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The New Age

(4/10)

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Current Rating 9.33/10 | 3 Votes

     The key to making a black comedy about despicable people is that you have to give the characters a spark of decency or the whole thing falls flat. If you don't have someone to identify with, what's the point of the movie, other than the questionable joy of seeing people get their comeuppance. Tolkien, the writer of one of my favorite films, "The Player," misses the mark with this film. Peter (Peter Weller) the agent and Katherine (Judy Davis) the interior decorator are so wrapped up in their empty lives (and they never really figure out what's wrong) that I spent the entire movie alternating between checking my watch to see how much was left and wishing that one of them would realize how worthless they were.

Peter quits his job the same day Katherine loses her biggest account, and the two of them are forced to confront the fact that they really don't have any marketable skills. When asked what they are good at, they decide on "shopping and talking." They come up with a half-baked idea to open a boutique where they sell clothes that they would like to wear (neither of them has really good taste in clothes) and they become increasingly desperate as their fortunes wither away. They are more interested in the things that signify who they are than they are about real human interaction or solving the problems that separate them. They are obsessed with things: their collection of paintings that tell the world they are cultured; their house on the side of a hill that tells the world that they are rich; their younger lovers who reassure them that they are still vital and virile. I have to admit that Katherine only ran off with her boyfriend because she found out about Peter's dalliances, but it really isn't much of a redeeming characteristic that she was gullible and spiteful.

To cope with the holes in their lives, the two turn to New-Agey spiritualism and hokey discussions of karma, ket, and other things they don't really understand. They are using catchwords, the same way they use designer clothes and trendy parties--to show that they belong. What they fail to realize is that their former lives kept them busy enough so that they didn't have to think about how meaningless their lives were, and when they lost their jobs, it gave them time to think and despair. In their turns to empty spiritualism, they find that the world is full of yes-men, even ones who use power crystals and chants.

There was a moment, during the best scene in the film, where I thought that Peter was going to have a breakthrough. In desperation, he gets a job as a telemarketer, promising luxury cruises but only able to deliver a crappy clock. I won't ruin the scene, but it really looks like Peter saw through the lies he was selling, and I thought that it forced him to reconsider his own life. The ending, though, repudiated this reading of the scene, leaving me to consider the idea that Tolkien really despises these characters, and takes pleasure in dancing them like abused marionettes.

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