March 22, 2010

#80: The Apartment

Billy Wilder's 1960 film The Apartment deserves quotations around the word "comedy." As in: this has all the characteristics of a comedy, but a lot of other additional elements that make me wonder. Hmm. I'll try to formulate an argument here.

Company: the Strampe sisters! Marie, college bud and stage manager extraordinaire; Maggie, younger sister, chat-room-based relationship deterrent

Cuisine: I just had my mocha but the girls brought over a smorgasbord: carrots and Holy Land hummus, Almond Nut-Thins and H2Oh. Health!

The story begins with C. C. Baxter (a delightfully daffy Jack Lemmon), a lonely office worker for an oppressively dull insurance mega-corporation in New York City. We discover that he is as ambitious as he is lonely, fighting his way up the corporate ladder by offering his apartment as a safe haven for the uppers of the corporate echelon to bring their mistresses. When we meet C. C. (or "Bud," as he is somewhat affectionately called by these men), his rental service is so booked that he needs to call three different people to accommodate rescheduling needs when he comes down with a cold ...

... a cold he got from waiting outside his apartment on a ridiculously long Bench of Debilitating Loneliness on a cold night ...

... which requires prescribed nasal spray. Luckily for him (and us) ...

... Bud is extremely resilient and driven, despite his complete lack of social life or backbone. All this for the promise of a promotion, which he finally gets (the bowler hat pictured above is "the junior executive model!") but is it enough? We know from the casting of Shirley MacLaine as Fran Kubelik, a sad elevator operator stuck in a hopeless relationship with the adulterous executive Mr. Sheldrake, that it can't be. They meet-cute in her elevator, and we know they're meant to be together ... but naturally she's involved with one of the men for which Bud loans his apartment. When he puts the pieces together ...

... shattered dreams! We're halfway through the film and it seems that nothing will end well, but this is all before Bud discovers Fran in his own bed after her suicide attempt. Heavy. Wasn't this supposed to be a comedy? Considerable time is devoted to Bud's sweet devotion to frowning Fran and her rehabilitation, and it's here that the film slows to the speed of a turtle walking through molasses. It can't be the actors at fault for this; it might be the screenplay. There are gems here and there ("When you're in love with a married man, you shouldn't wear mascara") but we get to such melancholy clunkers as "Why do people have to love people, anyway?" I get the character arc here, I just don't see how the corporate satire blends with the odd romance. It seems like two movies are being presented at once, that what are meant to be parallels end up seeming independent and incongruous. Supposedly the story was inspired by two such stories that had nothing to do with each other, and I think that could be the root of it.

Anyway, we wait two. whole. hours. for Fran to come to her senses.

... and the pay off is that overwhelming but lovely cliche of the "love epiphany" (the lovepiphany!), where she realizes who she should have been in love with all along.

"Shut up and deal."

By the end, I knew these two characters had been destined for each other, but their union seemed forced, as if it might have only been her rehabilitation in his apartment that brought them together and not a real romantic connection. I want my romances sublime and strange, but this just seemed strange. Am I wrong here? I guess I don't have much else to say but that I'm not sure the movie achieves what it set out to do especially well, in a way I haven't seen other films do better.

Hmm. Just not crazy about this one. I love Jack Lemmon in it so much that I wish I could hole up with him in that apartment, but would it take a bunch of sleeping pills for me to do it? Let's hope not.

Next up is 1969's The Wild Bunch, another I know little about. I'll keep it that way: most of the movies on this list come with a set of expectations for me, but I'll stay ignorant about this one until I sit down with it.

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