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The Films of Charles Shyer

Irreconcilable Differences

Baby Boom (February 6/15)

Baby Boom casts Diane Keaton as J.C. Wiatt, a high-powered executive whose entire life is thrown into turmoil after she inherits a small child from a deceased relative. There is, for the most part, exceedingly little within Baby Boom to get interested in or excited about, as director Charles Shyer, along with coscripter Nancy Meyers, has infused the film with as standard and run-of-the-mill a vibe as one could possibly envision. The pervasively stale atmosphere is compounded by a lackadaisical pace that never manages to accumulate any real momentum, with the movie's ongoing emphasis on less-than-fresh sequences and interludes (eg there's even a montage of J.C. auditioning various babysitters!) lending it the feel of a garden-variety sitcom. (It's not surprising to learn that the film was indeed adapted into a short-lived sitcom shortly after its release, certainly.) Keaton's typically appealing performance ensures that Baby Boom is, at the very least, watchable from start to finish, although it's clear that Keaton's lack of chemistry with love interest Sam Shepard remains just another ineffective element within the proceedings. The proverbial nail-in-the-coffin is the movie's almost total dearth of laughs, which does, in the end, confirm Baby Boom's place as a wholeheartedly underwhelming bit of '80s nostalgia.

out of

Father of the Bride (June 8/05)

Father of the Bride is based on the Spencer Tracy/Elizabeth Taylor film of the same name, and follows well-to-do businessman George Banks (Steve Martin) as he attempts to deal with his daughter's upcoming nuptials. Amidst the preparations and hoopla surrounding the wedding, George must come to terms with the fact that his beloved daughter Annie (played by Kimberly Williams) is getting married and moving out. While Father of the Bride is consistently entertaining, there's no denying that certain sections of the film are far more effective than others (which doesn't come as much of a surprise, given the relatively plotless nature of the proceedings). This is particularly true of a half-hour stretch that comes after Annie's initial announcement, which feels somewhat repetitive and needless. Fortunately, the introduction of Martin Short's Franck - the enthusiastic but virtually incoherent wedding planner retained by the Banks' - at around the 40-minute mark acts as an energy-booster for the film, something that lasts for the remainder of Father of the Bride's running time. But as effective as Short is, it's Martin who provides the movie with its enduring heart and soul; though he's played plenty of fathers before, George Banks remains one of the most compelling and endearing patriarchs in his oeuvre (topped only by Parenthood's Gil Buckman). It's one of Martin's very best performances, and it's remarkable just how much the actor can say using only his body language (George's wordless reaction to hearing that his daughter is getting married is certainly a highlight). Father of the Bride is a charming, engaging little movie that's elevated by some top-notch acting and a few genuinely heartwarming moments. Consequently, it's not difficult to see why the film has endured since it's release or why a sequel was commissioned just a few years later.

out of

I Love Trouble

Father of the Bride Part II

The Affair of the Necklace (November 27, 2001)

The Affair of the Necklace casts Hilary Swank as Jeanne de la Motte-Valois, an 18th century young woman who can trace her lineage back to Henry II. As a child, her family’s reputation was stripped away after her parents angered the monarchy. Now, she’s determined to take back what is rightfully hers and will do anything it takes. She sidles her way back into the Royal Court by marrying a sleazy count (Adrien Brody) and hooking up with a well-connected court insider (played by The Guardian’s Simon Baker). Once inside, Jeanne discovers it’s not quite as easy to win the favor of Marie Antoinette (Joely Richardson) as she would have hoped. While indeed wonderful to look at, The Affair of the Necklace never quite becomes much more than a superbly-lit chamber piece. Underneath that glimmering façade of powdered wigs and frilly petticoats lies a rather dull story about greed and deception. Once we discover that Jeanne will stop at nothing to take back her family name, few of the soon-to-follow plot twists are terribly surprising. But what really sinks the film is its script; as penned by John Sweet, the movie makes even the talkiest stage play look like a Van Damme flick. The majority of the action takes place within the walls of the various castles and palatial estates in and around France, and this claustrophobic approach to the story seriously hinders its ability to prevent drowsiness among viewers. The actors are all in fine form, though, particularly Swank. Though her accent doesn’t exactly put Meryl Streep to shame, Swank is required to run the gamut of emotions – from pure happiness to seething rage – and she’s more than up to the challenge. The eclectic supporting cast – which includes Christopher Walken and Brian Cox – add an unexpectedly quirky feel to the surroundings, but it’s Jonathon Pryce as Cardinal Rohan who steals the show. As the philandering Father, Pryce brings some much needed menace to the otherwise stale production. His scenes allow the film to come alive – albeit briefly – and his absence is felt whenever he’s not on screen. The Affair of the Necklace tries so hard to be a timeless classic, along the lines of Dangerous Liasons or Howard’s End, that it eventually forgets that those movies were at the very least entertaining.

out of

Alfie (July 3/06)

Based on the 1966 Michael Caine comedy of the same name, Alfie casts Jude Law as the title character - a limousine-driving lothario who has evidently perfected the one-night stand. But after years of conquests, Alfie is forced to finally come to terms with his thoroughly empty lifestyle. Directed by Charles Shyer, Alfie initially comes of as a breezy, distinctly sitcom-like piece of work - a vibe that's cemented by Law's easy-going performance and Shyer's light-hearted sense of style. But the complete and utter lack of a concrete storyline becomes painfully apparent as the movie progresses, to the extent that we can't help but wish that Alfie would hurry up and learn his lesson already (a problem that's exacerbated by the incongruously dramatic third act). And as charming as Law is here, Alfie - when you get right down to it - isn't a terribly likable character, something that certainly makes it difficult to actually care about his fate.

out of

© David Nusair