approach (and believably)as a small town simpleton who
approach adopted: humanist/ slightly auteurist John Travolta.
Those two words used to send millions of women (and men) all around theworld into a dancing frenzy back in the seventies. He could claim creditfor the modern equivalent of the estrogen brigades (for the net crazy”X-philes”) of Fox Mudler and Assistant Director Skinner. But nowadays,equipped with a paunch and that same disarming smile, he is proving himselfto be more than a passing fever.
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Together with the great cast of thislatest offering from the Disney studios, Travolta lifts “Phenomenon”(tele-kinetically, no less) above the mass of mediocre summer releases.For doubting thomases who thought his brilliant gun-slinging portrayal in”Pulp Fiction” was just “luck of the draw”, his portrayal of a simpletonwith nothing but heart should re-categorise Travolta from “comeback kid” to”talented actor”; he did not allow “Phenomenon” to degenerate into “ForrestGump Part 2″. The similarities are obvious: a nice, simple fellow earns thefavour of Lady Luck and does extraordinary things. Yet, that’s all there is.”Phenomenon” packs a higher reality-density than “Gump”. Countless scenesin “Gump” had me trying to pull wool over my eyes just to stop myself fromlaughing at the sheer ludicrousness.
Despite the fact that going to themovies is about the suspension of disbelief, it should never be equated withtreating the audiences as hoards after hoards of idiots. George Malley(Travolta), on the other hand, comes across very naturally (and believably)as a small town simpleton who doesn’t know what to make of his very strangebirthday “present”. One flash of light and he flips through calculus booksin a flash. It’s not heavenly intervention, but unleashing the possibilityof what the mind is truly capable of.
Yet, George quickly learns that he isn’t capable of something: affectingwhat other people think. Small-town insecurities and parochialism soon turnonce friends into dumber-than-simpleton fools; with the exception of threevery well casted characters. Kyra Sedgwick plays Lace, George’s love interest. The agony of having gonethrough the loss of her perfect family show through her smiles. Despitebeing intent on keeping George at arms’ length, head-strong Lace falls inlove with George, with no small help from her two precocious kids. GerardDipego’s choice of the two kids as parallels and inversions of the adults’relationship is simply brilliant.
It is the little girl who extends herselfto George when Lace plays the silent, “I want to keep my life simple” girl.Lace’s little boy, however, displays a careful attitude towards George.Both kids externalise, through inversion, the tension between George andLace. It is an extremely in-your-face thematic twist that utilisesbrilliant irony; made more awe-inspiring for the fact that it doesn’tdegenerate into black humour.
Forest Whitaker plays Nathan Pope, George’s frequency band/ FM/ AM-dabblingfriend. Last seen behind the cameras as the director of “Waiting ToExhale”, Whitaker’s small but important role lets us in on the tiny world ofthe small town person. One hobby, one obsession is all their little brainscan take. Constantly chanting Supreme’s hits (which I unabashedly sangalong to), he displays a fear of change and of learning new things. Despitethese “shortcomings”, his innate far-sightedness extends beyond thenarrow-minded and cloistered Northern Californian townsfolk psyche.
Hisunflinching friendship to George is sufficient testimony to it.And then there is Robert Duvall as Doc. His recognition of his ownfeelings and his courage in expressing them carves yet another facet intothis movie about the human spirit. Though the emphasis on George didmarginalise Duvall’s character and waste his talent somewhat, the incredibleresonance in his little speech justified the inclusion of Doc.Both Nate and Doc shares the same operative sentiment in “Phenomenon” :George did not change.
How ironic then, that the theme song by Eric Claptonand Babyface is titled “Change The World”. It is another skillful play atthe plot and its characters. The chorus goes : “If I could change theworld/ I would be the sunlight in your universe/ You would think my love wasreally something good/ Baby, if I could change the world.” In a rathersubtle and implicit way, George did change the world.
But the “George”, thecore of his own human identity, never changed. Yet the George that Lacefell in love with wasn’t the George that changed the world, but “George”whose love was really something good.The rest of the movie soundtrack is also worth a listen, especially AaronNeville’s rendition of the Van Morrison classic “Crazy Love”. It is a pitythat the music isn’t commercially available as Thomas Newman did a perfectjob scoring the movie.
It takes us from the privacy of George’s mind to theexpanse of lush outdoors with sweeping ease. That coupled with goodcinematography, the continuity and feel of the movie was never punctuatedwith nasty staccatos.The ease at which everything blends had something rather abstract andimportant as an underlay: the unity of nature and man just has differentpermutations and combinations; but they will all boil down to the samething. It is already being impressed on us when the celluloid first rollsvia the panoramic and zoomed-in shots of the idyllic Californian scenery.Everything has its place in nature. Everything has its own energy. Georgemay be able to rattle off different names of flowers, but ultimately, it isgoing to be beautiful flowers for a beautiful girl.
It is a very basicfilm. It is about love, innocence and life. It is the re-affirmation oflove, innocence and life.Of all the beautifully quaint aspects, one thing stood out from all thelittle gems in the movie – Travolta’s smiles.
Besides being thoroughlydisarming, they could convey ten thousand different sentiments. The mostbelievable simpleton smile on celluloid. You will be drawn into displayinga wide grin yourself.You will be very tempted to curl up next to your loved ones when watchingthis movie. You will be very tempted to cry on your boyfriend’s shoulder.
You will be very tempted to say that “Phenomenon” is going to be one of thebest films you have watched this year.