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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seven Pounds

Seven Pounds. What an intriguing title for a movie. It could just about refer to anything. The amount of crack in Amy Winehouse’s hair on any given day, the amount of Restyline™ pumped into Lisa Rinna’s lips every month, the cost of a lap dance from Queen Elizabeth, or maybe a tragedy starring Will Smith. I’m sure you already know which one is the “right” answer, but I’m not sure it is the only one that would actually fit or would be the most fun. There’s something about the Christmas season that brings out the cheery-least of movie releases. Okay, I know it’s really because the Academy Awards are in February and the voting is in January so all the studios throw their BIG DRAMATIC OSCAR™ CONTENDERS at the end of the year because they figure their members are too dim to remember any films that came out earlier than Thanksgiving, which could be true since most of them are older than dirt. So in order to be a BIG DRAMATIC OSCAR CONTENDER, the movie has to star Meryl Streep (Doubt) or Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road) or include huge sadness along the way (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Marley & Me) or some combination of both.

As for the movie with Will Smith (doing his penance here for unleashing Hancock on us), well, it doesn’t have any cameos from Meryl or Leo, so you know there’s going to be some tears shed in
this one. Even the preview shows a few lingering shots of Will sitting on some rocks by the crashing surf with some tears of his own trickling down his cheek. That’s really all you need to know to gird your loins for what is an extremely intense and unusual heartbreaker. It is also the kind of movie which requires that you pay attention and think while you are watching it. It turns out that is harder for some people than you might realize. The day I went to see Seven Pounds, as the end credits were rolling and the lights came up, two nice silver-haired ladies in the row in front of me turned and asked “Ma’am, could you explain this movie to us?” I have to admit I was a bit non-plussed. I mean, we just watched the thing…the whole thing. It wasn’t brain surgery. Well, close, but it wasn’t. What a loaded question. Obviously I could explain it, but I wasn’t going to. I’m sorry, but if it was that difficult for them to grasp the concept then maybe they should have tried Bolt. It has little words and bright colors.

I will admit that the title
Seven Pounds might be somewhat confusing to the illiterate. The film does not really explain the origin of those pounds though it does reference the “pound of flesh” a couple of times. Apparently that wasn’t enough for the silver foxes, and so I imagine there are going to be a gazillion film-goers out there who are not going to understand the origin of the title. I tried to explain it to the two women in the theater who asked me about the picture. As soon as I said “In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice…” I could see their eyes glaze over like cows about to get banged in the forehead with a high-powered air rifle. I ventured further and went on to elaborate about the anti-Semitic fervor in the play as evidenced by the Jewish merchant Shylock’s demand for a pound of his enemy Antonio’s flesh if the loan he gives to Bassanio at Antonio’s request goes unpaid, and that, obviously, a pound of flesh would be fatal. Yadda, yadda. The grannies still didn’t get it. And they just watched the movie!

So, in
Seven Pounds, Will Smith plays a man calling himself Ben Thomas, who has inadvertently caused an auto accident that killed seven people, including his own fiancée, and now, a year or so later, he takes it upon himself to seek his own form of redemption by finding seven deserving strangers to gift in ways they can’t even begin to imagine.

What Ben never expects during this process is how deeply he will become touched by the people he chooses during his investigation into their ‘worthiness’ for his gifts. There is the blind vegan customer service representative for a meat company, Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson; Semi-Pro), whose gentle demeanor is unlike anything Ben has experienced. Then there is George Ristuccia (Bill Smitrovich; Eagle Eye), a dedicated kids’ hockey coach who continues to show up at every practice despite spending hours a day on dialysis; and there’s also Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson; also from Eagle Eye), a young woman with a very good heart but a very bad ticker. It’s that last one that becomes a real complication for a guy who had given up on love and life, and so much hinges on the relationship that develops between Ben and Emily that the movie plays like a suspense thriller in the last forty minutes or so as the audience is left wondering how this is all going to play out.

I know you are probably completely confused by what I have ~ or haven’t ~ said here, but
Seven Pounds is one of those odd type of films that you can’t really say much about without spoiling much of the story, and I don’t want to do that to you. I found Seven Pounds quite interesting, though it was a bit of a patchwork quilt of editing in the way the story is unveiled. The auto accident revelation doesn’t come until almost at the end of the picture, so for the really s-l-o-w to figure things out, it’s going to take a long time before they have their “A-ha!” moment (if at all). There are snippets of foreshadowing before the extended rollover, so for anyone who can put 2 + 2 together this should already be as obvious as Pam Anderson’s implants, as should a few other pertinent points that screamed out to me as VERY IMPORTANT PLOT POINTS the second they were introduced into the story: Ben’s first conversation with his brother (Michael Ealy; Miracle at St. Anna); his choice of pet. Trés obvious.

This may well be Will Smith’s best movie next to The Pursuit of Happyness, thanks in great part to his collaboration with the same director, Gabriele Muccino. The script is by neophyte writer Grant Nieporte, whose only previous produced work is two episodes of tv’s "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" and one episode of "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch". It’s actually a surprise that someone with such little experience would get a shot at writing what the studio obviously hopes will be a BIG DRAMATIC OSCAR™ CONTENDER, but I’m not going to hold my breath. The field is crowded this year, and everybody in Hollywood knows that Oscar weighs Eight Pounds anyway.

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