Friday, April 05, 2019

COLUMN: Bewitched


Dear beloved writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron: We need to talk.

Sorry for my tardiness in contacting you. I've been a little busy writing and DJing and working at a record store and petting my cats and trying super hard not to die in -50 wind chills. Sorry also that I just remembered you died in 2012. That's a bummer.

Your work has played an important part in my life. You wrote the screenplay for "Silkwood," a movie that made at least ONE 12-year-old so terrified of nuclear power plants that he cried when he found out his class was taking a field trip to Cordova. You wrote "When Harry Met Sally," a film that comforted me with the knowledge that unlikeable dorks like Billy Crystal can land Meg Ryans with just a little charm and the perfect meet-cute.

You made one of the most iconic romantic comedies of all time, "Sleepless in Seattle." Then you made it AGAIN and called it "You've Got Mail." You created "Julie & Julia," which temporarily made me think I could fix all my problems if I could successfully prepare boeuf bourguignon (Spoiler: it could not, and I could not.) I adore nearly all of your films, Nora -- except one.

I love good movies -- but I might just love BAD movies even more. There's truly something magical about films that miss the mark SO wide they become brilliant in their awfulness. I can sing along to "Ishtar" and "Xanadu." I've forced my friends to suffer through "Manos: Hands of Fate" and "Troll 2" more times than I can count. If someone told me I could only watch a handful of movies for the rest of my life, I guarantee Tommy Wiseau's "The Room" would be in that hand.

But if I had to pick the worst film I've ever seen? Nora, I'm afraid the answer might be "Bewitched."

The year was 2005. That was the summer of my life's one and so far only great solo adventure. On little more than a whim and a few days off, I packed the car and drove to Dallas. It was a great trip, except for the trek back. My initial idea was to make it to Kansas City and grab a hotel room for the night. But when I hit K.C., I decided to keep driving.

At some point, I made a pact with myself that if I made it all the way home, I'd use the extra day to relax and treat myself to a movie. It was fifteen solid hours in the car, but I did it. And true to my word, the next day I took myself to see the film adaptation of the TV show "Bewitched." It remains, to this day, the only movie I've ever walked out of.

So why bring this up NOW, fourteen years later? Because it was on cable and I just gave it another shot. I wondered if maybe I was too hard on the flick the first time I saw it. After all, I was road-weary and exhausted. Maybe I was just in a mood? Nope. Sorry, Nora, but it's terrible. And not in a good way. It only took five minutes for me to remember.

Movies require the ability to suspend disbelief. You can't enjoy Harry Potter without accepting that parents willingly send their children to a magic school rife with life-threatening danger. You can't enjoy Star Wars without accepting a distant world where bad guys can build planet-sized spaceships yet fight one another with laser sticks. But in FIVE minutes, "Bewitched" killed ALL my disbelief.

In the film, Nicole Kidman plays Isobel, an unknown actress cast as the lead in a reboot of the beloved "Bewitched" TV series. But what no one knows is that Isobel really IS a witch! Sounds cute, right? But the movie opens with Isobel househunting in Los Angeles. She sees a place that she likes, so she twitches her nose and suddenly a "For Rent" sign appears in the yard. With another twitch, an "Open House Today" sign shows up and a realtor leaps out to greet her.

I tried to suspend disbelief, I really did. It's magic, right? But I can't help but wonder, WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO THE FAMILY THAT LIVED THERE? With one selfish twitch, did she magically alter some tenant's entire timeline and change their lives forever? Or did she just wipe them out of existence without a second's thought? And where did the realtor come from? Did she just invent a human being?

For the rest of the movie, we see her attempt to relate to muggles and woo her narcissistic co-star. But why should this be a problem? We've already proven that she's omnipotent, omniscient, and perhaps even capable of murder. Couldn't she just twitch her nose and make ANYONE fall in love with her? Or just invent a boyfriend out of thin air like her realtor?

This isn't magical. It isn't fantasy. It's just stupid. And the first time, I was smart enough to walk out BEFORE Will Ferrell's character had some unexplained fever dream where he's visited by the super funny Steve Carell doing a super UNfunny Paul Lynde impression. It's just a trainwreck, Nora. I'm sorry.

Still, I love your other films. Thanks for making them. I wish you weren't dead. I wish we could've consulted on this. Maybe one day we can. If I ever make it to the top of the Empire State Building, meet me there as a ghost and we'll work on a re-reboot. You've got to admit, THAT would make an awesome movie.

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