Film Reviews: Wednesday, April 25, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Hardly Working

Angelina Jolie’s careerism gets a cosmic smackdown in a maudlin comedy.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Before you get too excited about Life or Something Like It, you should know that it was directed by Stephen Herek. You probably don’t know his name — there’s really no reason why you should — but the guy isn’t known for razor-sharp comedy. He’s built his career making relentlessly cute and improbably lucrative films for the Disney Corporation (The Mighty Ducks, Mr. Holland’s Opus, 101 Dalmatians). It gets worse, though, because now he wants to tell us the meaning of life.

We start with Seattle tv reporter Lanie Kerrigan (Angelina Jolie). The movie’s all about her, and so is she. She’s completely obsessed with taking her career to the national level, but her ambition is brought up short one day. She interviews a colorful homeless guy (Tony Shalhoub) who claims to be psychic, and he predicts that she’s going to die in less than a week.

Well. Another Hollywood movie telling us what a bad person you are for putting in long hours at the office. Another movie that assumes a woman who’s good at her job must also have a miserable personal life. Granted, there’ve been a number of recent Hollywood movies about how miserable it is to be a workaholic man, but this film’s need to punish single working women is particularly strong and repellent. The scene where Lanie interviews her journalistic idol (Stockard Channing) and asks her, “Was it all worth it?” is the lowest point in a movie full of low points. (It also reminds us that Channing starred in a much better film on the subject, The Business of Strangers.)

On paper, the casting of Jolie seems intriguing. Perkiness doesn’t come naturally to this actress, so requiring her to indulge in a tv reporter’s “happy talk” would naturally underscore her character’s phoniness. Her emotional volatility would seem to give her a chance to, at the very least, strike some odd notes in a big-budget, female-oriented Hollywood comedy and take the movie away from its conventional roots. In practice, however, she’s a disastrous choice. She looks completely lost, unsure of how seriously to play the character. The result is that she’s neither funny nor convincing as a woman undergoing a personal crisis. Even when Lanie goes into diva mode, she doesn’t register, which is hardly what Jolie’s loyal fans would expect. She’s so far off her game that Edward Burns, as a slobby cameraman who’s her love interest, upstages her. She shouldn’t be playing characters this well-manicured, she shouldn’t be working with directors this warm and cuddly, and she shouldn’t be headlining PG-13-rated films.

The real culprit here, though, is Herek. Right from the beginning, when we see scenes from Lanie’s childhood, we know we’re in the hands of a director who doesn’t know what kind of material he has. Where the movie needs to be snappy, it sags with the weight of its message. Its sluggish pace and miscast star make this a woolly-minded and self-important mess.


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