Combustible Celluloid
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With: Heather Graham, Casey Affleck, Luke Wilson, Goran Visnjic, Patricia Velasquez, Alfonso Arau, Mark Ruffalo, Kim Dickens, Clea DuVall, Summer Phoenix, Art Alexakis, Mary Kay Place, Dylan Baker, Wood Harris, Laurel Holloman
Written by: Lisa Krueger
Directed by: Lisa Krueger
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 98
Date: 01/21/2000

Committed (2000)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Don't Fence Me In

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Lisa Krueger's Committed is better than it actually looks. It's a fine example of a perfectly-constructed Hollywood screenplay. It's not a GREAT screenplay of original caliber like Chinatown (1974) or Being John Malkovich (1999) but it is very much worth looking at. Of the slew of romantic comedies out there right now, I'd recommend Committed first.

The title Committed has a double meaning. The first has to do with marriage vows as New York couple Joline (Heather Graham) and Carl (Luke Wilson) prepare to tie the knot. A year later, Carl has disappeared to Texas needing space and time to think. Joline tracks him down and tries to protect him from evil spirits and to worm herself back into his life.

Joline is highly spiritual and practices little rituals. She makes a little shrine to love on their wedding day. She even has her wedding ring tattooed on her finger as a sign of lifelong commitment. At first Carl seems a little too much in love. He barges in on her before the wedding, even though it's supposed to be bad luck. But that's only the first red herring in this clever screenplay. You expect Carl to come on too strong and drive Joline away, but surprisingly, the movie takes a turn. It will take several more turns of this nature. The script is very savvy at showing us the doorways through which all the romantic comedy clich├ęs live, but then suddenly taking a turn and exploring down a new hallway.

Committed does something that many romantic comedies don't do, which is to give its characters a sense of identity through their jobs. Joline runs a club in New York, and Carl works as a photographer who is tired of shooting pictures of food for the Living section of the newspaper and wants to shoot news instead. These occupations give us an idea of who the characters are, plus they're visual. We can actually see Joline working in the club, and we see the results of Carl's photography.

Another aspect I loved about Committed is the visual juxtaposition between New York and Texas. Joline and her friends are club-hopping twenty-somethings with very cool wardrobes and apartments. Everything is densely decorated in kitsch and colored red and black. Texas is huge, bright, and colored in warm earth tones. Joline doesn't quite fit with her black tank top and red leather pants. But again Krueger doesn't play this as a simple fish-out-of-water story. Joline is so singular in her mission that she blends right in to the Texas landscape like a desert chameleon.

Joline really gets to know Carl's Texas neighbors well: the beautiful Mexican waitress named Carmen (Patricia Velazquez, the Egyptian princess in The Mummy), Carmen's highly spiritual grandpa (Alfonso Arau, the director of 1993's Like Water for Chocolate), and the handsome sculptor (Goran Visnjic) who falls for the married Joline. Joline's weirdo brother Jay (Casey Affleck) also comes along for the ride. All these supporting players offer rich and funny interpretations. And Graham herself proves that she's capable of a real comic performance with soul rather than the bimbos she played in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Bowfinger (1999).

After Joline begins trying to rescue Carl (using spiritual techniques learned from grandpa), she gets picked up by the authorities and thrown into a mental hospital, hence the second meaning of the word Committed. But even that's not the end of the story.

The ads would have you believe that Committed makes some kind of grand statement about quick marriages and easy divorces. (I can hear the trailer now, "in a world of quick marriages and easy divorces...") But in reality it's just a well-crafted, clever comedy. Since the movie landscape has been so dry lately, I was happy to find this little drop of water.

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