Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Crimson and Clover

even educated fleas do it
“No, man, I disagree. Ethics are just like these arbitrary rules invented by the ruling class to preserve their power.” “Maybe dude, but does any of it really matter? I mean, like what if our whole reality is like a subatomic particle in a giant flea on the back of an enormous dog in a hyperuniverse, you know?” Do you remember hearing (or perhaps participating in) conversations like that, possibly with funny smelling smoke adrift in the room? No? Then you went to a different college than I. Sometimes the discussions were coherent and sometimes not, but they were commonplace. These memories were stirred by a movie to which I’ll get momentarily.

This March is the 20th anniversary of the airing of the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a campy show that consistently ranks on lists (by Rolling Stone, Time, Empire, etc.) of the best TV series ever made. I might or might not comment further on the show in March, but, in order to have that option, in January I began rewatching from the beginning. As Buffy lasted seven seasons and there are limits to my binge-watching patience, a couple months head start was necessary. It barely will be enough.

During the years of the show (1997-2003) despite the grueling shooting schedule, Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar somehow managed to accommodate roles in a few movies including the deliciously wicked Cruel Intentions and the airy romantic comedy Simply Irresistible. One I had missed at the time and in the years since was Harvard Man (2001). So, I decided to take a break from Sarah with…well…Sarah.

For those who are philosophically inclined at all, the college years are a time when we – with or without mind-altering chemicals – are most likely to pontificate with our friends about the meaning of existence and the origins and value of ethics. I certainly did. James Toback, a former Harvard man who wrote and directed Harvard Man, clearly did as well. It is hard not to suspect that the protagonist Alan (Adrian Grenier) is his alter ego, though almost surely one who is luckier in romantic matters unless James was a very fortunate young man indeed: Alan beds both his very womanly philosophy professor (Joey Lauren Adams) and winsome mafia daughter Cindy (Sarah Michelle Gellar).

Trouble begins when Alan’s parents need $100,000 after a tornado destroys their home. Cindy offers the money if Alan, who is point guard for the Harvard basketball team, throws the Dartmouth game. Various questions of morality, legality, and existence are tossed about, and not just in regard to Alan or this one act. Alan’s actions bring in the FBI who are trying to find a way to get to Cindy’s father. It doesn’t help that Alan is brought in for questioning while under the influence of a massive dose of LSD.

The script has weaknesses. Events develop in a very improbable fashion (not impossible but improbable), but it’s not really about the events. It’s about the assessment of them. If the viewer can make allowances for those improbabilities and for a little fantasy fulfillment by the filmmaker, there is enough humor, clever dialogue, and nostalgia for that what’s-it-all-about time of life for a Thumbs Up. 


  1. Gellar is pretty good in most of her movies, but the movies themselves could have been better, and I've certainly not seen them all. She got a pretty good head start with Buffy. I've not seen Harvard Man. I liked her in The Grudge. She's certainly made her share of teen movies. I don't know if that typecast her or if she just went the easier route. It's funny how that works and what roles each actor picks.

    1. Yes, I think typecasting has been the issue. That not-yet-40 Sarah’s biggest big-screen commercial success to date is “Scooby-Doo” (2002) says it all. (Even that role is tied to “Buffy” in an odd way: Buffy’s friends in the series jokingly called themselves “the Scooby gang.”) Eliza Dushku who played the rogue slayer Faith in “Buffy” encountered similar typecasting. Eliza did get two more series after “Buffy” anyway: “Tru Calling” and “Dollhouse,” but both involved a lot of Faith-like kick-ass action. Neither lasted more than two seasons though “Dollhouse,” another Joss Whedon vehicle, is actually worth seeing. (Civilization collapses in 2019 in “Dollhouse,” so there are two years left to watch it without chronological dissonance.) Lightning did strike twice for Alyson Hannigan (Willow on “Buffy”) though with the success of “How I Met Your Mother,” so it can happen.

  2. Never saw this one, but as I read your description I remembered the trailers. It is odd Gellar never made the leap into the big screen. She's got a lot of charisma and talent. I also hear she is a real pro to work with.

    Looking forward to your examination of "Buffy". One of my nostalgic favorites from that era. It was really a well crafted show, especially the first five seasons.

    1. I also don’t know why her TV success didn’t translate so much to movies. Maybe all it would have taken was the right role offer, but – as suggested in the comments above – typecasting might have been an issue there. It still might be.