Right when we get to the climax of a film, we expect a denouement. I usually avoid the word “we” or words “the audience” because I find that pretentious–the pretense being that my experience is the same as yours. Well, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that my experience is exactly the same as everyone else’s in this particular.
Main Street (2010) is about the city of Durham, North Carolina entertaining a visitor. Gus LeRoy (Colin Firth)–hey, that’s funny leroy means “the king” and Firth played…–rents the warehouse of tobacco heiress, Georgiana Carr (Ellen Burstyn) who is hard up for cash and is thinking about selling her amazing home. Meanwhile, Mary (Amber Tamblyn) is getting sick of living in Durham with mom/stepdad and is being pursued with vigor by Harris (Orlando Bloom), a policeman studying to be a lawyer (don’t do it Orlando, you’ve got your whole life in front of you!). Then there’s Willa (Patricia Clarkson) who hates Gus and his waste until she doesn’t.
Then we find out the Mr. LeRoy is using the warehouse to keep hazardous waste. That waste, inexplicably in my view, is coming from New Orleans to Durham to Texas. I’m no warehouse man, but that’s got to be bad logistics. Well, Gus is a smooth operator and he tends to get what he wants. That’s because he believes in what he’s doing. Then, of the sudden, an accident happens and everything is thrown up in the air. Gus is going to stop being a “cheerleader” and become a “truth-teller,” Georgiana sells her house, and Mary and Harris get together in the space of a minute. Then the movie ends.
Oh wait, that’s right I’m sorry. [Spoiler].
But, since so many people take the view that reviews should be read after watching the movie so as to confirm your opinions, that probably won’t matter. It’s too bad since this movie is free to stream for Amazon Prime Members, on Netflix Instant, contains Colin Firth, and Orlando Bloom and so, by God, people may actually watch it. That is too bad. It sure got me to watch it.
Let’s go through the things that went right.
Okay, let’s go through the things that went wrong.
Just kidding. As positives, you’ve got all the components for a good movie. Colin Firth, Orlando Bloom, the south, economic depression, the start of two complicated relationships, the potential for political intrigue, and hazardous waste. Well, maybe the last one isn’t that great a component, but it sure could be.
Now we can start on what went wrong.
The table is set, the guests have arrived, and what do we have for dinner? Crème brûlée. I nice crisp surface and flab underneath. It looks good, it smells good, but it’s never been good. It’s like eating cotton candy farts.
Problem 1: Script. Boy, O boy, if there’s ever been a literal script, this is it. I looked it up to see if it was an adapted play. It isn’t. That should say everything right there. Ha! Nobody’s even bothered to write down quotes on IMDB for me to copy. That speaks volumes. The major offense is there are about four back-stories that would, in other actors mouths, have been tortuous to hear in dialogue. “Frank’s my step father… I never knew my real father. He’s dead now, momma says.” Ugh.
Problem 2: Script. You saw all those neat components, right? How many of those pay dividends? None of them. They paint Gus very ominously. He tells his Latino employees to act like they don’t understand English if anyone talks to them and to call him if they try it on in Spanish. After smooth talking Georgiana/Willa, he invites Willa to the city council meeting (with apparent trepidation), she accepts (chemistry), but someone interested in the house calls up and schedules a visit to see the house, Willa has to decline, come the day, the visit is canceled on account of rain, mysterious, right? Wrong. Gus is a sweetheart, apparently, who’s just good at his job.
What about those complicated relationships? What will happen between Harris, who’s tied to Durham by his needy mother, and Mary, who’s dying to get out of this town and spurns Harris’s advances? They get together. How is this complicated (though predictable) feat accomplished? Harris, driving her to the airport, says “I’m in love with you. Always have been” and she says “I’m in love with you too. Always have been.” What?! Why didn’t you go out to dinner the dozen or so times he’s asked?
So then there’s the accident (which looks bad, but there’s no spillage or harm) and Gus has his well-performed, but hopelessly brisk (while artistically dialogued) revelation that hazardous waste is like, you know, dangerous. Immediately thereafter, Bloom gives a monologue on towns and stuff and the movie ends. What about the city? Are they going to go ahead with the hazardous waste plant or has the accident destroyed that idea? That’s where the movie is guys! Money or safety, what’ll it be?
Problem 3: What does this have to do with Main Street? The answer is “nothing.” This isn’t about a small town. Durham has over 200,000 residents and Duke University. The film doesn’t suggest that it’s a small town, but it’s called Main Street, and that’s a symbol of small towns. It’s a depressed town, I’m sure, and that depression is very well depicted in the movie, but that’s not really the same thing.
The worst thing about this is that it’s so technically well made. It’s almost a self-parody it’s so good with nothing happening. In the beginning of the movie, Georgiana is having a little panic and this ominous feeling comes over her. It’s played, and played well, as though she’s either having some extra-sensory moment or something bad is going to happen, but it doesn’t. Nothing happens.
How did they get Firth, Bloom, and Clarkson to do this thing? Surely they read the script and saw the one-minute non-resolution resolution. Maybe they saw what I saw. A solid set up with potential for some really great conflict both internal and external. Firth plays that internal conflict beautifully. If it were even twenty minutes long, you would have had something here.
How much easier it is to write about a bad movie than a good one. That’s too bad.