A Life Less Ordinary: Defending a film that the critics absolutely hated
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Absolutely slated upon release, we'll always defend it.
There are countless Danny Boyle films that deserve lengthy examination and praise. After all, the director won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, helped to create a cultural landmark in Trainspotting, and brought the zombie genre back from the dead with 28 Days Later.
Boyle's CV is littered with critical-darlings and beloved films like Shallow Grave, Sunshine, Millions, and Steve Jobs, but in many ways, A Life Less Ordinary is one of his most interesting films.
With his new film, Yesterday, opening in Irish cinemas this week, it might appear odd that we're revisiting a film that has a rating of 39% on Rotten Tomatoes and 35% on Metacritic, but the fantasy-adventure, part musical, part mismatched-romance, part boy-girl crime spree caper deserves a defence.
Reimagining the rom-com
While no two films are the same, there's usually a golden rule that all romantic comedies abide by. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they face a challenge that tests their love, there's a happy resolution.
Ask yourself this though, when it comes to matters of the heart, are things ever straightforward?
Defining A Life Less Ordinary is practically impossible because it refuses to be pigeonholed into a genre. Romantic caper, whimsy musical, Bonnie and Clyde-esque road movie, supernatural drama, a Coen Brothers screwball comedy.
It all sounds very messy, but that's the point. Love is messy.
Your romantic life will never be smooth and formulaic. The same can be said about the film because one scene might feature a tender romantic moment and in the next, someone's getting shot in the face.
In terms of describing the plot, we'll give it a go.
In Heaven, Gabriel (Dan Hedaya) sends two angels O'Reilly (Holly Hunter) and Jackson (Delroy Lindo) down to Earth to make two people fall in love. If the angels fail, they must remain on Earth.
Make the spoiled and rebellious Celine (Cameron Diaz) fall in love with Robert (Ewan McGregor), an impoverished and aspiring novelist that has recently been fired and dumped.
To complicate things further, Robert has lost his job as a janitor at the corporation that's owned by Celine's wealthy father, Mr. Naville (Ian Holm). Desperate and downtrodden, Robert kidnaps Celine and the two retreat to a mountain hideout where they discuss splitting the ransom.
What unfolds is a heavenly-induced version of Stockholm Syndrome as the two angels plan to make Robert and Celine fall in love by putting them in jeopardy.
Shootouts, fights, botched ransoms, shallow graves, musical numbers, bank robberies, and car chases all ensue.
In many ways, A Life Less Ordinary was bound to fail as a rom-com because it's lacking the key component of the genre, the couple aren't actually in control of their own fate because God's literal intervention is drawing them closer.
Celine is feisty, temperamental, cunning, and bossy. Robert's a charming idiot that's over his head, however, despite being the world's worst kidnapper, there's an innocence and warmth to him.
She could eat him alive, and yet, they both need each other.
Granted, at first it's strictly a business relationship as Celine insists on a cut of her ransom, but much like so much of this film, the roulette wheel is always spinning.
These people should never, ever get along, and yet, this weird mishmash works. Well, it works for this author.
Have you ever looked at a director's body of work and wondered how some of the films are so dissimilar, you can't believe they were directed by the same person?
Well, it could be argued that Danny Boyle's career is the finest example of this and A Life Less Ordinary is almost a microcosm of his eclectic career.
In Shallow Grave, the disposal of the various bodies provides the darkest of dark comedy. The same streak of jet black comedy runs through the heart of A Life Less Ordinary as the physical torment that Holly Hunter's angel goes through is played for laughs.
In Trance, the plot had more twists and turns than Renton running through the streets of Edinburgh, ditto for Boyle's followup feature.
28 Days Later revolved around two main characters that were helpless against those forces that were beyond their control. For A Life Less Ordinary, what's more powerful and encapsulating than the force of love?
Steve Jobs told the story of a control-freak that raised the stakes and pushed boundaries. The creator of Apple demanded perfection at any cost. The same could be said for the angel Gabriel in this film.
Slumdog Millionaire featured a mismatched romance that triumphed against all the odds. When it comes to the similarities with A Life Less Ordinary, you don't need us to spell that similarity out.
Yesterday leans heavily in towards the musical genre, well, take a look at the musical number that features McGregor and Diaz dancing in a bar to Bobby Darin's 'Beyond the Sea'.
While it might not be his most critically-adored feature, A Life Less Ordinary encapsulates Boyle's unique appeal and talent as a director. It's also indicative of his unique tastes and sensibilities.
Christ, the post-credit sequence even features a claymation story that's soundtracked by Oasis' brilliant B-side, 'Round Are Way.'
Speaking of music.
Sneaker Pimps, Beck, Underworld, Elastica, The Prodigy, Orbital, Faithless, R.E.M, Oasis, The Cardigans are all on the soundtrack.
That's hard to beat.
The film boasts one of the finest soundtracks of the decade but in terms of those magical music moments when the perfect song comes on at the perfect time, you can't go wrong with Ash's eponymous track, A Life Less Ordinary.
It's still a belter from Tim Wheeler and co.
Clip via Alternative Nation
McGregor had already established his credentials in Trainspotting and Shallow Grave but as mentioned before, there's something charming about his clueless and hopelessly-naive kidnapper.
Sadly, this would be the last time that Boyle and McGregor would work together until 2017's Trainspotting 2 - Boyle's decision to cast Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach led to a much-publicised rift between the duo .
"It's a big regret of mine that it went on for so very long. It's a shame we didn't work together all those years. It wasn't about 'The Beach,' it was about our friendship and I felt I was in Danny's first three movies... and then I wasn't in his fourth and it made me a bit rudderless. I didn't quite get it and, yeah, we didn't speak for a long time, which was a waste," said McGregor when he was promoting Trainspotting 2 on the Graham Norton Show with Boyle.
What's more interesting is Diaz's performance in the film because at the time, she was picking some really interesting roles - check out her performances in the likes of Feeling Minnesota, Very Bad Things, and My Best Friend's Wedding too.
Toeing the line between spoiled brat, eccentric rich kid, and leading lady, it would be very curious to get the general consensus on what audiences feel towards her character.
Again, it's worth remembering that she is the 'victim' after being kidnapped, but like so much of the film, there are massive tonal shifts in her character and Diaz hits them all.
Elsewhere, Holly Hunter, Ian Holm, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, Dan Hedaya, Tony Shalhoub are excellent in supporting roles.
Boyle has always been a director that's adept at casting. He's working with some excellent actors here too.
After the double-whammy of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, it's possible that audiences expected Boyle to make something that was similarly gritty and dark.
Perhaps they wanted him to continue along the dark drama/comedy route. However, A Life Less Ordinary is indicative of his willingness to deft expectations.
As mentioned previously, Boyle has never been a director that can be easily categorised and the reviews for A Life Less Ordinary were not kind.
Entertainment Weekly said: "We’ve all seen movies that go off the rails. Occasionally, though, a film is so out of balance, so extravagantly misconceived, that it goes off the rails, zooms over the cliff, and crashes into the canyon, laughing all the way. A Life Less Ordinary is that kind of disaster."
In an interview with The Independent, John Hodge, screenwriter of A Life Less Ordinary, remarked that it was an extremely strange film while Danny Boyle said it best.
"Looking at the film now, I think one of the good things about it is that it is slightly free-form. If people get caught up in it, they will enjoy the fact that some of it is pretty inexplicable - not in the way a David Lynch film would be, because it's lighter than that - but it is quite free. And the justification for that - and this is the pompous bit - is that that's a bit like what it's like to be in love," he said.
We tend to agree.
If you haven't seen A Life Less Ordinary yet, it's definitely worth checking out.
Clip via Boyle Movie Trailers
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