The Films of David Frankel
The Pennsylvania Miners' Story
The Devil Wears Prada (January 12/07)
Though it's certainly not difficult to predict precisely where The Devil Wears Prada is going to go over its 109-minute running time, there's simply no denying the effectiveness of virtually every aspect of the production - with the end result a breezy, thoroughly engaging piece of work that's probably far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Anne Hathaway stars as Andy Sachs, a would-be writer who takes on a job at a world-renown fashion magazine as an assistant to the imperious editor-in-chief (Meryl Streep). There's little doubt that The Devil Wears Prada gets off to a fairly inauspicious start, as the film initially seems to be establishing Streep's Miranda Priestly as an absurdly over-the-top caricature (ie she insists upon riding an elevator alone). As the movie progresses, however, Streep is afforded the opportunity to turn Miranda into a distinctly three-dimensional figure - a development that's due in no small part to Streep's expectedly masterful performance. It's consequently not terribly surprising to note that the film works best when dealing with Andy's work-related misadventures; virtually everything revolving around her personal life comes off as trite and melodramatic, particularly as her boyfriend (Adrian Grenier, in a thankless role) becomes increasingly aware of her change from aspiring reporter to bona fide fashionista. In the end, though, it's virtually impossible not to be won over by the film's slick sensibility and peppy performances (the feel-good ending is particularly effective).
Marley & Me
Marley & Me casts Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as John and Jennifer Grogan, a newly-married couple whose decision to adopt an energetic Labrador Retriever ultimately impacts their lives in a far more pronounced manner than they might've expected. Director David Frankel - working from Scott Frank and Don Roos' screenplay - has infused Marley & Me with an unabashedly episodic structure that ensures that certain segments and interludes are more effective than others, with the movie's lighthearted and thoroughly appealing opening hour inevitably offset by an almost incongruously dark stretch revolving around John and Jennifer's marital problems. The better-than-anticipated work from Wilson and Aniston certainly goes a long towards alleviating the relatively inconsistent atmosphere, while it's impossible to understate the effectiveness of the gleefully quirky supporting cast (with Alan Arkin's turn as John's grouchy but loveable boss an obvious highlight). It's also worth noting that the film boasts several stand-out sequences (ie Marley leads a leashless charge on a dog-friendly beach) that firmly buoy one's interest even through the less-than-enthralling midsection, though it's not until the narrative moves into its final act that Marley & Me starts to morph into an engrossing and downright moving piece of work - with the movie's final half hour packing a far more emotional punch than one might've anticipated. There's ultimately little doubt that the strength of the finale effectively elevates everything that preceded it, and it's consequently clear that the film is destined to join the ranks of such affecting dog-centric endeavors as Old Yeller and My Dog Skip.
The Big Year
Based on a non-fiction book by Mark Obmascik, The Big Year follows three men (Jack Black's Brad Harris, Owen Wilson's Kenny Bostick, and Steve Martin's Stu Preissler) as they attempt to win a contest based on which competitor spots the most birds in a single year - with the rivalry between the disparate figures inevitably taking several unexpected turns. In its early stages, The Big Year comes off as a slick, briskly-paced comedy that benefits substantially from the personable work of its stars - as the affable performances effectively perpetuate the film's feel-good atmosphere and, at the outset, ensure that the thin premise isn't as problematic as one might've feared. It's only as the movie charges into its increasingly stagnant midsection that the viewer's interest begins to flag, as filmmaker David Frankel is increasingly unable to transform birdwatching into a wholeheartedly engrossing endeavor. The director, working from Howard Franklin's screenplay, attempts to compensate by suffusing the proceedings with a number of fairly pointless subplots (eg Bostick's marital difficulties, Harris' confrontational relationship with his father, etc, etc), which only exacerbates the progressively uneven atmosphere and confirms the movie's place as a slick yet empty piece of work.
Directed by David Frankel, Hope Springs follows aging couple Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) as they decide to spice up their stale marriage by attending a series of counseling sessions with a renowned therapist named Dr. Feld (Steve Carell). It's a lighthearted premise that's initially employed to unexpectedly grim effect by Frankel, as the filmmaker, working from Vanessa Taylor's script, emphasizes the central characters' less-than-healthy marriage to an extent that is, at times, impressively uncomfortable. The authentic vibe is, of course, heightened by Streep and Jones' strong work, and it's worth noting that the film does lighten up substantially once the action shifts to Dr. Feld's office. There is, as such, little doubt that Hope Springs is ultimately at its best during the therapy sessions between Dr. Feld and the protagonists, with the recurring emphasis on entertainingly awkward interludes (eg Arnold is forced to divulge his sexual fantasies) ensuring that the movie's midsection possesses a bracingly comedic feel that proves impossible to resist. And although the film begins to demonstrably peter out as it passes the one-hour mark - ie Taylor increasingly stresses moments of an unreasonably silly nature (eg Kay almost fellates a banana for practice) - Hope Springs, for the most part, comes off as a refreshingly adult endeavor that benefits from its honest sensibilities and from the stellar performances of its leads.