Why What Works Works


Yesterday I happened upon a list of the top ten cheesiest movie lines, as decided by some site linked to by J. Random Blogger. I was slightly disturbed to see some of my favourite movies up there with what I consider to be reasonable lines. However one I could definitely agree on was from Four Weddings and a Funeral where Andy MacDowell, soaking to the skin but basking in the fact that Old Floppy Hair has just told her he loves her, says:

Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed

I groaned the first time I saw it and ever since. The film as a whole I quite like (though there’s a story behind that, maybe another time) but that line really doesn’t work.

Then it occurred to me that there’s a similar scene in As Good As It Gets which I think does work. It’s where Jack Nicholson’s grumpy OCD-sufferer has finally woo-ed, so we think, Helen Hunt and they go for an early morning stroll to the bakery. As they’re walking and talking she notices he’s moving away from her, looks down and notices she’s walking on a patch of cobble-stoned pavement, and he’s avoiding the cracks. She tells him it’s not going to work, he ignores her and gives a big romantic speech and then kisses her. The camera then pans down to show that they’re both now standing on the cobbles.

Of course these two moments aren’t exactly the same, but they’re using a similar technique, the idea of being so distracted by being in love that one forgets one’s normal concerns. But the effect, for me anyway, only works with As Good As It Gets. I’ve been thinking about why that might be. What I’ve come up with so far is

  1. The Four Weddings line is on the nose whilst the other isn’t even a line. Four Weddings tells us exactly what the character is thinking whereas As Good As It Gets lets us make the connection ourselves, even if it’s reminded us of what “stepping on the cracks” means a few minutes earlier.
  2. The Four Weddings line is a throw-away. It’s meant to be charming and romantic but it could be any line that achieves that. The As Good As It Gets moment is the culmination of a theme developing through the movie – the idea that he’s so in love with her that he’s willing to try to change for her.
  3. Specifically it recalls one of the most romantic and thematically important moments in the movie – the “You make me wanna be a better man” line. Four Weddings most romantic scene is arguably when he stops her on the street to tell her he loves her. There’s no connection with that, or any of the other key moments of the movie for that matter.
  4. Maybe I just like As Good As It Gets more so I’m more forgiving. I don’t think that’s true but maybe it is.

What do you think?

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About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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2 Responses to Why What Works Works

  1. Harry says:

    I think the difference is that As Good As It Gets features a female protagonist played by someone who can act.

    The problem with Four Weddings is, despite being very entertaining, that it has the talent-vacuum that is Andy McDowell trying to be sexy, believable and romantic – all things she is incapable of.

    She’s even rubbish at playing herself in the hair product adverts.

  2. shuggie says:

    That’s a good point. After I watched Notting Hill (which also contained a top ten cringe-worthy line, “I’m just girl, standing in front of a boy…”) thinking that the Richard Curtis movie I really wanted to see was Four Weddings with Julia Roberts in the Andy McDowell part. I prefer the story in Four Weddings but Roberts is the better actor.

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