Throw at me a book or a film with an unusual title and I’m sure to grab it. I've had mixed success though. I loved the film How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, but didn't quite enjoy the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. So, when I was scrolling through the TV guide and came across a film called Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, I had to watch it.
I was 30 minutes late to the party, so I don't know how the characters had developed. The TV guide blurb mentioned that it was a film about a woman trying to forge a relationship with her husband’s son. The main character Emilia Greenleaf, played by Natalie Portman, was trying to be very Stepmom-esq with a boy of about eight or nine, but the efforts lacked the chutzpah of Julia Roberts. It was more like an Indian-bahu-trapped-in-a-joint-family trying to do something she had been instructed to do. That’s Natalie Portman’s forte, I guess. She’s made a career from playing characters seemingly trapped in impossible situations (often involving the mind), be it The Black Swan or Anywhere but Here. I digress. Back to the film.
My mixed success with unusual titles continued with this film.
I loved the backdrop – New York City. My heart ached to be there. The sights and sounds of that city call out to me on silent afternoons and chaotic mornings. It’s one of the three cities in the world that I’ve fallen in love with from the word go. I digress again.
It turned out that the blurb was probably written by a newly hired intern at the production house because the film turned out to be about something different. It was about the internal struggle of a woman who had lost her three-day-old daughter to SIDS to come to terms with this reality. Her grief resonated with me. I ‘got’ it. I’ve been there, although not exactly there – I’ve experienced similar trauma, caused by my multiple miscarriages, that dragged me to the darkest corners of grief, something I hope no one has to go through. I wanted to learn about Emilia’s personal journey. One particular exchange of dialogues that I will remember for a long time was between the main character and her once-estranged father. She said, “I want her [the daughter] back.” He replied, “That’s not one of your choices, darling.” There was no drama, just a conversation between a daughter and her father. I wanted to reach out and hug the character. Again, that’s what Portman does. She breathes life into characters.
Nonetheless, overall the film was a drag. It had a few poignant moments, but there were many more things I did not understand. I did understand Emilia's helplessness and self-blame, but that was it. I did not get the remembrance walk or Emilia’s rage when she discovered that her husband’s ex-wife was pregnant with a boyfriend’s baby. Many things were rather abrupt. I didn't understand how she could go for an impromptu stroll with her then-estranged father whom she had bumped into on the road and frankly discuss her split with her husband and longing for her daughter. I didn't get how the extra-venomous ex-wife of the husband could easily go out of her way to ‘establish’ to Emilia that Emilia was not responsible for the death of the daughter. Emilia’s physical transformation – from long overcoats and lanky attire to fitting pants and jackets, and from wavy hair to a straight, structure tuft – took maybe three shots and less than a minute of screen time. It was just too sudden and rapid to be true to the story or its narrative. The ending was abrupt too. I will not give it out here, but I doubt anyone would watch the movie anyway.
So, yeah, my unexplained love affair with ‘all things unusually titled/named’ remains unrequited. They don’t always love me back like I love them. Will I stop? I doubt because the book I’m reading currently is an autobiography called Thanks for Nothing and it’s quite interesting.
PS: I wrote about the film purely based on my opinion. After writing this piece, I ran some internet searches and discovered that the name of the film is NOT Love and Other Impossible Pursuits. That’s the name of the novel by Ayelet Waldman on which it is based. The film is called The Other Woman, a title I think is utterly boring and nearly suicidal for any work of art. There is no mystery left – it gives away the story, all of it. No wonder not many really took the pain of watching the film. Box office collection was rather dismal. It was also panned by critics for bad direction and a melodramatic script (I nod in agreement), despite good acting by Portman (another nod from me). Based on the reviews I read, I think the novel explored the relationship between the main character and her step-son in detail, but it got lost somewhere in the film.
Again, will I trust my title-based judgement? Yes, I still will because technically this wasn't exactly a film with an unusual title. The TV guide listing misled me.