30/08/2016

As Good As It Gets - Space And Time

Quick Thoughts: As Good As It Gets

An obsessive compulsive grows close to his neighbour and waitress.


This is a terrible film. I've seen the title and poster in passing many, many, many, many times and I've always assumed it was a good film due to apparent critical acclaim as well as the cast. But, I finally came around to watching it and... sigh... It started out so well, it settled me into brilliant character piece about friendship, personal growth and the acceptance of life as is. But, it devolves slowly as it sinks into the second act, but then take a huge nose dive approaching the third act, hits the ground and is just decimated by the time the romance kicks in. If I were to be rational, I could say this is quite a good film with editing problems. But, for how good it started and how bad it ended... yeah, fuck this film.

But, I don't want to just say why this is a bad film, instead, use its faults to demonstrate a key aspect of cinema in respect to writing and editing. Film is all about space and time. Space is a frame, it's a painting, it's a moment. Time is the flickering of 24 frames per second that builds into a scene, that builds into an act, that builds into a film. For character films like this, space and time are particularly hard to manage. To understand why you simply need to look at the likes of a Die Hard.


What you have here is one night in which a lot of shit must go down. That means your management of time when approaching the story is simplified to, in as basic a way to be seen, choosing the best bits to fit into 90 minutes. This form of story telling has its traps and difficulties, but because of the small amount of time in juxtaposition to the masses of action, a Die Hard is easier to write than something like 12 Years A Slave or Boyhood.

  

In these films you have a lot of narrative time (12 years) and an awful lot of action. Whereas Die Hards hold a lot of high-octane action, guns, blood, glass, explosions, bullets, dead bodies, Boyhoods and 12 Years A Slaves have a huge swath of action - both dramatically intense and extremely mundane. In other words, there's a lot more to choose from over 12 years than there is 1 night in respect to plot points. Now, the management of space and time to create a narrative is only made harder when you have a focus on character. Your responsibility is to chose the right spaces, the right frames, the right moments of their lives from a long stretch of time to demonstrate the particular character traits you are trying to utilise to get across a certain meaning or certain emotions. Simultaneously, you must also manage the time you have, and so how much of a character, or how much of their individual elements you are showing. This is incredibly difficult to get right, to balance the space or moments you show and how long you show them.

With As Good As It Gets you see a good selection of moments in these characters' lives and journeys, but simply not enough of them. No parts of Melvin's early character traits are succinctly touched on throughout the narrative, they are only really mentioned in the beginning and end as some half-assed excuse for a character arc. This means that you feel huge gaps in his character, but also fail to follow the timeline of the movie. And the management of time here is God awful. There are mentions of things to come in the narrative, like the son getting better, that we're left to assume happen - which is fine to do - but things like this are only mentioned after the fact, they aren't shown cinematically. This awful management of time and lazy in-dialogue reference to space is completely down to the crap plotting. What's more, the editing within scenes is shockingly bad. There seems to be so much cut of this movie, and it's done so badly that jarring awkward silences or jumps in conversations convolute the purpose of scenes and of character motivations. These things absolutely kill how an audience perceives character, and in turn kill a movie.

I suppose all I can end on is a question to whoever decided to nominate this film for Oscars, whoever gave it good reviews, whoever likes this film. What are you seeing that I aren't? All I see is the skeletons of what could admittedly be a great movie. A skeleton that needs to be put under ground, or filled in with some substance that must have been in the original script or a longer cut. Nonetheless, time and space, if you can't manage them you not only destroy all narrative sense over a plot, you destroy the perception of character and of their growth.





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