Monday Movie: A Life Less Ordinary, by David Bax
Often, when a movie has a superlatively complicated plot, it’s a sign that the story itself is not the actual point (see Inherent Vice). Maybe it’s because filmgoers are so accustomed to approaching a film first and often solely as a narrative but it seems like the only way a filmmaker can get us to see past the basic story structure and into the real stuff is to confuse us until we give up. This is cinema as a Magic Eye picture.
One of the most unfairly underrated of this type of movie is Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary. Boyle’s follow-up to indie hit Trainspotting shouldn’t, in retrospect, have surprised anyone with its poor box office performance (the lackluster wide-opening weekend for Boyle’s Steve Jobs is almost double the lifetime gross of A Life Less Ordinary). It’s a manic and convoluted blend of magical realism (complete with a full musical number in a rural watering hole set to Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea”) and blood-black comedy (multiple people get shot in the head, one of them after already having been crushed between a speeding car and a boulder, and it’s always played for laughs). This is not a formula for mainstream success. For some of us, though, it’s irresistible.
Despite its superficial cynicism, A Life Less Ordinary is actually a hopeful tale of oddballs finding love amongst the nastiness of human society. That juxtaposition, actually, is on display in most of Boyle’s films. He’s one of the best things to come out of the 90s, culturally, and a part of him has never seemed to leave the good parts of that decade. He has the skepticism of “Generation X” mixed with the gooey inclusiveness of a warehouse rave supplied with really good Ecstasy.
A Life Less Ordinary’s bad reputation is not an indicator of its quality but rather of most people’s inability to grab hold of it. It’s unwieldy and assaultive. It features singing from Ewan McGregor that’s more loud than good. It mixes multiple kidnappings, sexual blackmail and armed robbery with the story of angels from heaven acting as agents of love. And it features, if not the best, then at least the weirdest performance of Holly Hunter’s career, as a celestial being who is overly fascinated by the ways of the flesh. None of these things makes it a bad or good movie. But if they intrigue you at least a little, you might just be one of those oddballs this movie was destined to find.