The Truth About Charlie
Director Jonathan Demme has spent the better part of the last decade shooting really unpleasant films. This is not to say that The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, and Beloved weren't good-they were. In fact, in his humble way, Demme has always stayed just ahead of the curve when it comes to movements in popular American cinema (see Something Wild and Stop Making Sense for earlier examples). But let's face it-even the best of us get tired waving our banners year after year.
That's why The Truth About Charlie is so refreshing. It's a light movie-very light-and you can really sense the joy in Demme's direction as well as in his actors' presentations. Everybody's having such a blast that it's hard not to get carried away their giddiness.
Reggie (Thandie Newton) is a Parisian whose mysterious husband, Charlie, has suddenly been murdered. And before he died, he sold every single one of their belongings. The Paris police are unsympathetic, treating Reggie with suspicion. Then an American embassy official (Tim Robbins) materializes out of nowhere to warn Reggie that her life is in danger. But from whom?
Luckily, a helpful American named Joshua (Mark Wahlberg) appears each time Reggie gets in a jam, and she begins to fall under his charismatic spell. Could this be a fairy tale Paris romance? Or is Joshua just one more double-talking, backstabbing scoundrel?
You might already know the answer, since Charlie is a remake of the classic 1963 romantic comedy Charade, starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Hepburn and Grant had their charm meters turned to 10 in Charade, and the result is as close to perfect as a movie is likely to get. Charade is one of the few films that you can call "magical" without feeling the least bit self-conscious about it.
Charlie is no Charade, but it gives the original a run for its money. Instead of shooting the film in Charade's opulent Hollywood style, Demme has gone the completely opposite direction, shooting his remake in the fashion of the 1960s French New Wave, which, ostensibly, means lots of hand-held camerawork, gritty on-location shooting, and radical shifts in tone. One minute it's direly serious; the next, a goof-off so silly it's reminiscent of a musical-minus the music.
If this sounds to you like a recipe for disaster, you're right. Very few filmmakers have the instinct and flair to throw all the rules out the window and go haywire. The result, usually, would be a self-indulgent, pretentious, confusing train wreck. Which is exactly why Charlie is such a sweet surprise. Sure, it's filled with more French New Wave in-jokes and references than any American moviegoer would ever want to catch, but who cares? The bottom line: it's fun without being self-indulgent or pretentious.
However, it is confusing. But so was the original and the remake does it proud by making the confusion part of the fun. You're really put into Reggie's shoes-from her/our point-of-view, it's impossible to figure out who's who, but it's also impossible not to be charmed by it. In this role, Newton is funny, classy, and delightfully girlish-much like, yes, Audrey Hepburn.
Robbins is also fantastic, reminding us how funny he can be. Wahlberg and others are somewhat more forgettable but, thankfully, seem to realize that this is Newton and Demme's showcase and appear content to be the smiling/sneering faces that pop up at every turn.
Charlie is for anyone-if ever there was a perfect matinee movie for the whole family, this is it. However, it's not the most important film of the year, either. Despite its convoluted plot, Charlie is just pop entertainment, and it may fade from your memory a few hours after you've seen it. Charlie's aspirations are, after all, pretty low. But at least the filmmakers have the class to admit it.
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