Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Summer Blockbuster Season’s Softcore Entry Is The Undisciplined Making The Rules!

The Good: Frances Conroy makes it through her lines without breaking to say, “This is the dumbest thing I’ve been in since Catwoman”?
The Bad: Terrible editing/pacing, Abysmal acting, Universally unlikable characters, Horrible dialogue, Predictable plot progression.
The Basics: My choice (so far) for the Golden Razzies, Making The Rules is an all-around terrible film with nothing to recommend it.

As Summer Blockbuster Season breaks in theaters, I find myself fascinated by the counterprogramming. While the major studio releases are carefully-timed, big-budget, special effects-driven films, smaller studios try to create sleeper hits that might get noticed or meet a different demographic. Competing with the early releases, like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is Making The Rules. Making The Rules is a Jaime Pressly and Robin Thicke vehicle. Pressly is a virtual unknown to me as she has played supporting characters in films I’ve seen, but not led a cast before and Robin Thicke is a musical artist who might be best known for pulling focus from Miley Cyrus during her award show performance in the “nude” two piece a few years back.

Making The Rules is not going to be the big cinematic break for either Thicke or Pressly. If this is not the cinematic work that buries the career of writer/director Jimbo Lee, it would be surprise. Making The Rules is plagued by sloppy editing (Lee apparently does not want to waste a moment of footage and, as such, in the first two minutes of the film there is an extended shot of a hospital that goes on for almost twenty seconds with nothing at all happening) and odd mistakes with continuity (if Frances Conroy is not playing Abby’s mother, whose mother is she supposed to be?! And if she is Abby’s mother in the film, how can Matt break the news of Abby’s injury to her after she picks Abby up from the hospital?!). Apparently Lee’s concept for competing with Hollywood’s most sought-after writers and big films filled with lots of movement is to create a painfully static film filled with predictable conceits, bland performances, dull characters, and script issues that might have easily been fixed by observing real life, as opposed to writing (apparently) based off soap opera dialogue.

One day at work, Abby is cutting something in the kitchen when she cuts her hand. The cut is severe enough to send her to the hospital, where her mother picks her up as opposed to her husband, who she does not want to bother. Abby struggles with figuring out how to do things around the house for a couple of days before her husband Matt returns from his own work to notice she is injured. While out to lunch with Matt, Abby and Matt have a little spat and while Matt is paying the bill, Abby draws the attention of Shaun. Shaun is an ex-boyfriend who has now opened a hair salon and suggests she come to visit. After a lunch out with her friend Becca, Abby considers changing her hair style and the possibility of having Shaun work on her hair. When she has to go to a laundromat, she runs into Shaun again and she visits his apartment to pick up some pictures she left there after their break-up.

When Matt goes away for two weeks of contracting work and after a lunch with her mother convinces her to change her life, Abby finds herself having an affair with Shaun again. Encouraged by her friend Becca to have a baby quickly, Abby frets because she is late and her pregnancy test confirms that she is pregnant. Abby begins to worry that the baby might be Shaun’s, but she continues to see Shaun. Over the course of the summer, Abby begins to look forward to life as a mother until Jimbo Lee takes a page from Nicholas Sparks’s playbook and goes toward tragedy, melodrama, and blah resolution as opposed to any sort of character growth and organic direction for Abby.

Amid static shots of a clothes dryer running, long shots of partially-busy streets, and Abby eating out at several Los Angeles restaurants after she is unemployed, Making The Rules feels much longer than the seventy-eight minute runtime. Making The Rules plays out like a porn film where all of the sex and nudity are cut out. Jimbo Lee’s camerawork is bored and boring, focusing far too long on the subjects on screen while nothing is actually happening and the writing is so stiff that I was shocked to discover Lee’s writing resume was not packed with jobs on porn or daytime soap operas. The relationship conversations almost all sound like they were written by soap opera writers who feel they have to explain everything that viewers are seeing on screen and the scenes themselves feel like lead-ins to every cheap porn – repairman visits the lonely housewife, wife sits around an ex-boyfriend’s house looking at pictures of the two of them together, restaurant affair, etc. Moments that might appear to be subtle – implying the initial affair by simply showing clothes spinning in a dryer unattended – are undone almost immediately by scenes that make the affair obvious and other scenes that are baffling (Abby has a lunch with her mother where her mother tries to convince her to make changes in her life after the affair is initiated). Lee appears not to understand that filming in high def also means that it’s painfully obvious when one tries to use water in the place of hot tea . . . and the list goes on.

The characters in Making The Rules are easily some of the stupidest to ever appear on screen, even if they are not supposed to be. When a woman claims that she would be “fucked” if her husband finds out about her affair, one has to wonder why she is kissing the guy she is having an affair with while eating at a local restaurant. For sure, Los Angeles/Silverlake are huge, but the odds of running into someone who will recognize you in your own neighborhood are dramatically higher than going somewhere entirely different or eating in. Given the sheer number of times Abby is seen eating or cooking, one has to consider that part of the point of Making The Rules is to attract the crowd that eagerly watches Kitchen Nightmares or celebrity chef programs. Either way, much of the film is spent with Abby sitting around complaining about her life, while eating, and whining about the affair she’s having while still putting herself squarely in the path of temptation.

Conceits like the husband who does not notice the haircut and the best friend who notices it instantly play out in Making The Rules poorly, exactly like the conceits they are as opposed to feeling like parts of an organic story.

Jaime Pressly plays Abby in a thoroughly unlikable way. When she is not stiff as Abby, Abby is being impatient, mean and/or boring. There is no sense that Abby actually appreciates the consequences of her affair until she gets pregnant and even after, she just seems vacuous and impulsive as opposed to conflicted or interesting. Pressly has no on-screen chemistry with Tygh Runyan (Matt) and her idea of sex appeal in scenes with Robin Thicke appears to be opening her wide eyes even wider. At a time when divorce is so easy to get, it is unforgivable having characters in a loveless marriage without a realistic sense of how the two characters ever came to be together . . . and what keeps them together. Abby and Matt have nothing binding them for most of the movie.

Making The Rules is like Tyler Perry’s Temptation (reviewed here!) without the moralizing or the secondary characters who have a life of their own . . . or, I suppose, a built-in audience that guarantees the film’s financial success. None of that is what major studios want going into a project and that might be why Making The Rules is unlikely to be a sleeper hit at all. The single point I’m giving the film is mostly due to Frances Conroy’s presence in the film and the way she gets through the philosophical technobabble without wincing. How such a wonderful actress gets sucked into so many terrible projects is about as big of a mystery as how Making The Rules ever got made.

For other works with Frances Conroy, please check out my reviews of:
Love Happens
The Wicker Man
Six Feet Under


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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