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17 July 2012 @ 04:43 pm
The Decoy Bride  
Some thoughts on The Decoy Bride. I was so puzzled by it that I actually watched it twice, the second time after my weekend visiting a friend, and the second time I liked it a lot better. Kelly McDonald and David Tennant are sweet together, and unlike the case in some romcoms, they actually have a fair number of scenes together, so why did the film gel so poorly/oddly?

I think one of my problems with the film is that it's weirdly elliptical about setup; we're left to infer a LOT about the characters, their situations, and their relationships to each other. A few media interviews and talking heads at the beginning might have been cliched, but might have helped clarify the James/Lara relationship for me, for example. And perhaps I am slower than the average bear, but it took me a long time to get that Katie's mom's comments about seeing the world and flinging herself into a volcano weren't just random eccentricities. I would have loved to know more about the fictional book The Ornithologist's Wife, too, because it's practically the only clue we have to what kind of man James is (as opposed to "one who looks like David Tennant"): what does he care about? He seems to be a character who knows far more about what he is *expected* to be than about what he actually wants - that scene where he describes why he loves Lara (basically, because who wouldn't, in his situation?) came far too late in my first viewing of the film, but armed with it for my second, I could piece together a reasonable suggestion about how he would have gotten into a relationship with her, because a man like that wouldn't have been able to say no to a star who was smitten with his novel - he couldn't even tell her that he didn't like big cat documentaries.

The other thing is that the movie wants to be a '30s screwball comedy, which is much harder to do in the 21st century. When I was trying to reason out my puzzlement with the film, I thought, "but this kind of thing totally works in It Happened One Night or Shall We Dance!" But modern solutions kept intruding on '30s contrivances - like, why was James' book so inaccurate about the island? Google (which is mentioned) might not be perfect, but I'm sure it would have pulled up a basic map. (And honestly, the UK is not so big that he couldn't have taken a research trip. Which could suggest some things about the kind of writer James is - he vastly prefers the idea to the thing itself - but the movie didn't exploit that.) Or, why doesn't Katie recognize James straight away, if everyone on the island has read his book - did he not have an author photo on the book jacket? Did he never get interviewed on the BBC? Did the villagers not take an interest in someone who had written the only book about their island, and look him up on the computer in the village library?

Those are the structural things. Then there's the writing - or, specifically, the writing of one scene, the one where Katie and James are trapped in a room together. It's the Beatrice/Benedick theory of romantic comedy (well, *my* theory, anyway): just arguing and insulting each other doesn't actually establish a connection; there has to be something about the *way* two characters argue with each other that suggests that they fight together better than many people love, that they're not just evenly matched but in tandem with each other. And something about the way that scene is written and cut never really lets them build up to a proper serve-and-volley situation rather than a series of disconnected insults. I felt like they *almost* made it, a couple of times - but then, perversely, the dialogue would falter back into a misplaced naturalism, which is all wrong for the screwball comedy it wants to be.

And what's especially frustrating is that there are flashes between the leads where they really click, especially in the latter half. They're quite cute together at Katie's kitchen table, falling into a nice, comfortable banter about her choice in men; he relaxes enough with her to tease about their first meeting in the toilet stall, with the first wide-open playfulness we've seen from him; the commentary faces he pulls as Katie recites his idealized description of Lara to the priest are funny and telling; his startled, soft "You're not ordinary" to Katie is perfect; the last scene is darling (ooh, James, you smug tease, leaning in for that kiss like that*). The film just needs a stronger thread to hang all those scenes on, instead of letting them drift in a bit randomly.

[This last paragraph is James-focused not (just) because I am a David Tennant fangirl, but because it's only in the second half of the film that the character comes to life as a person for me. For whatever reason, through whatever combination of actor's skill and character's circumstance, Katie feels like a person from early on. But I should mention the scene where she asks James to stay, because it's *so* vulnerable, and Kelly McDonald really sold it to me.]


*This might have been the point where I yelled, "ugh, shut up with your stupid face!" at my television. Maybe.
 
 
 
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tempestsarekind: austentempestsarekind on July 18th, 2012 02:08 am (UTC)
Yeah, "outsider discovering Magical Scots" would have been gross, and I appreciated that they didn't go there! Like you, I appreciated the attempt to make it Katie's story, too; it just didn't quite come together.

And yes, the comparison to Four Weddings is telling, because there really isn't anything but the Katie/James relationship for the film to rely on. Usually I'm the one going "this romcom needed more time with the lovers!" But that wasn't even the problem here. So odd.

And she never checked her email or voicemail? Ever? And in the age of TMZ and Twitter it never leaked out the actress wasn't actually married?

Oh, seriously! I could see Katie just *deleting* all his messages, MAYBE, but that fake marriage thing is not a ruse that would hold for long, even if it made sense ("oh, I guess we'll just lie about this for years instead of telling people we called it off! You're okay with that, right?"). The filmmakers wanted that little misunderstanding ("...I meant to enquire after Mrs. Edward Ferrars" /S&S), but it sacrifices coherence for one line.

I sort of feel like the film only found its legs during those two scenes with the priest, weirdly. Those two really worked for me.
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tempestsarekind: austen bonnetstempestsarekind on July 18th, 2012 03:21 am (UTC)
It's such a brilliant reversal, because when the servant announces that Lucy Steele and "Mr. Ferrars" have gotten married, it's like, "...but he wasn't actually supposed to go through with it; where's the last-minute reprieve? Stop this romantic comedy, I want off!" And then it turns out that the reprieve is actually Lucy's self-interest, and yay.

Also, Lara threatens to push a woman in a wheelchair off a cliff...which nobody seems to think is an indicator of bad character. Yes, the paparazzi found your wedding location, but come on. Suddenly she was a very different kind of character than initially presented, and that didn't get addressed at all.

I spent much of the movie going, "Just take off the fur vest, at least! There is no reason for you to be wearing that unless it is actually attached to the shirt. I didn't really think of the further implications, though - yikes!
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tempestsarekind: elizabethtempestsarekind on July 18th, 2012 03:53 am (UTC)
Austen is really the mistress of making you squirm in suspense

Hee! And she does it without making anyone run through an airport, as well.

I think I just decided to block out the whole "dad's clothing" thing; it was totally referred to several times, and yet I was just like "la la la, aren't bagpipes funny?"
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tempestsarekind: not supposed to be a heroine [NA]tempestsarekind on July 18th, 2012 04:57 am (UTC)
Oh, yes. So many people mention that - the way that somehow you're always rooting for Elizabeth and Darcy to get together, even when you've read or watched the story many times.
harder, harder, hardest; i am the artist: david tennant -- 24ppl | arseradiantbaby on July 18th, 2012 09:56 am (UTC)
Plus, him dressing up in her DAD'S outfits and then pretending to be married to her AND THEN ditching her like her dad did was a really nasty squick I can't think they intended.

Yeah, that was...er, special.
harder, harder, hardest; i am the artist: david tennant -- dr john pensive (PLU)radiantbaby on July 18th, 2012 10:01 am (UTC)
And this is _exactly_ why people hate watching movies with me, but the ending....makes no sense. It takes about a year for a book to be published these days, and yeah, his didn't look all that long (har har), but her guidebook went into two editions? plus she had all that time traveling with her mother? but it didn't seem like that long a period of time had gone by. And she never checked her email or voicemail? Ever? And in the age of TMZ and Twitter it never leaked out the actress wasn't actually married?

Yeah, it was almost like the writer rushed things to get to James' new book, with a dedication to Katie, and the kiss at the end, while sacrificing making any narrative sense. The kiss was really, really sweet, though.
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harder, harder, hardest; i am the artist: david tennant -- sf | sarah/daveradiantbaby on July 19th, 2012 04:00 am (UTC)
OMG it was so adorable, yes. It was like, there! right at the end! what should have been going on for about half the movie.

Same here. Like their connection almost came out of nowhere! My heart started racing as soon as he showed up on that ladder and had that whole bit about the book not being dedicated to Lara, and had the the boat turn around, and THEN I HAD BUTTERFLIES IN MAH BELLY! AND THEY KISSED! AND IT TOTALLY SHOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE THAT FOR MOST OF THE MOVIE!

I guess they were just going for the whole they-hate-each-other-and-now-they-love-each-other trope, but it wasn't like they really hated each other at any point? That sort of fell flat, like the script didn't know what to do with the two characters once it had them interacting.

AND NOT IN HER DAD'S PLAID PANTS.

AMEN to that! Thank goodness he was wearing new clothes! I hope he burned the dad's outfit or something and didn't just keep it out of some weird sentimentality.
harder, harder, hardest; i am the artist: david tennant -- 24ppl | winkradiantbaby on July 18th, 2012 09:54 am (UTC)
I'm a whole lot HOTTER than I look...
I definitely get you. While I love the movie in strange way, most likely because I'm dazzled by my great love for Kelly Macdonald and Tennant, I have found when I think about it too much, it makes my head hurt a bit!

I didn't catch that Katie's mum was being serious either (especially with the whole look-at-the-eccentric-Scottish-villagers thing that kept popping up). I also thought that James was weakly drawn for most of the film and it was hard to get a real sense of him, especially because it seemed as if he was running nothing in his own life and really had no true opinion on anything (which, looking back, was him just trying to fit the mold Lara wanted him to be in, I suppose). Lara seemed all right (though a bit on the crazy side -- I was truly worried about her killing Katie's mum on that cliff!), but I wasn't sure much about why they were together outside of her being a big fan of his book (and possibly, like Katie, having a thing for 'emotionally retarded arty boys' or whatever she said).

Yeah, the bits about James' lack of research regarding Hegg for his novel seemed quite odd. I mean, I confess I have written stories set in cities I've never been to and later visited to find I was quite wrong on things, but never that blatantly wrong. Plus, not only is there Google, as you said, but he could have very easily made a scouting trip up there.

I never thought about until you mentioned it, but yes, it is odd that Katie didn't recognize James at all, considering the whole Hegg Book Club thing. I mean, even if he doesn't have a photo on the book jacket (which would be a surprise, but we never saw the back, did we?), she would have probably seen him on television or in the papers, especially as she's been away from Hegg for a while now and was likely in a bigger, more media-friendly city, and the press seemed to be a-buzz with news about the wedding (which didn't her mum already know about?).

The scene when they are trapped together is...odd and a bit uncomfortable to watch. It is almost like it takes itself too seriously for a comedy. And then, right afterward, just after James saves her from drowning, suddenly they are on much better terms? I mean, its sweet ('don't look at my legs!'), but still...

The second half really makes the movie for me (often when I rewatch it, I fast forward it to there, personally). They seem to quickly have an easy friendship and rapport, which while a bit odd considering how they were with each other not long before, still suckers me in because Tennant and Macdonald are so freaking adorable together. I loved the 'You're not ordinary' bit, the wedding dress bit (so sensual, yes), and I've been known to watch that kiss at the end on a loop (god, that little smile Tennant gives right before the kiss just kills me dead -- WHY DO I NOT HAVE AN ICON OF THAT?), but overall the film is quite weak.
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harder, harder, hardest; i am the artist: david tennant -- 24ppl | winkradiantbaby on July 19th, 2012 04:05 am (UTC)
Re: I'm a whole lot HOTTER than I look...
I love screwball comedy (and it was like this film kept trying to be Bringing Up Baby), but it was like the film was going for pap satire _and_ romcom _and_ screwball _and_ quirky local colour and it just....didn't gel? sigh.

Yes, I think writer might have gotten a bit confused? Or maybe they were new and trying to throw all romantic tropes they could at the script to see what stuck? It really needed a better editor. Or a rewrite once they saw the chemistry between David and Kelly (because I'm sorry, but I just didn't see any chemistry between David and the Lara!actress). That has happened before with other dramas, at least!

also that is one helluvan icon, Good Lord

It's definitely a favorite of mine. Such a gorgeous, cheeky bastard he is! <3
tempestsarekind: world in peril? have some teatempestsarekind on July 18th, 2012 01:38 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm a whole lot HOTTER than I look...
Yes! In that scene where they're trapped together, they're actually rather *mean* to each other, flinging really unpleasant class-based insults, and then, post-drowning, it's like an entirely different relationship from an entirely different film. And it's frustrating, because when the film gets out of its own way for five minutes, Kelly McDonald and David Tennant really are adorable together. I sigh for what could have been...

that little smile Tennant gives right before the kiss just kills me dead

Oh, goodness yes! That, sir, is just inappropriate and rude. Hmph.
harder, harder, hardest; i am the artist: david tennant -- blackpool - peter & natradiantbaby on July 19th, 2012 04:14 am (UTC)
Re: I'm a whole lot HOTTER than I look...
In that scene where they're trapped together, they're actually rather *mean* to each other, flinging really unpleasant class-based insults

Yeah, I got that James and Katie were quite stressed out in that moment, but the insults just didn't make a lot of sense, especially as they are practically strangers at that point. I guess, as you said in another comment, they were trying to go for Benedick/Beatrice-style sparring and fell very short of the mark (they were more like immature kids fighting than actual intellectual barbs), but neither of them came out of that scene looking like a very nice person. Which is odd, because as they film goes on, they seem like they are both nice people (and that scene seems woefully OOC for them both). A bit misguided perhaps, but overall quite nice.

and then, post-drowning, it's like an entirely different relationship from an entirely different film.

Yes, *so* weird. Maybe the shock of the cold water (it *is* Scotland!) knocked them out of the asshole-ness? ;)

And it's frustrating, because when the film gets out of its own way for five minutes, Kelly McDonald and David Tennant really are adorable together. I sigh for what could have been...

I know. It's like I almost want to just re-edit it into another plot line or something. :( :(
tempestsarekind: ten has a secrettempestsarekind on July 19th, 2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm a whole lot HOTTER than I look...
Hee - that must be it! They left it all behind in the moat. :)

Yes, they *do* both seem like nice people! And neither of them seems all that concerned about the issues they're fighting about anywhere else. The movie itself doesn't even make class an issue at any other point; the mother's wish for money is pretty divorced from her general socioeconomic status, there's no discussion of the "Hollywood" lifestyle or any sense that James is uncomfortable on the island...ah well.

For what it's worth, a friend mentioned to me that on IMDb, someone says that the film was budgeted for seven million pounds, but then only raised about 2.5, so they had to cut and alter a lot of what they'd intended to do. If that's true, it might provide another explanation for some of the odd decisions the film has made.