It's kind of great that something like Cloverfield is a hit. Audacity is a strong card to play for me, I guess, and this new kind of monster movie J. J. Abrams delivered is pretty fucking audacious. If only it were a little better. How it could be any better I don't really know. Of course, the screenplay could use some work (re-jigger the trite love story, the inane running commentary, and the almost-idiot plot), and they could have cast some better actors (although it would be hard to find more attractive leads; notice the wise choice to keep Hud off-camera for most of the movie), but this is what we got. This 80-minute digicam movie about holding onto love even when there's a big ugly monster killing the city that the pretty little people populate. No, this isn't The Host or Jaws -- nor is it There Will Be Blood (looking at you, Ryland) -- but, really, what is? Is this movie truly worth hating? I don't think so. It's too weird. Sitting in a packed audience over the weekend, I couldn't believe this thing was actually making a lot of money: its handycam shake borders on unwatchable, the totally fuckable cast (thanks, Nathan Lee) is serviceable at its best, and I could totally see why it might give people a headache. That is if I wasn't so interested and involved in the movie the whole time I was watching it unfold.
The beginning is precious enough, and kind of longish, since there's only 80 minutes of movie, but both Michael Stahl-David (as the ostensible hero, Rob) and Odette Yustman (as the damsel-in-distress, Beth) are so good looking that I didn't quite care. The next part, with Rob's brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas), starts out obnoxious since Jason can't work the camera, and it doesn't get much better once he hands off documentary duties to Hud (T. J. Miller), until the monster shit (like the head of The Statue of Liberty) hits the fan and starts flying down the streets. Then these yuppies start getting what they deserve. I mean, right? Get over yourselves! I hope to live in one of those kinds of amazing downtown loft-type apartments -- I'd love it, yes -- but I hope even more to never get that hung up on bullshit "love affairs" interfering with my professional life. You just deal with shit. I guess that's part of the point the movie is trying to make but with so much time and affection devoted to this young non-couple's not-quite-unrequited love (I'm talking Rob and Beth) it's hard to ignore that Cloverfield is definitely targeted at yuppies the same way it's out to kill yuppies. Like most aspects of the movie, it's a mixed bag.
The coolest thing about Cloverfield is probably that, despite itself, I sat not apoplectic and bewildered but jazzed up and ready since I was so caught up with the idea that a monster movie was made like this. Okay, The Blair Witch Project did it first, I guess, and I like that it was a hit, but this one is a real big time movie, with one of those genius hype-generating marketing campaigns. (Okay, its marketing was kind of a rip off of the Blair Witch internet craze, too.) But, anyways, Cloverfield made a ton of money this weekend and it's a weird, not-typical Hollywood movie. Even The Bourne Ultimatum isn't this wobbly. I don't really know anything about avant-garde cinema but that late auto-focus fidgeting in the grass may be one of the coolest/weirdest things in a blockbuster I've seen in a while. Starting here of all places I can start to see why Cloverfield is different than Blair Witch: the camera is just another witness here, instead of some kind of agency device. It's also the reason it's a pretty muddled movie. For all the silly humanism in the stupid love story, the filmmaking itself isn't really interested in humans. It's a document --some weird artifact the government found? -- of human kind's idiot notion that they should win any and every battle because they can love. But love doesn't save anybody here. In fact, it's just the opposite. Jason says it best in the first clause of his rule, "Forget the rest of the world," before he fucks up and seals his fate with, "and hold on to the ones you love the most." Of course he'll die first! (Maybe that's why killing all those yuppies works: Tom Cruise slummed it as a blue collar, deadbeat dad to survive Spielberg's War of the Worlds. Privilege breeds contempt? Perhaps. I mean, I sure did hate that Tom's wife's parents (and all of Boston, for the most part) were relatively unscathed.) Still: It's not worth hating, and it's worth looking at, even if it's a little (a lot?) stupid.
Like I said above, it's not the screenplay that got me hot (if it did, indeed, get me bothered): it was how Abrams and director Matt Reeves used the digicam to capture the mayhem. It should be no surprise that the best sequence of the movie is the one you get a glimpse of in the trailer: the one where the Army rolls through shooting the monster with all its might, including some rockets. It's a much better commentary on our relationship to Iraq (as experienced by redacted television news) than that annoying scene in 28 Weeks Later on the tram after the kids fly into London -- and it's much better than the 9/11 ash quote from earlier in the movie. But what happens next? The yuppies go inside, underground even, and cry about their woeful lot. At least uber-cutie Marlena (I want Lizzy Caplan's hairdo) doesn't shed any tears -- she's just kinda pissed. I wanted more of that (and less whining) to go along with my apocalypse.