Watching “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Obvious Child”
Tom Cruise has been doing his thing for so long that it’s easy to take for granted, or to dismiss. He’s a formidable box office presence, and yet at times he seems curiously unloved — effective and charismatic, but sometimes at a strange remove, though perhaps it doesn’t matter: At this point in his career, he’s made so many films it’s hard not to be at least a partial fan. “Risky Business,” the 1983 teen dark comedy that helped catapult him to superstardom, is one of my favorite films. So as played out as Cruise — or at least Cruise’s persona — might seem at times, I’ll always think of him fondly.
There are good Tom Cruise movies and bad Tom Cruise movies, and his new sci-fi flick, “Edge of Tomorrow,” is one of the good ones. This is a clever, humorous film with an interesting, “Groundhog Day” gimmick: Cruise relives the same day over and over again. This gives him time to figure out how to defeat the aliens who are on the verge of conquering Europe, but is also a bit of a drag: Dying repeatedly — which is how Cruise “resets the day” — isn’t exactly fun, and it’s more than a little frustrating to have the same conversations, be introduced to the same people and try to convince these people to do what he tells them, because otherwise they’ll be killed by aliens.
Cruise plays a fairly interesting character for a movie of this ilk: Lt. Col. Bill Cage, a military spokesman with no battle experience. Ordered to the front by the no-nonsense General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson), Cage refuses to go, saying he’s not cut out for war. So Brigham has him arrested, knocked out, stripped of his rank and forced to serve with a ragtag army unit scheduled to invade Normandy (yes, there’s a reason some critics have compared this film to “Saving Private Ryan”) the next morning. Naturally, the inexperienced Cruise is killed almost immediately. But he awakens, inexplicably finding himself back with his ragtag army unit on the eve of what he now knows is fated to be a disastrous invasion. Can Cage figure out how to prevent this slaughter, kill the aliens and save humanity?
It’s a tall order, and the film teams him with the tough-as-nails soldier Rita Vrataski (a terrific Emily Blunt). Every day, Cage must find Vrataski, convince her he’s not crazy and get her to join her on his quest; this process is made easier by the fact that Vrataski used to have the ability to reset the day and understands what Cruise is going through.
Throughout the film, director Doug Limon finds interesting ways to keep the story from feeling repetitive. He shows Cruise trying different things, and advances the plot by jumping forward in time. For instance, we don’t see Cage and Vrataski’s many failed visits with Gen. Brigham — we see the visit where they finally get the general to give them what they want. Much of the story unfolds with a lightness of tone that’s refreshing and engaging, and because Cruise and Blunt are a compelling couple, we begin to care about them. This gives “Edge of Tomorrow” an unexpected emotional resonance. And Cage has a compelling character arc: In the beginning, he’s a character, fearful of blood and violence. But he’s also a quick study, and the film gives him plenty of time to transform himself into a disciplined and patriotic fighting machine — to become, in effect, the quintessential Tom Cruise character.
The aliens are actually the least interesting things about “Edge of Tomorrow.” They’re vicious and nasty, and we’re given little insight into their motivation or thought process. Perhaps this doesn’t matter — perhaps the lack of attention paid to the aliens allows for more time to appreciate the rapport between Cruise and Blunt and the intricate plot. All I know is that the final showdown lacked the punch it might have had, maybe because the aliens seemed like knock-offs from “Aliens” and about a bazillion other films featuring fast-moving, predatory aliens. It’s the humans who make “Edge of Tomorrow” worth watching, and the film is at its best when it remembers that.
I also caught the edgy romantic comedy “Obvious Child,” a raw, ragged, funny and warm film about a young stand-up comedian who gets pregnant and gets an abortion and maybe falls in love with the father, who happens to be a really nice guy.
“Obvious Child” isn’t quite as good as I was hoping it would be, but it’s a winning little film, though some people might be put off by the scatological and sexual humor. And the abortion subplot. And Jenny Slate, who plays the main character. I liked her, but she’s not always very likable, and I could see her really rubbing people the wrong way.
She’s surrounded by endearing supporting characters, which helps: Her parents, and her relationship with them, are interesting, her best friend (Gaby Hoffman) is cool and her one-night-stand (Jake Lacy) is smart and attractive and wants to do the right thing. It’s hard not to root for this cast of characters to find their footing and reach a happy resolution.
“Obvious Child” reminded me a little of the 2013 film “Frances Ha,” which was also about an aimless young woman trying to navigate post-collegiate life, and the TV show “Girls,” which also features a protagonist who often makes poor decisions and can be tough to like. It’s not as good as either of those works, but it’s in the same ballpark, and has an original sensibility and voice, as well as a provocative point-of-view and real insight into the ways in which young adults communicate and interact.
“Obvious Child” isn’t for everyone, but if it sounds like it’s for you, I recommend seeking it out.
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