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« Amiri Baraka redux | Main | Amiri Baraka re-redux »

October 04, 2002

DVD Journal: "The Business of Strangers"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Friedrich --

The Wife and I watched "The Business of Strangers" last night. Did you notice it when it had its brief theatrical release a while back? Not many people did, but it's now available on DVD, and is worth catching up with.

It's a movie version of what we who have attended too much theater call a "two-hander," ie., a piece that focuses on two characters, who claw at each other till one or both of them bursts, and some kind of something ("the truth", usually -- yawn) is revealed.

Channing, Stiles

Here, Julia Stiles plays an entitled X'er with a grudge, and Stockard Channing a Boomer corporate dragon-lady. They meet, they drink, they fight, they drink some more, they fight some more, now they're really getting down to it, the tension mounts....

I used to hate this kind of theater; it struck me as a lame excuse for an evening out. A two-hander is usually just a "confrontation" scene tricked out to play-length, and often doesn't offer a lot beyond mind-fucky actor games. I've grown more tolerant of the genre over time. A two-hander can function as an effective showpiece for performers as well as a vehicle for sociological observation. And because two-handers are usually cheap to produce, troupes presenting them often have the freedom to get loosey-goosey, and to take the kind of artistic risks you don't often see in more expensive works.

A friend who saw "The Company of Strangers" in a theater told me that on the big screen the film didn't offer enough. On DVD, and to us, it seemed to offer plenty. Patrick Stettner, the writer/director, nurses his idea along more than effectively, and he frames it with some apt visuals. This is the modern-day corporate warrior's environment, sleek, hushed and abstract, a stainless-and-cyber cage, all hotels, airline terminals, conference rooms, and suitcases on rollers.

He's getting us to see the two women as gladiators in a glittering cage, and he's focusing on their flesh and their feelings. He's also focusing the movie on the characters, and on the actress's performances, which are both spectacular. Stiles pushes the young woman's self-centeredness, and her humorlessly angry scorn and greed -- her Xer "attitude" -- a step beyond what's usual; the young woman's a familiar bratty type, but there's something mysterious about this particular brat.

Stockard Channing nails the Boomer exec good. She's a role model and a success; she's also a wreck who has no life. She's been on the forefront of a revolution, she's proved herself at work, she's defied all expectations -- and yet is only now waking up to the fact that, after all, a job is only a job. Channing's got all that going on in every step she takes: the weariness and pride, the battle-hardened swagger and the crumpled-up lost little girl. A fab performance.

jams.jpg
Channing and Stiles kick out the jams

So the movie has psychological and sociological validity, a little something in the way of eerie and fresh visuals, and two bravura performances. Lotsa credit to Stettner: he has written a number of good scenes and lines, and has created two flesh-and-blood characters, each of whom harbors a couple of juicy and not-too-cliched surprises. A grownup pleasure that delivers a little something about the life many people live these days.

What have you been watching recently?

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at October 4, 2002




Comments

"mind-fucky actor games" What a great coinage! Pardon me whilst I file that away into my lexicon.

Anyway, I happily discovered the very ignored "Boondock Saints" was released on an inexpensive DVD, and snapped it up. What a great ride. Unless violence bothers ya, this is one to check out.

I sadly discovered the great "About a Boy," which died in American theatres this summer due to a great movie season (what a predicament, eh?), isn't going to be released until Christmas Eve. Feh. Make sure to check it out when it's finally available.

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