Seeing local writer Josh Bridgman’s play Concrete Kingdom, whose heroine lives in a bunker, made me wonder how movie reviews would sound if they were written from underground after an alien invasion, peak oil or something like that. For the sake of a thought experiment, let’s say the reviewer has every movie ever released and time to watch them.
Gone would be the pseudo-hipster snarkiness and jaded, knowing tone that pervade so much current criticism, including mine. The bunker reviewer wouldn’t have to prove she was smarter than everybody on the Internet. Maybe she would greet everything with childish delight, like Pixar’s WALL-E watching his VHS tape of Hello, Dolly! (Dancing! Music! Sunlight!) But some things about our movies would surely be baffling from a postapocalyptic perspective.
For instance, take the way a movie like Morning Glory pays lip service to an ideal — hard-news reporting — while simultaneously suggesting, with winks and nudges, that only your grandpa cares about that. Back in 1987, Broadcast News — which would be the essential bunker double feature with Morning Glory — chronicled the war between news and entertainment. Here, Rachel McAdams plays a young TV producer who has roped a veteran newsman (Harrison Ford) into anchoring a morning fluff show. She puts it to him bluntly: The war is over, “and your side lost.” News is yesterday. Tormenting the weatherman to generate viral YouTube clips is where it’s at now.
From a bunker perspective, it might be hard to figure out why we’re supposed to root for McAdams. She’s perky, plucky, pin-thin, workaholic and has a dream of producing “Today.” She’s so into this dream it’s a little scary. Her struggle to make it in a cutthroat profession takes center stage, while Ford’s last stand for substance is relegated to a nostalgic subplot. (When he starts talking about News, he gets horribly pompous, so it’s hard to care.) Meanwhile, the most skilled comic actor in this comedy — Diane Keaton as the anchorwoman, a steely professional clothed in a cloying persona — is used as a one-joke pony.
Yes, this is fantasy fodder for (primarily) female viewers while we all await the Collapse. But it could have been so much worse, considering screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna also gave us 27 Dresses. Here she stays conventional while avoiding the worst conventions of the genre. McAdams triumphs by taking risks and getting down in the bloody trenches of infotainment, not by catching some Prince Charming’s eye.
She does have a love interest, played by Patrick Wilson (who is too funny to keep wasting himself in these bare-chested, eye-candy roles). But most of the movie is about a young woman doing things that don’t include dating, shopping or wedding, and making decisions that have repercussions beyond the world of relationships. In our prebunker world, that qualifies it as a comedy of substance.
So, kids, what did we learn from this movie about 2010? News gathering is the foundation of democracy, but only raspy-voiced curmudgeons care about it unless it involves embarrassing a powerful person on camera. Really funny comedy is for boys (unless you’re British). Movies about female empowerment must feature a female-empowerment anthem every seven minutes. A skilled director (Roger Michell) can make modern Manhattan look like a city of dreams. Every girl should have Harrison Ford make her a frittata. The more powerful a woman gets, the higher her heels. Morning TV is an idiocracy, but scooping “Good Morning America” is still a meaningful achievement.
Maybe bunker life isn’t so bad after all.