16 July 2010

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Belatedly, I found out this film was by the guys who did the underrated one-season TV show Clone High. I missed it in theaters, but I finally got around to seeing it. The manic but controlled pace and rhythm and the style of absurdist humor and delivery is just what I'd expect from those guys, and the story here is pretty sharp. Each time there's an obstacle there seems to be a solution, but each time (usually just as that solution is about to be enacted), something else goes wrong or that solution is proven to be a misstep, which is a pretty fun way to fill a film with comic reversals that are also dramatic reversals, upping the action/stakes while keeping the laughs (or at least smirks and chuckles) coming.

The story has some elements (Baby Brent becoming Chicken Brent, for example, and the mayor's not-so-gradual transformation from midget into Jabba the Hutt) that feel too unconnected to what's really happening, to what's really important. On the plus side, each character has an arc and changes through the story, but in a more watertight, laserbeam-focused story these elements might all have felt connected somehow to the main story's trajectory. Here they weren't total non-sequiturs, but they felt loosely connected at best, tangential rather than resonant. Certainly not the end of the world, but an awful lot of time was spent with characters and actions to which I could only say, "Okay, so that happened," and wait until we got back on course. Again, with Lord and Miller's manic pacing (which they make a strength, not a weakness) we get back to the story pretty quick. Plus, if you consider the singular, strong theme that everybody's inner selves is being released as a result of this adventure, there is some degree of logic in every character's path. I have no idea how much of the story comes from the original kids book, as I've not read it, but my gut reaction to it all was that a lot of action just felt a little loopy and all-over-the-place. The script didn't feel quite as sharp as a Pixar script, though I'd say Cloudy is overall much funnier than most Pixar stories.

I can't leave without adding, this film finally did the reversal of one of my biggest pet-peeve tropes, in which the pretty girl has to take off her glasses and learn to be more stylish in order to find her true self. It goes back at least as far as The Big Sleep (the single worst scene in one of my favorite classic movies, when Bogart casually makes the cute girl with glasses take them off before he'll flirt with her), and has been mocked in countless 90s/00s teen comedies, but still. This was the first film I can think of in which the female lead puts on glasses and un-styles her hair and is rewarded for being bookish, dorky, and intelligent. Oh, but that's sexy, and thanks, guys, for acknowledging it without making a big self-aware parodic thing out of it.

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