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Vanilla Sky F
Year Released: 2001
Me Walking Home: Fists clenched in my pockets, braced against the cold in my flannel coat. I don't feel it too much, though, because I'm red hot with anger. Cinema has become blown apart, and those particles are drifting in chaos. Back at my apartment, I sit down at the computer to sift through the remnants. It's no use. Vanilla Sky and Peter Gabriel have come to take me home. Sleep beckons, and it's merciful.
I wake up 2,000 years later and the mecha-alien-what-have-you's would like to recreate my happiest moment. They've got a sample of my mother's hair, and through their miracles of futuristic science I'm allowed a fleeting day of pure happiness with her. The guilt and animosity have been swept away; there are lingering silences where a single look conveys everlasting love in a microcosm. Much of the time, we hold hands. Eventually, we lie down to go to sleep and Teddy Bear climbs into bed with us. There's a force outside of myself (which is, in fact, myself) laughing hysterically at the whole affair because such sappiness is too much to take in my cynical (2,000 year old) mind. Revolution has that effect on people: disorientation. Mother, Teddy, and your humble narrator drift off to slumber. (Open your eyes.)
I blink. The closing credits roll for the science fiction film. How about that? Is this waking life but a dream, or is this dream waking life? And who gives a fig? Spielberg's crafted a reminder of what movies can be: emotional, disturbing, thought provoking. The reviews that follow somehow miss the point (many of them), and I wind up defending the movie as a possible classic to friends and colleagues. That final scene, a vague recreation of joy with the insides carved out and thrown topsy-turvy, is harrowing and nightmarish in its transparency. Waking Life will be heralded as a beacon light of sensitivity and optimism, but to me it's all psych-major shenanigans through the funnel. My science fiction film (and Teddy Bear) reveals true optimism within a lie. It's like they say in that Todd Haynes movie, whose name I cannot recall (open your eyes): put a man in a mask and he'll tell you the truth. (Open your eyes.)
There's a message on my answering machine. Dad has died (we haven't spoken in years) and he's left the business to me. The shareholders, who I casually refer to as the Seven Dwarves, run affairs while I dabble in lifestyles of the rich and famous. Flashy car, flashy clothes, flashy smile, flashy parties. I have to choose between dating Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz, which isn't much of a choice at all. I choose Cruz! (Open your eyes, you dumb motherfucker. Open your eyes! Open your -- Penélope Cruz? Open your eyes! At least open your ears, because everything she says is --) Cameron Diaz may be my fuck-buddy (and proudly admits to swallowing my cum -- really!) but Le Cruz and I have a lovely weekend together, mostly drawing pictures of each other and listening to Peter Gabriel/R.E.M./Peter Gabriel/Joan Osborne/Peter Gabriel.
We (Le Cruz and I) wind up at Cameron Crowe's party, and I have the gnawing realization that I've heard his entire CD collection before on the radio, that it's part of my migraine, and that the undercurrent of my Cruz du Jour weekend was that my/her taste in music is absolutely superficial. Crowe doesn't seem to get it, though. He embraces simplicity, and those dewy lyrics and Starbucks coffee tasting guitar licks are right up his alley. I guess they must be right up mine, too, since I'm rich and have a front to maintain. I want people to love me (not just Le Cruz), so I'll pander to their pedestrian musical tastes. Why not? If it's good enough for Crowe, it's good enough for me.
I enjoy flipping through my collection of Art Garfunkel records, worn out by decades of wear and tear. But I can't quite perceive myself with the faded magnificence of album colors. Part of the problem is hiring John Toll, one of the least creative cinematographers in Hollywood, to paint me against the backdrop of phony Vanilla Skies.
Who replaced my DVD collection? Was it you, Cruz? Or was it Crowe? My copy of Jacob's Ladder was replaced with Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire. Two for the price of one. (Open your eyes.) And all of my magazine subscriptions have lapsed except for Rolling Stone. I keep getting phone calls from Kurt Russell, my psychiatrist, who has aged a great deal since Escape from New York and The Thing but still has that solidity about him, the wizened but experienced face of a movie star who's been around the block, maybe tasted superstardom, and is now just dependable. He's still calling me. Dependable guys do that. Or maybe he's just hurting for cash and psychiatric reconditioning is his fallback after Soldier. Either way, it's good to hear from him. Better than Jason Lee, who skulks around the sidelines of Cameron Crowe like the ghost of Kevin Smith's pop culture bullshit. He stinks to heaven, he stinks to hell, and there's no getting rid of him.
My face has turned into Tom Cruise, or Michael Jackson. I'm so disgusted by my Boy Scout freshness, my box office megapower, that I become lonely. (Open your eyes.) I am unaccepted by them, whoever they are. The voices in my head tell me I should feel guilty for my success, and Scientology and aerobics and my late night carousals aren't making me feel any better. I can't find anyone at the gym that understands. So I take a straight razor and slice off my face, or I have someone drive her car over the embankment and smash me all to hell.
(An interlude, out of nowhere: My shrink says to me, in all candor, "I'm glad you mentioned Gaston Leroux in our last session. The Phantom of the Opera seems prevalent to contempo-stardom, much more so than Dorian Gray even. And I've always kinda figured you to be insecure -- terribly, terribly insecure -- over your clean good looks and shiny white teeth. At heart, you feel you're the phantom. Your Vanilla Sky ruminations prove to me that you are the phantom made flesh. It's not far from a case of gratuitous self-worship, self-aggrandizement, or even self-therapy. In fact, it's a fascinating reversal for peer credibility. Will we love you all the more? Will we love you all the more? All right, I'll love you.")
Doctors can't help. Maybe Cameron Crowe can. I trust myself in his hands; I allow him to lead me down a psychedelic route into a land of vanilla skies and marshmallow pies. Paul McCartney is singing in the background ("sweet and sour") as I look upon my new face and weep, weep, weep for myself, and weep for Mel Gibson -- who achieved this well before me in The Man Without a Face. He knows full well that artistic credibility begins when beauty fades -- the shrink was right. Michael Caine always said I was a brilliant actor, but that I was handsome. When I get old and ugly, I'll be respected. Let me beat them to the punch and disfigure myself, then I'll invite Jason Lee over to videotape it with his portable camera. Yes, that's better than Matt Damon playing a homosexual chameleon in The Talented Mr. Ripley and Sean Penn playing a retard mired in litigation in I am Sam. (Open your eyes.)
No matter how many paintings I hang up in my room, or how many Jules et Jim posters I collect, I'll never be universally acclaimed as an artist or even a beauty (I'm too beautiful), because they hate me in New Zealand. I dumped Nicole for Cruz. Maybe I should just go ahead and beat Cruz to death.
"You're wanted for murder," chuckles Kurt Russell, in person this time. I'm stuck in a tiny little room. Did I kill Cruz, or Diaz, or Crowe's dwindling credibility, or my own career?
Open your eyes. Open your eyes. Open your eyes.
* * *
No, you've got to open your eyes. Your eyes. You. I'm talking to you.
Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky is no more coherent than what I've written above. Perhaps less so. And mine's shorter. Vanilla Sky runs over two hours, thereby making it not worth the effort even as a "let's watch and see how bad it is" self-flogging exercise. I wish I hadn't, and if I were a slightly more depressed person I'd wish I were dead before enduring this apocalyptic vision of how cinema can be tarnished by people-pleasing brownnosers like Crowe, a minor player who thought he was an auteur and made Vanilla Sky.
It's worse than Jerry Maguire because it's the same movie morphed into a dream crammed into a Rolling Stone capsule, then edited into inoffensive but all-the-more offensive mush. It's shallow throne worship for Tom Cruise, the man with a face/the man without a soul. But it warbles along with the skip-scrape fluidity of a record left out in the rain too long, possibly one by (who else?) Peter Gabriel. There are gaping gaps, and a pseudo-intellectual crowd might have fallen for it had the reviews been kind.
But Vanilla Sky exists in a moral vacuum where we're asked to root for the man who has everything (Cruise) as he attempts to hold on to true love (Cruz?) when stripped of his one bankable talent (his looks). Open your eyes, and you'll see it's a love letter to vanity. Open your eyes, but don't open your wallets.
Review published 12.17.2001.
For another opinion, read Rob Vaux's review.
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