Griffin & Phoenix (2006) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, some thematic elements, and brief strong language
Running time: 102 min.
Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Amanda Peet, Sarah Paulson, Blair Brown, Allison Elliott, Lois Smith, Jonah Meyerson, Max Morris
Director: Ed Stone
Screenplay: John Hill
Review published May 13, 2007
Those who used to actually watch made-for-TV films back in the mid-1970s may find this story familiar, as it had originally been told as Griffin and Phoenix: A Love Story, starring Peter Falk and Jill Clayburgh, no doubt trying to capture the same audience of that most popular of all love stories involving someone with a terminal illness, Love Story. It would prove to be popular enough that it was one of the rare made-for-TV films to be later released in theaters.
The opposite result has happened with Griffin & Phoenix, originally intended as a theatrical release, debuting at the Toronto film festival, and showing in other countries around the world, but in the US, it would debut on the Lifetime Channel. It's probably where most people would think this tearjerker belongs, as that channel seems to cater to the terminal illness and romance crowd. It also should suffer far less scrutiny than a theatrical release would demand, as what would be too manipulative and predictable to justify spending money for on the big screen seems like a well-acted and somewhat touching romance when looking at it on the small screen, provided you're into that sort of thing. At least one can shut it off when it becomes too much to bear, which will most likely be quite early for many viewers.
Unfortunately for the makers of this movie, I am not one of those people who enjoys this kind of movie, not because I think it is sad or depressing, but because it is just too obvious in its effort to pull out tears from its audience. It becomes quite laughable just how shameless they are in setting everything up for the maximum impact possible. The two actually embrace inside a clock tower for a make-out session, with the giant clock showing the ever-so-cruel ticking away of time on their love -- oh god, kill me now!!
The one thing I can say in its favor is that Amanda Peet (Syriana, A Lot Like Love) is quite good in it, and Dermot Mulroney (The Wedding Date, Must Love Dogs) is more than adequate in his role (that's two films in a row for Mulroney featuring people dying of cancer before they can see their next Christmas -- The Family Stone is his other), but even then, they aren't quite enough to elevate the terrible script into something remotely approaching believable or plausible. For most of the movie, we are supposed to believe that these two lovers will spend their last years alive with each other as much as they can without ever truly getting to know one another, except bits and pieces that are leaked out in painfully slow and drawn out fashion. Actually, their idea of fun times involves laying around talking about how much they like spending time with each other, and going out to play teenage pranks, like graffiti the local water tower, jump on moving freight trains, or sneak into a movie theater.
I do realize that there will be viewers out there that will curse me out for laughing during the tearjerker moments that had them sobbing in tears. Call me hard-hearted, but this film proved to be so inauthentic in its design, that I could scarcely take it seriously enough to truly care about these characters as real people. Perhaps the only thing that I found sad is that the only person outside of Griffin in the entire world worthy enough to be at Phoenix's death bed on her final stay in the hospital is her personal assistant at work.
Actually, one thing I did find to be sadder is that Griffin's car, which seems destined to go to his eldest son once he passes (the boy expresses his desire for a car just like it when he gets his license), gets fixed up to showroom quality, only to be smashed up in a heat of despair. Poor kid, and poor everyone else -- Griffin mildly chides Phoenix for lashing out at a woman scolding a child, telling her that taking it out on others isn't going to help, and then he vandalizes every car in the neighborhood. Anguished or not, the guy is a jerk.
Griffins and phoenixes are fantastic, mythical bird-like creatures that have absolutely no basis in reality. I can't think of more appropriate names to call these two saccharine, unbelievably romanticized lovebirds.
©2007 Vince Leo