you know they would) after lots of accidental meetings and departures over a seven year span, with lots of cultural references mixed in. You notice those references more when they go over the heads of the Vietnamese audience I saw it with. To give an example, you had the hero's shady manager's Toyota Hilux repossessed after the company went belly up. (From their perspective, the dot com collapse could be seen as a good thing. It's one reason why there's a lot of outsourcing in this part of the world.)

The "tell-a-story-over-lots-of-year-in-a-few-hours-of-screen-time" works if you are dealing with characters and situations of grave importance. Martin Scorsese is a past master of this, and he did it with mob flicks like Casino and Goodfellas. The same can be observed in other crime flicks like Scarface and The Godfather II. You see your antiheroes and anti heroines rise, hit his peak, and then fall, in epic progression. But it's hard to pull it off when you are dealing with vapid slackers.

How vapid are the characters in A Lot Like Love? After a three year absence, our lovers meet each other in Los Angeles. They hit it off, have a few ups and downs at a New Years Eve party, and crash at the hero's place. But the great tragedy here is that he has to go to San Francisco the next day to start at the aforementioned dot com company. The heroine wakes up the next morning to see the hero already gone, and nary a forwarding letter. He has to go, you understand. Love will tear them apart, again. Or work. Or maybe it's the distance. Never mind that the two cities are just 800 km apart, which can be covered in a day on California's great Interstate network. Or that phone calls are cheap, and reliable mail in available. In their world, these are insurmountable obstacles to a long-distance relationship. Can you see why I found the characters so uncompelling, and their banter about "first strikes" so contrived?

At a mere 107 minutes, it seemed like it was too long. For a supposed romantic comedy, I noticed how little the audience was laughing. 3/10.