With the release of the movie Battleship I got to wondering, is this how far we’ve fallen? An adaptation of a board game? Perhaps that’s not even what bothers me most. I can recall playing Battleship with my brother when I was a kid and I don’t remember fighting gigantic alien robots. So basically, it’s an adaptation in that it contains battleships…and that’s about it. I see movies like this hit the theaters week after week and ponder where have all the good ideas gone.
I don’t believe Hollywood is hopeless, just misguided. There are plenty of quality writers out there pumping out imaginative and thought-provoking scripts; the problem is they are not always a safe box-office bet. A studio would much rather pour funds into an effects-laden juggernaut than a small, simple tale about the human condition. Hollywood blockbusters have their place but every now and then I yearn for a heartfelt character study without an explosion or megawatt star to be seen.
Writer/director Thomas McCarthy is particularly good at these character studies. I once read a review of his most recent film, Win Win, calling him a great American humanist and I have to agree. In his three features (The Station Agent and The Visitor being his first two), he manages to create witty and undeniably relatable characters, characters you or I could run into in the grocery store and not think anything of it. Most of his work dives into the unlikely friendships that life will sometimes throw at us.
In the incredibly poignant The Station Agent, we’re drawn into the bond formed between a man born with Dwarfism, a vivacious food cart owner, and a lonely woman dealing with tragedy. In The Visitor, Richard Jenkins (a sublime actor finally taking the lead in this Oscar nominated performance), has his life changed by a couple of illegal squatters taking up residence in his apartment. And with Win Win, a small-town family man takes in a teen wrestling champion to surprising and heart-warming results.
There are no aliens, but there’s plenty of good drama to go around, with fantastic acting in each. These characters aren’t saving the world, they’re just living life. While sometimes mundane, McCarthy always manages to inject humor into the trials and tribulations that arise. It’s films like these that make me want to get out there and make something that is equally quiet yet powerful. At the end of the day, I’d rather make something that has some significance than a film that will be white noise in the Hollywood stratosphere. But hey, that’s just me!