Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Amber Heard...

I wrote this ages ago, then had one of those 'aw, why should anyone care what I think' moments and didn't post it. I've now had one of those 'I haven't blogged for ages but I can't be bothered to write anything new' moments so here it is...

Amber Heard represents one of the biggest problems with the way films are being made at the moment. Because she's really good.

It just takes one really good performance in a good film for me to want to see more of that actor. With Amber Heard that film was All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which is perhaps the only post-Scream slasher film to do anything at all interesting with the genre (that, and Cabin in the Woods obviously). And Amber Heard is really good in it. 

I can't really explain why without spoiling the ending, but it's one of those films where the story (and particularly the major plot twist) is entirely dependent on the central performance, which in this case is really strong.

Around the same time I also went to see the teen MMA film Never Back Down at the cinema. I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea.

Amber Heard plays the main character's girlfriend and doesn't do anything at all interesting. Her lines could easily have been copied and pasted from similar characters a thousand other films. Unfortunately she would go on to play that same character over and over again.

She played Jesse Eisenberg's zombie girlfriend at the beginning of Zombieland.

She was Nicholas Cage's sidekick in Drive Angry (basically the same girlfriend character but seeing her and Nicholas Cage have sex would be weird like it was with him and Jessica Biel in Next so they skip over any relationship stuff and have her following him around for no reason at all other than the film needs a girl in it).

And who could forget her standout performance as Seth Rogen's girlfriend in Pineapple Express. Me, that's who. I forgot, because it's not memorable at all.

But just as I'm about to give up on Amber Heard I see her in The Ward, a film that again hinges on the strength of her performance which is again very strong indeed (The Ward is kind of like Sucker Punch but with a script and acting and other things that proper films have).

From this I learn I should only watch Amber Heard films in which she looks slightly dishevelled in all the promotional stills (with the exception of the remake of And Soon the Darkness in which she spends a lot of time looking slightly dishevelled and doesn't play a girlfriend. It's also not very good and is therefore at odds with my thesis so I'm not going to talk about it here). 

So the other night I sat down to watch The Rum Diary, a film I'm very much looking forward to because I like Bruce Robinson, I like Hunter S. Thompson (although from the films based on his work I can't help thinking he would've achieved so much more without all the drugs and alcohol) and I like Johnny Depp when he's not being a pirate or having anything to do with Tim Burton. There are also four of my favourite actors in the supporting cast - Richard Jenkins, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi and ... Amber Heard. I think this is going to be brilliant.

Unfortunately it's not brilliant because Amber Heard plays Aaron Eckhart's girlfriend. A bit later she is Johnny Depp's girlfriend. 

At various points in the film she disappears. The script is such that it really wouldn't matter if any of those moments were the last time we saw her on screen. She is completely superfluous to the plot of the film. If you cut out all her scenes it would be the exact same film, no question.

By now I'm so sick of this it completely ruins the film for me. The film itself is actually quite good. At its best moments it recreates the tone of Withnail and I perfectly. And in a way that's the problem. Imagine Withnail and I if one of the characters had a girlfriend. Imagine the same film, same set-up, same tone but someone high up suggests the story needs a woman in it somewhere because us blokes feel a bit weird and insecure if we're just watching other blokes all the time so now Richard E Grant and Paul McGann are competing for the affections of the local barmaid. It wouldn't work. It would be horrible. 

I would like to think that's what happened with The Rum Diary; that the girlfriend character wasn't put in there on purpose but instead was inserted at the insistence of a random executive. Either way the result is the same. Here is a fairly decent story which is for the most part quite believable but every now and again we have to put common sense to one side so we accept the awkward romance plot that's been copied and pasted into the script from a thousand similar films, some of them the same films Amber Heard's previous roles were copied from.

Let's compare the above to another actor I really like of a similar age. Let's take Joseph Gordon-Levitt for example. I really liked him in Brick where he plays a high school detective. Then I saw him in The Lookout where he plays a young man living with brain damage who somehow gets involved in a bank heist. In Stop-Loss he played a soldier struggling with the return to civilian life. In Inception he plays Leonardo DiCaprio's right-hand man and gets to wear awesome waistcoats and have a spectacular floating-around-in-a-corridor fight scene. The point is his least interesting role was as the bad guy in GI Joe, and even that was more interesting than any of the supporting characters Amber Heard ever played.

You may ask, what do I know? Maybe Amber Heard was offered all kinds of interesting parts and she just prefers playing girlfriends. Maybe that's okay.

But there is a bigger picture here.

Part of what makes the above examples stand out is that quite often Amber Heard is the only female character in those films. Which means that in the world those films expect us to buy into Amber Heard represents all women. Which means for the most part women aren't very interesting. Not only that but in only having one woman in the whole story the films then fail to represent any kind of reality I'm familiar with. 

There is rarely a good reason for not having more than one female character in a script. But if for some reason that has to be the case (the only reason being someone high up thinks the film needs a woman for the blokes in the audience to look at in case they get confused) then there are things that can be done to make it work. They don't have to be written as one-dimensional pin-ups for the male characters to fight over, even if in reality that's exactly why they've been added into the story. There are examples of this being done well, like with Brittany Murphy's character in Drive (not the Ryan Gosling one, the Mark Dacascos one with lots of people kicking each other that features the line 'You cheese-eating dick monkey!'). Or Ally Walker's character in Universal Soldier (which stands out in my mind as being interesting but it's been a while since I've seen it). There are probably loads more too (but I can't think of any which is the other reason I didn't post this right away in case more examples came to me. They didn't.)

But there is another solution. Sometimes its okay not to have roles for women in a film. Sometimes it's better that way, like in Withnail and I or Reservoir Dogs or 12 Angry Men and probably a thousand more examples (and these I could list here but you get the idea). If Amber Heard hadn't been in any of the films I mentioned above except for The Ward and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane I really wouldn't have noticed. In some cases it would've been an improvement. And you never know, maybe, just maybe she could have made something more interesting instead...

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