Friday, February 24, 2006

Since I seem to be awfully opinionated this morning...

... I thought I'd keep it up by writing about my thoughts on Crash, which we saw last night. (First instance of extreme opinionation: I left a long and rambly comment on APL's site about Murderball, which I thought was interesting but also manipulative and possibly dishonest.)

First, I have to admit to being surrounded by people who didn't like Crash. Darren rented it when it first came out, and then my sister and her husband watched it a few weeks back. They all agreed that it was incredibly simplistic and naive, and that the technique of interlacing stories was done to much better effect in films like Magnolia and Short Cuts. My beloved hairstylist, though, loved Crash. And I am not one to shy away from taking a contrarian opinion, especially with my family, just to keep things interesting.

But. I think D and E and P were right about this movie. It is ridiculously melodramatic and overwrought, and the "lessons" I think it's trying to convey are really reductive. (Spoilers ahead.) For example, Sandra Bullock plays the uptight, angry, wealthy wife of the LA district attorney; the couple have their car stolen at gunpoint by two black men while they're out in the city one night. Later that night, when a locksmith -- who is Hispanic, with a shaved head and tattoos on his neck -- is changing all the locks, Bullock rages about the fact that she wants the locks changed again the next morning, that she doesn't want this guy (who of course turns out to be a saint of epic proportions) giving the key to all his homies the next day. She shrieks about the fact that she knew the black guys were going to steal their car, but that as a white woman she can't act on that without being called racist.

As the movie goes on, you see a couple brief moments in Bullock's house; in most of them, she's being snippy and mean to her Latina housekeeper. As the movie goes on, though, Bullock realizes that all of her high-strung, angry (presumably white) female friends really aren't very good friends; when she falls down the stairs and needs someone to take her to the ER, her alleged best friend won't interrupt her massage to pick her up. So the housekeeper takes her. In the last scene we see with Bullock, she is prone on the couch. The housekeeper comes in to help her sit up, and as she's propping her up, Bullock grabs her in a tight embrace and won't let go. We don't see the housekeeper's face -- I imagine she's thinking, why the fuck is this bitch hugging me? -- but Bullock whispers into her neck, "You're my best friend."

And the message we're supposed to take from this? I guess that Bullock is now redeemed, that by hugging her housekeeper all of her earlier racism and venom is forgiven -- regardless of what the housekeeper thinks.

And that's a pretty typical storyline for the film; the plots -- some of which have interesting ideas buried within them -- are tied up somewhat neatly, with the accompaniment of a score that goes straight into "uplifting" mode that doesn't seem earned. (For example, why is there quasi-inspirational music playing as Ryan Philippe's car burns? He's set the damn thing on fire in order to cover up his murder of a black kid... which is redemptive how, exactly?) The closing shot is more ambiguous, but doesn't take away the bizarre resolution of the previous plotlines... the filming of which, by the way, is a direct ripoff of Magnolia.

I can't imagine how this simplistic and melodramatic movie could beat Brokeback Mountain for best picture... but then the Academy is not necessarily known for its wisdom. I'd be interested to hear what y'all thought, if any of you have seen Crash.

Updated to add: I meant to note that my dad, who teaches communications at a small private college, thinks that we're being a bunch of film snobs, that Crash is useful as a piece of mass media that helps get people thinking about issues of race and stereotypes. He's probably right, but that doesn't mean I think it's any better than it is.