Suber Lesson #5: “There are three things that a memorable popular film is never about — (1) unrequited love, (2) impotence, and (3) despair. In real life, people experience unrequited love, impotence and despair all the time. But the gospel of popular entertainment is based on individualism” — the belief that you can become anything and anyone if your determination and inner resources are up to the task — “and anything that suggests otherwise is forbidden.”
Not literally forbidden, Suber is saying, but pretty much isolated, marginalized… barred from the realm of mass-acceptance. Which has nothing to do with critics and Oscar prognosticators admiring this or that film and running it up the flagpole, etc. I’m talking about the reactions of Academy members and Average Joe ticket-buyers.
As much as I admire Todd Field‘s Little Children for the craft and care that went into every aspect of it, and for the fully lived-in performances from Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earl Haley, Jennifer Connelly and Noah Baumbach, its conclusion delivers impotence (immature people unable or unwilling to stand up and grapple with serious personal issues that stand in the way of happiness and fulfillment) and despair (ditto) in spades. I saw it a second time last night and this fact hit me like a ton of bricks as I talked about it with journo colleagues in the New Line Cinema basement garage.
It saddens me to say this, but it’s inescapably true. This impotence-and-despair factor will probably block any Best Picture consideration as far as Little Children is concerned. The only real Oscar nom equation with any heat at this stage is Kate Winslet for Best Actress.
Roger Michell’s Venus, on the other hand, hits the trifecta — it’s about a very old man (Peter O’Toole) who has a bad case of unrequited love for a younger girl (who requites his feelings to some extent as the film moves along), plus he discovers that he’s literally impotent at the halfway point, plus he has periodic bouts of despair due to the inescapable fact that his life is near the end. And yet O’Toole’s desire to feel life coursing through his veins is strong and persistent throughout, and so the film finally is not informed or characterized by Suber’s three no-no’s as much as the spiritual negation of same.