The Good: Good scenery
The Bad: Not funny, Not charming, Utterly predictable, Emotionally simplified, Pacing
The Basics: Disappointing on so many levels, My Life In Ruins is a romantic comedy which is not funny and lacks any charm worth calling "romantic."
I see a lot of movies each year, especially during Summer Blockbuster Season, so it admittedly takes a lot to impress me with new movies. Conversely, it also takes a lot for me to utterly pan a film, to find that I have enjoyed nothing or as close to nothing as possible in seeing a movie when I do catch something new. Yet, this morning as I consider My Life In Ruins, I am overwhelmed by feelings of utter disappointment (whereas, I was more neutral on the other film I caught last night). My Life In Ruins is the latest "romantic comedy" to try to offer an alternative to the big special effects and "guy" movies that Summer Blockbuster Season is usually all about. I put quotes around "romantic comedy" because My Life In Ruins is neither funny, nor particularly romantic.
Instead, this is the exact type of predictable, charmless fare that makes one wonder if American cinema is truly dead. Moreover, because this film is geared toward women, one has to wonder if Hollywood actually thinks that women are so stupid as to find this sort of movie engaging (my answer is a resounding NO!" That Tom Hanks is involved as an executive producer, no doubt hoping for a runaway grosser like My Big Fat Greek Wedding says something as well, but I am not sure what (though, in this case it could just be that he made a bad investment). Judging by the otherwise empty theater I suspect that Hanks and others involved are realizing a tough lesson; it is not enough to simply be the only alternative to the big budget films of summer, one has to produce something worthwhile and good. My Life In Ruins is not that movie.
Georgia is an American living in Greece whose teaching job there disappeared, forcing her to seek other employment. She works for Pan Glass Tours giving tours to tourists from around the world on a hot, smelly bus for a week at a time. After her competitor, Nico, vows to get Georgia to quit so he can make all the money for the agency, Georgia is set upon by a group of tourists she finds both typical and hellish. Her driver is replaced at the last minute by a heavily-bearded man named Porcupio, who goes by the nickname "Poupi."
As the bus rolls through Greece, Georgia tries to engage each member of her ragtag tour: a spoiled sixteen year-old, an aged kleptomaniac, a joking widower, two Americans, a pair of divorcees and a trio of women who do not speak either language she does. Georgia's tours are serious, but not fun like Niko's and soon the bus is revolting over the fact that there is no air conditioning and they are not having fun. But between Irv (the joking widower) and Porcupio, Georgia is about to overcome her obstacles, loosen up and have fun on the road.
Because my instinct is to leap in with the bad right away, it behooves me to start with the redeeming factor of My Life In Ruins: the cinematography. Actually filmed on location in Greece and Spain, My Life In Ruins looks beautiful. The historical landmarks and shots of water and sky are absolutely beautiful, adequately selling the viewer on the greatness of Greece. This is a very easy film to watch in that regard.
Unfortunately, the rest of it is just awful. From the tired voice-overs to the predictable plot to the atrocious acting, My Life In Ruins is a mess that starts mediocre and dives into absolutely horrible with a speed I've not seen since The Out Of Towners (reviewed here!). Voice-overs seem to be used excessively in "chick flicks" for the establishment of plot and character aspects which are otherwise obvious in the visual medium of film. In other words, if a film is doing what it is supposed to well enough, voice-overs are usually not necessary. My Life In Ruins, unfortunately, starts the film off with Georgia's inner monologue as she explains how she ended up in Greece and what the status of her life is now. This includes a commentary on modern Greece that is otherwise pointless and repeated in more personal ways later in the film, making the initial statement of it redundant.
My Life In Ruins is terribly predictable as well. From the first moment that Porcupio shows up with his heavy beard, the educated viewer knows that: 1. He will be the primary male love interest and 2. He will shave the beard and suddenly look attractive in a more traditional fashion. These things do come to pass and when Porcupio shaves, he spends the rest of the film looking remarkably like Brendan Fraser. The rest of the film is problematically predictable in that it is so telegraphed that it would only entertain someone who has never once seen a romantic comedy before.
In addition to lacking any real zest or unique characters or character issues, My Life In Ruins mortgages any real emotional resonance in favor of making the film family-friendly (which is odd for a PG-13 film). So, for example, when the film seemed like it would make a reasonable and potentially touching departure for Irv, it retracts the sacrifice in a way that feels cheap. The result is a film where everything is happy and all moodiness comes to an end because nothing of consequence actually happens in the film. Similarly, there is an annoying tendency in the move for Georgia to deal with every character, so there is a whole sense of "she can win them all" to the story. So once Georgia makes the biggest changes to herself, there is still time to spend with her solving the minor problems of the next character or the next one and the result is that large tracts of the film feel entirely like filler.
Outside the ridiculously obvious romantic comedy aspect to the film, My Life In Ruins attempts to portray the humor of the hazards of traveling. Georgia defines her customers by "types" - the drinking Australians, the ugly Americans, the fighting Europeans who ought to be divorced, the etc. - and after she does that, the joke is simply in repeating her observation about each "type" over and over and over and over and over again. Wow does that get old! Beyond that, the humor is so banal that it ought to be enough for the WGA to revoke Mike Reiss's membership. "Humor" in this film consists of such things as dust in the air conditioning system spraying down on the tourists, a shoplifting tourist, a tourist getting sunblock in his eyes and Georgia thinking he is interested in her, elevators that do not work and small hotel rooms with a lumpy bed where nothing works. The closest to humor that the movie achieves with dialogue comes from Georgia telling the tourists that the bus is locked at each stop, so they can leave their cameras, purses, etc. on the bus which is followed by various characters asking "Can I leave my purse?" "camera" "etc." on the bus? Being that the film is set in Greece there is the obligatory gay joke, but it is more lame than offensive.
As for the acting, the less said about that, the better. Richard Dreyfuss is playing his "crank with a good heart" persona which we have seen before. Rachel Dratch is off with any sense of comic timing she might have had and Alexis Georgoulis is flat and dull as Porcupio, as opposed to silently mysterious. Nia Vardalos, who broke out with My Big Fat Greek Wedding, appears here slimmer, less funny and without any on-screen chemistry with Georgoulis. Unfortunately, here Vardalos's idea of acting is to simply look like she is charmed by what she is experiencing and that wears off quickly, especially when it comes at inappropriate moments.
My Life In Ruins is about keeping people happy and Georgia soon realizes that means spicing her stories of Greece up with sex and taking people shopping. There's only one demographic that would find that entertaining and it is not the "chicks" who like "chick flicks." It's the dumb chicks, the ones who like dumb chick flicks and unfortunately, My Life In Ruins insults the intelligence of even the most pedestrian viewers. There is nothing here worth seeing for anyone with a mature viewing palate.
For other works with Richard Dreyfuss, be sure to check out my takes on:
Weeds - Season 6
The American President
For other film reviews, check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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