Film discussion

Throwback 20: A Life Less Ordinary

For a lesser loved Danny Boyle film, A Life Less Ordinary has a peculiarly heavy load surrounding it. It’s a film which strangely shared the year with another spoilt rich blonde getting lusty Stockholm Syndrome over her exotic kidnapper. Much like Excess Baggage (1997), A Life Less Ordinary was a resounding flop theatrically. Despite being the brain child of a creative team of Director Danny Boyle, Writer John Hodge and Producer Andrew Macdonald, the film couldn’t reproduce the same success that their previous features Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996) had gained.

A film panned by many and seen by few, A Life Less Ordinary’s disappointing commercial showing now has the gossipy conspiracy theorist in me wonder whether Boyle’s decision to run with Leonardo DiCaprio over McGregor for The Beach (2000) was made to reach higher heights of mainstream success. It was the dumping of McGregor that led to a bitter feud which was only reconciled a few years ago, before embarking on this year’s T2: Trainspotting.

It’s hard to feel that the seeds of discontent weren’t first sowed within this hot mess of a feature. An unconventional romantic comedy of divine interventional, off the cuff hostage situations and an almost updated William Tell like target practice. A Life Less Ordinary once again has Boyle, Hodge and MacDonald brewing a tale of a down and out Ewan MacGregor finds himself thrown into an exploit of ill-gotten gains and females way above his station. However, gone is the hard-thumping energy which pulsed through the veins of earlier efforts. This is ponderous and sometimes monotonous Boyle. Trapped in a film of two brats obsessed with little more than themselves. Self-absorption is a common trait for characters in Boyle’s films, especially in the earlier entries. But at least Bigbie’s reckless abandon is engrossing.

Accidentally tripping over the heels of aforementioned Excess Baggage, A Life Less Ordinary lands us with Robert Lewis (Ewan McGregor); a nebbish janitor-cum wannabe trash novelist who loses his job to an R2-D2 styled robot who even takes a beating better than him. In a contrived series of events involving his uncaring boss (a slumming Ian Holm), Robert ends up kidnapping Celine (Cameron Diaz); The Boss’ self-centred daughter and the two of them find themselves on the half-baked road trip of romantic discovery which involves two hapless angels (Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo) who blunder about scenes to ensure the weakly protracted and literal Deus Ex Machina plays off without a hitch. Well without a hitch they haven’t concocted.

The film mostly has it leads fussing and feuding in a sparse Utah landscape asking for random money, drinking tequila and basically waiting for events to happen. What events? I couldn’t say. Nothing is particularly memorable. Take away Cameron Diaz’s shooting apples off Ian McNeice’s bonce, nothing really resonates. Save for Boyle’s slightly off kilter soundtrack choices, including Beck’s wondrously dreamy Deadweight, there’s little much to seize from the aesthetics.

It’s clear that A Life Less Ordinary’s dreary existence is to play on the idea that love is an emotion that needs no introduction, status or explanation. However, the film suffers from not only a lack of engaging connective tissue or narrative sense but also allows its spiritual elements to wish away the films murky character intentions and clarity of its conflicts. Tragically lacking from any real forward momentum, the film’s two protagonists don’t really help things with their stilted chemistry. Granted both McGregor and Diaz found their way in similar roles, with McGregor in particular basically doing the lovelorn writer again with more aplomb in Moulin Rouge (2001), but they never really gel together here. To be honest, not much of the film does.

In its desire to be unconventional, the film spends less time on the fundamentals. Films are hard to make with some genres being tougher than others. It’s a relief to see everyone involved move on to bigger and better things. From Diaz’s comic talents being better harnessed, to Boyle moving on to some of his most accomplished works. Looking back at A Life Less Ordinary, Beck’s words suddenly could be apter. There’s no relief, no soul, no mercy.

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