Saturday, January 10, 2015
One for the Money
What do women want? This question has vexed men since the dawn of time. But there is an answer (or answers) readily accessible to anyone with a few bucks and a DVD-player. Rent the 2012 crime film, One for the Money (directed by the BBC veteran Julie Anne Robinson) and after 90 minutes of relatively painless viewing, you will have an answer of sorts to this question. One for the Money is based on the novel that initiated one of the most valuable franchises in the mystery-crime thriller industry, a series of books written by Janet Evanovich featuring the plucky bounty-hunter, Stephanie Plum. Evanovich's novels seem to be tailored to the interests of women readers and the film version of the inaugural book in the series was written for the screen by three women and directed by a woman as well. Stephanie Plum is beautiful, slender, and desired by all men. She is bold, courageous, a quick-learner, loyal to her extended family, and resourceful. In the film, the newly divorced and impecunious Plum (played by Katherine Heigl) has lost her job and can't pay her rent. (It is incomprehensible, of course, that a woman with the figure of Playboy model and gorgeously beautiful would be without resources, unemployed, and forced to steal a car for transportation -- but the film is Hollywood wish-fulfillment and so we have to suspend our disbelief at Stephanie's dilemma.) The heroine goes to work for a sleazy cousin who runs a bail bond business. She is assigned the task of capturing a former lover, the man "who took (her) virginity on the floor of an Italian bakery when (she) was 17" -- in the movie, women refer to their genitalia as "cannoli," probably the most ribald thing in the film. (The movie is set in an Italian-American community in Trenton, New Jersey.) As in The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon and innumerable other movies of this type, the quest for the missing person evolves into the discovery of a broader sinister criminal enterprise involving showdowns with various thugs and enforcers. One for the Money is competently made and I thought Ms. Heigl was appealing; the story is told briskly and the locations depicting the mean streets of Trenton were gritty and atmospheric. The film is mild, contains no cursing, and its violence is understated -- the picture is clearly made for a female audience. On the basis of the film, I can declare that women want to have a choice between two competent, handsome, and aggressive lovers -- one of them, Stephanie declares, to be "like Michelangelo's David sculpted out of caramel." Women seem to desire independence -- Stephanie Plum has no obligations to either of the two men who desire her and she is free to select between them as her wishes dictate. She has a close and loving relationship with her mother and grandmother. Her job is fun and challenging. Sometimes, she is rescued by her hunky boyfriends; other times, she rescues them or uses her pluck to save the day. She revenges herself on her old flame by making him helplessly desire her and, then, rejecting his advances -- or, rather, accepting his advances but only on her own terms. Rather miraculously, she can eat incessantly without gaining weight. Stephanie is not a mother and doesn't have to deal with irritating children or a demanding husband. In short, she wants everything but without commitment and obligation and the story satisfies these desires. I thought the movie was inoffensive, something like a second-rate TV show, and, even, was mildly amused by the picture. But my wife, who has read the novels, hated the film, thought it traduced the heroine, and was disgusted by the movie, declaring it one of the worst films that she had ever seen. I thought this response was completely disproportionate to a movie that is, more or less, sweet-tempered and harmless. But my wife, apparently, is a better critic or, at least, gauge of popular response than I: this 40 million dollar film tanked at the box-office, has a positive rating of 2 % on Rotten Tomatoes, and earned Katherine Heigl a Raspberry nomination for worst actress of the year. Everything about this movie I seem to have got wrong: I have worked in New Jersey extensively and believe that I have a sense for the feeling, the milieu of the Garden State. I praised the locations to my wife and said that I thought that the film was very authentic in its portrayal of Trenton and environs. In fact, the entire film was shot in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.