Two Films About Empty People (2008)

Rated PG-13 Our ratings: V- 1; L- 7; S/N-8 . Running time: 1 hour 36 min.

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity
of vanities! All is vanity.
Ecclesiastes 1:2

The Wackness Rated R. Our ratings: V- 1; L- 7; S/N-8 .
Running time: 1 hour 33 min.

‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting- place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and l ive there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’ Luke 11:24-26

Woody Allen moves his locale from London to exotic Barcelona in this film about two close but unalike friends spending the summer in the city of Gaudi and Miro. Vicki (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are both in their late twenties, but temperamentally very different. Vicki is the cautious one, liking stability, so she is engaged to a somewhat dull man. Cristina is impetuous, loving adventure, so it is little wonder that when the dashing Spanish artist Juan Antonio( Javier Bardem), whom they had spotted earlier at an art show, approaches their table at a bar and makes them an outlandish proposition, Cristina is all for it, whereas Vicki is appalled. Yet soon both are flying with him to a distant city for dinner and, if he has his way, a night of sex with them both.

Cristina manages to keep Juan at bay, but soon matters become complicated when they return to Barcelona and the trio are attracted to one another. Juan s ex-wife Mar a Elena (Pen lope Cruz) re-enters his life, the two having parted explosively some time before, one or the other having attacked the other with a knife. Still in love, they are nonetheless unable to live together. Instead of being upset with her former husband s relationship with the two Americans, she joins them, expanding the trio into a lovers quartet. Vicki s intended Mark Nash (Kevin Dunn) also shows up. There is a lot of sophisticated talk and humor, and a touch of heart ache, and some supposed increase in wisdom as the summer ends and the two friends prepare to leave Spain. The film is amusing, but the characters are so lacking in any thought or concern for much of anything beside their own wants and desires that we might question whether or not they will ever relate to the needs of a larger world.

Dr. Squires takes a day off from the office to accompany Luke around the city.

2008 Sony Pictures Classics

There seems to be a run of morally ambiguous films this summer, with this tale of a psychiatrist giving therapy sessions to a teenage boy in exchange for pot being a prime example. Ben Kingsley again immerses himself into an unlikable person, Dr. Squires, a reprehensible therapist who gives immoral advice, but at least not as vicious of a character like the criminal he played in Sexy Beast. Actor Josh Peck stands up well to the masterful Kingsley as Luke Shapiro, a high school graduate looking forward to college and selling pot around Manhattan from a fake ice cream push cart. It is 1994, and the newly elected Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has not yet begun to expunge from public view the drug dealers and graffiti.

Although 40 years older than his patient, Dr. Squires forms a strange friendship with the teenager, accompanying him on his dope-selling rounds with the push cart. Both are depressed but find some release in pot and in their relationship—at least until Luke takes the doctor’s advice to “get laid.” The boy’s choice is Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), a class mate as cool as himself, There is one little problem in that she is Dr. Squire’s stepdaughter. The good doctor is not at all pleased by this development, but there seems there is little he can do about it.

Both psychiatrist and patient have home problems. Squires and his wife (Famke Janssen) are so spaced out that their marriage is one in name only, but neither has the energy to split up. Luke’s father has suffered a financial reverse, so the family faces eviction from their Upper Eastside apartment. Luke hopes to raise enough money to save the day by selling an extra drug supply, but soon learns the economic facts of life. He also arrives at a certain amount of wisdom when he lays aside his cool and says out loud to Stephanie that he loves her. It seems that she is not prepared for such emotional honesty and commitment.

Director/writer Jonathan Levine’s coming of age film offers more satisfaction to viewers than Woody Allen’s film, with Luke arriving at a degree of maturity. There is an air of melancholy or sadness when Stephanie also learns at least a mote of wisdom, though a bit too late. We wonder about Luke’s future, especially should he follow through on his interest in psychiatry: unless he has some inner core of belief or values, would he be any better at counseling than the depressed Dr. Squires?