I could only Twitter about it on Saturday, and even now I am dashing this off (to be continued!) as my sister, mom and brother in law wait for me so we can go to dinner to celebrate two birthdays (mine and my sister's)... But I see that I am not the only Catholic who was eager to see the much-vaunted movie that turned out to be the cinematic disappointment of the year, at least for me. In fact, I am relieved that Barbara Nicolosi has panned it. I feel vindicated that someone in her league had similar reactions.
Before I continue, I would like to remind the gentle readers of a few principles, the first being "de gustibus non disputandum" (or is it disputandam? Dad would know, but he's in heaven.) So: taste is personal.
Second principle: people's pristine intentions and good will do not guarantee an effective or worthwhile result. We can applaud the desire and bemoan the outcome at the same time.
Third principle: if you are attempting to engage culture in its own language and with its own genres, you have to measure up to the culture's standards.
Sr. Helena, our community screenwriter, asked me how I liked the movie. She had seen it in a private screening months ago and loved it, which is why I had been really looking forward to seeing it myself.
Instead, I was bored out of my mind.
She was nonplussed. "Oh, it's European in style."
"No it's not. It's just very earnest, and it has no real storyline."
"Well," she said,"what did you not like about it?"
"Besides the lack of story? Well, for one: I didn't care about the characters."
"Oh, that's not good."
"I didn't know who they were; how could I be invested in them? And another thing: I resent it when a movie goes for the emotional jugular. I end up suspecting that it is a substitute for content."
"That's a no-no," she admitted.
"And there were so many little irregularities that I just gave up trying to suspend my disbelief:
in the first ten minutes, when Jose' is practicing his interview, he can barely speak English. Where did he grow up? Why does his Mexican mother not have an accent, and he can't speak English? Then he's the top chef in a Manhattan restaurant, and he's working in the kitchen with a bushy beard and full head of hair and no hair net? Not even a hat? Eww."
"Oh, the food stuff!" Sr. Helena laughed at that. She always teases me for being a foodie. But that wasn't my only foodie point.
"What is his culture? When they get to the lady friend's restaurant, he orders paella and tells Nina it's good for the baby. Paella is from Spain. Why is a Puerto-Rican-Mexican-American man talking about paella and babies?"
Then there is the New York stuff. The movie is written as if to pander to New Yorkers. "Oh, just a typical New York day." Then the invitation to go to the beach. What beach? Only New Yorkers know what this means and where they went. I lived in New York for three years (long, long ago) and never really got too far past the concrete jungle.
And then the last scene, with the monstrous butterfly hovering over the threesome. That was an out of place, tiresome cliche'.
Barbara N. thinks Bella can't be characterized as a pro-life movie. I think it could be used in catechetical sessions, but you would need to really facilitate a discussion in order to direct the interpretation in a solidly pro-life vein. It does trot out a lot of the slogans the "pro-choice" people use, but at least in one case, I thought they did a good job rendering it against itself--where Nina says, "If I'm going to carry a living being for nine months..." The "living being" is something that abortion providers would rather avoid talking about. So I think there is at least a line or two that can be made use of in catechesis.
So while Mom enjoyed the movie, I came out of the theater with a migraine, wondering about the money that had been sunk into the project and how on earth an audience in Toronto, of all places, could have given it any kind of serious attention. (Barbara has some insights into that aspect.)
It seems to me that, as sterling as the intentions of the producers surely were, Bella has succeeded only in creating new obstacles for Catholic screenwriters and producers to get past in their attempts to provide genuinely high quality material for Hollywood.