What If—? A parallel-worlds trifecta (#SFWApro)

Taking a break from vacation blog posts, here are three parallel-world films with a similar theme. They’re also all Christmas movies, which I didn’t realize until I’d watched them (or I might have waited until December)

FAMILY MAN (2000) is the best of the three as angel Don Cheadle shows Nicolas Cage what life would have been like if he’d married college girlfriend Tea Leoni instead of turning into a heartless Wall Street shark who schedules staff meetings for Christmas Day (this is the only one of the three to have the alternate reality be a Christmas Miracle). This wins by virtue of a strong script and a strong cast (Jeremy Piven as alt.Cage’s buddy, Harve Presnell as his father in law, Mary Beth Hurt, Francine York, Josef Sommer and Saul Rubinek scattered around). It also avoids some of the usual cliches (e.g. Random Quest) by realizing Leoni and alt.Leoni aren’t going to be the same woman. However now that I’m focused on time-travel issues, the ending is unsettling (either alt.Leoni and her alt.kids were just a dream or they were wiped out of reality when Cage returns home). “A glimpse by definition is an impermanent thing.”
HOLIDAZE (2013) has corporate super-star Jennie Garth trying to sell her home town on the virtues of a new Big Box store, only to have a blow to the head transition her into a world where she married her home-town boyfriend, runs a cafe (points to them for not having marriage kill all interest in her career, an annoying cliché) and leads the fight against the Big Box. Heavy on sentimental small-town clichés (and Mom Markie Post stocking Tazo tea is hardly a sign of shopping locally) but for a TV Christmas film, not dreadful. Unlike Family Man, this is more ambiguous—as even Garth notes, it could all have been a dream. “You’re my sweet melody, you know that.”
COMFORT AND JOY (2004) is the weakest of the three as executive Nancy McKeon hits her head and discovers she’s now a stay-at-home mom with two kids, though still stuck with annoying nagging mother Dixie Carter. One reason this flops is that unlike Garth and Cage, McKeon’s clearly miserable in her original professional life (her man’s such a jerk, I’d think the message should be Find Better Boyfriends, not Give Up Your Career) and also assumes there can’t possibly be a downside to her alt.lifestyle (whereas Family Man acknowledges that there are some sacrifices involved). It’s also the least Christmassy, to the point they could drop that angle entirely (and again, could easily be a dream). “Are you going to slap her? That’s what they do in the movies.”
Moving on from parallel worlds, Woody Allen’s MELINDA AND MELINDA (2004) has Wallace Shawn and a fellow writer debating whether a story they’ve heard about a woman crashing a private dinner party works better turned into comedy (husband Will Ferrell falls for Melinda) or tragedy (Melinda is trying to recover from a nightmare marriage). The results don’t work either way: the tragedy is one of Allen’s heavy-handed psychodrams and the comedy isn’t any better than I remember Small Time Crooks being; part of the problem is that the unemployed actor Ferrell and his counterpart play is clearly the role Allen would have played 20 years earlier, and neither of them plays Allen as well ashe does. I watched this out of sequence on the 1 percent chance it’s alternate timelines were more than metafictional, but it definitely doesn’t qualify for my book. “He’s despondent, he’s desperate, he’s suicidal—all the comic pieces are in place.”

7 Comments

Filed under Movies, Now and Then We Time Travel

7 responses to “What If—? A parallel-worlds trifecta (#SFWApro)

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