The Rewrite *1/2
One Liner Review:
A pretty lousy movie about a selfish and unlikeable character who says all the wrong things and gets away with it, think Bulworth only not half as funny or interesting.
The Rewrite is a generally bad movie from start to finish. It tells the story of a screenwriter who can’t sell a script, and so he takes a job as a professor despite his belief that screenwriting is not a skill that can be taught. This man, Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant,) has no sense of reality or societal norms, and that ends up being more stupid and ridiculous than it is funny. From talking about having a bomb while chatting with TSA agents at an airport to sleeping with one of his students and then continuing the relationship, this character is an absolute idiot. So watching him grow a heart and go through the normal, cliched character arc, is even less fun than usual when dealing with a predictable and uncreative movie. There’s one decent thing that happens in the movie, where a mistake he made catches up with him, but other than that, this one is an absolute waste.
Here is a movie about a guy who is equal parts selfish and out of touch with society. Sounds like the kind of thing that might make for a good comedy, right? Not when characters like this have already been done again and again, from the political leader who says whatever he wants (Bulworth,) to the societal commentary of Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm, where nothing he disagrees with every goes away without him first making a big deal and disturbance about it. But the character of Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant,) in The Rewrite, isn’t half as funny as either of those characters. This guy is simply a down and out loser who doesn’t seem to care about anything. And his antics aren’t so much commenting on society as much as they are showing that he has no clue what you can and cannot say or do.
For example, in an early scene Michaels goes to the airport and gets his bags checked by TSA security. While rumaging through his things, one of the TSA agents notices Michaels’ oscar for a movie he wrote. A whole bunch of other TSA agents come over and all of them compliment him and tell him how much they liked the movie. At that point, Michaels says, “I could bring a bomb on the plane and nobody would care.” What??? When was it ever acceptable to say something like that to airport security? If the movie is trying to make the case that he is out of touch with society, than have his judgement errors be in response to current societal norms, like Facebook and Youtube, not things that have always been no-nos. And, if we are to believe that maybe the point is to show that Michaels has been trapped in his own bubble and is not used to life in a small town, or something like that, are we also supposed to believe that he has never been on a plane before, or has no knowledge of how airport security works? It’s one quick attempt at a joke, but it is representative of how poor and miscalculated the level of humor in this movie really is.
Two examples that have larger ramifications and resonate throughout the movie are that Michaels sleeps with one of his teenage students (yes, teenage, as in not even twenty-one yet and able to legally drink,) and also that he goes around freely saying he believes nothing of value can be taught, and that you either have talent or you don’t. Now, that’s a fine theory to have about life, except for one thing… he’s a teacher. The movie is about him taking a job as a professor. So how can he possibly let anyone know he believes this, and still hav the a job working as a teacher? But let’s go back to the first one for a moment, the sleeping with the student. In fact, let’s go back even earlier to the start of the movie, where Michaels is seen in meeting after meeting, pitching ideas to producers.
He pitches a movie where Jack Nicholson stages his own funeral so he could see if he will really be missed. When the producers reject the idea, Michaels offers to change the protagonist to a woman and suggests Betty White. So the idea here is that he keeps pitching older movies featuring older actors, whereas the studio wants young, hip, and edgy. They want female-driven projects where the woman protagonist can kick ass. And Michaels, being a misogynist trapped in the days of old white men, can’t wrap his head around this. Rather than try and write what the studio is asking for (even though they directly tell him that if he does, they would love to see it,) he continues to stubbornly pursue his ideas, which get him absolutely nowhere. And soon, the power and electricity are being cut in his apartment, and Michaels finds himself in desperate need of a job.
That’s when he takes a job working at Binghamton University, as a professor of screenwriting. His one hit wonder movie, Paradise Lost, keeps getting mentioned throughout the movie by anyone he comes across (think Wonder Boys and the one-hit wonder of Michael Douglas’ character, Grady Tripp, also a writing professor at a University. Michaels has a voice-over monologue about looking up Binghamton and finding out what it is known for. He talks about his opinions of the town, and some of it is actuaky kind of funny. For example, he says he has no idea what anyone can teach to students in this town, other than “get out!” And pretty soon, Michaels finds himself in a fast food restaurant sitting at a table for one, staring at a bunch of female students.
The girls call him out on staring, and Michaels ends up coming over to their table and sitting down with them. That’a when he hits it off with one of the girls, Karen, who is clearly into him, and then winds up with her waking up next to him in his bed. It is such a cliche of movies to have a scene where a character wakes up in the morning and has no memory of what happened the night before, including the girl who is now lying in his bed. And here we have Michaels saying maybe teaching isn’t so bad, or something to that effect, when in actuality he’d be freaking out that he did something really stupid and might be getting in trouble. To make matters worse, Karen ends up being a student in Michaels’ class, and Michaels continues to carry on a relationship with her. Apparently it has never crossed his mind that this might be wrong, even though common sense would have and should have started up a long time age.
We meet a handful of other characters too. In fact, this movie is loaded up with side characters, both adults and students. On the adults side, there is an all star roster here of talented actors. There’s JK Simmons as the head of the English department, and Allison Janney as Professor Weldon, a Jane Austin loving stern figure who becomes the antagonist to Michaels. As far as actors go, you can’t do much better than those two. And both of them are Oscar winners from the last ten years. In fact, both won their acting oscars shortly after this movie (Simmons for Whiplash, also in 2014, just like this movie, and Janney for I, Tonya, in 2017.) What that means is that while these actors are considered highly regarded today, back when this movie was made they were not yet at the top of their game and were still taking lousy parts. And then there are the more forgotten actors, Marisa Tomei (also an oscar winner, from back in the early 90s with My Cousin Vinny,) and Chris Elliott. Both of these actors have also had resurgences, her with the Marvel Spider Man movies and he with the Netflix show, Schitt’s Creek. So clearly this movie got lucky in terms of its cast, and getting all of these actors right before they went on to bigger and better things. But that great casting doesn’t amount to a whole lot when the story, characters, and dialogue are all so lousy. Each character is composed of just one note that is repeated again and again as if that makes it funny (JK Simmons’ one-note, for example, is that he loves his family so much that whenever he talks about them he starts crying.)
When Michaels goes to a party to meet the other members of the faculty, instead of trying to fit in or become accepted, he says the most inappropriate things to the worst person possible. He confronts Professor Weldon about his distaste for Jane Austin and how much he hates societies new normal about making movies of female empowerment (funny, because this movie came out before the Me Too and the Time’s Up movements.) But even before those movements, this idea of Michaels’ was unpopular and came off as male chauvinism, but to make matters worse, when he talks about women getting their asses kicked, Weldon asks him if he’d like to kick her ass, and he comments that it isn’t much of a target. Talk about sexual harassment. Again, how does this guy not know that this is inappropriate? Why isn’t he fired right then and there?
Michaels picks his screenwriting class based on the way the students look (he looks up each one on social media, and judges them by their faces, not the thirty page screenplays each one of them has submitted, which he doesn’t even bother reading.) And now we meet the students and get involved in all sorts of terrible conversations, like whether or not someone can like both Disney and Tarantino at the same time. This movie tries to name drop and throw in references as often as possible (Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, George Clooney, and Meryl Streep all get mentioned,) but none of it is enough to keep this thing afloat. It all just feels incredibly fake and ridiculous. Not even a fluffy relationship with the always charming Tomei can save this thing. Not when the plot has things like a character who is obsessed with Star Wars, and Michaels’ advice to him being “just write Star Wars. Or write a movie about a boy and a girl college student who both love Star Wars and bond over it.” That’s it? That’s his brilliant screenwriting advice?
There isn’t much to like about this movie, but there are a few things from time to time. One is the fact that Michaels’ relationship with a student comes back to bite him later on. At least he didn’t just get away with that, scot-free (although it’s still pretty unbelievable that he didn’t know this was wrong.) And the way he almost takes on the new role of producer at the end, and mentor to a younger screenwriter is pretty cool. But the movie doesn’t pursue that avenue. Instead it goes the cliched route with it’s ending, which is about as predictable as you get. You see, for every somewhat interesting idea (and there really aren’t many here,) you get something like the relationship between Michaels and his son, where they haven’t spoke to each other in over a year because neither one wants to pick up the phone to call. Even when they featured a small side story like this in Home Alone, with the old man and the story he tells Kevin, we got a reason for why the man and his son were in a fight. Here, no reason is given at all. Which is not surprising for this movie which never met a cliche it didn’t like, although it refuses to invest time in any one of them, for fear that it might actually develop into something interesting. This movie is an unfunny, predictable mess, riddled with cliches and stupidity.