MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Ken Kwapis. Starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte.
Since I am in my mid-sixties and rounding third in the baseball game of life, I think that perhaps it is time to say that I am already getting rather tired of films that aim to please older adults with the onscreen antics of mature adults in the throes of arrested development. Even a sweet and enjoyable film like 2011’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel relies too often on humor that involves older people engaged in questionable behavior.
Which brings me to this month’s geezer pleaser: A Walk in the Woods. I have not read the nonfiction Bill Bryson memoir that is the basis for this movie (describing a midlife trip on the Appalachian Trail with a friend), but I am sure that it is a humorous and thoughtful book filled with wry observations and factual tidbits, since Mr. Bryson is an intelligent and often brilliant writer of such notable books as A Short History of Nearly Everything and One Summer: America 1927.
This film is not that book. Well, it’s part of the book. It’s the part of the book that could be turned into a series of comic episodes between Bryson (Redford) and his overweight, out of shape, womanizing friend Stephen Katz (Nolte). The story of a middle-aged writer is turned into a tale of a golden-aged writer, since Robert Redford is now 79 (Nolte is 74). There’s nothing particularly wrong with using older characters, but there is plenty that is wrong with this movie.
The women characters seem to have been teleported from the mid-sixties. We have the dutiful wife who rolls her eyes but lets her hubby do whatever he wants (Emma Thompson). And then there’s the big boned gal with a high libido who comes on to Katz (Susan McPhail), the motel owner who makes goo-goo eyes at Bryson (Mary Steenburgen), the annoying woman who is a constant chatterbox and hiking by herself (Kristen Schaal), and a few other stereotypical and demeaning portrayals along the way.
Our two men are given a wide berth and a knowing wink to do whatever they feel like, since this is a comedy about celebrating two old guys brave enough to step outside of their comfort zone. If you pay close attention to the movie, it should become clear that this Big Adventure is really just a baby step for two affluent persons to go on a mini-vacation in the out of doors. The time spent actually hiking the Appalachian Trail would probably add up to about 15 minutes of film. “Roughing it,” means staying in a motel room without cable.
This is also one of the most slapdash, poorly edited movies that I have seen in a long time. Characters find themselves in the middle of some kind of jam and then – bam! – we then cut to the next scene, with the problem solved. Jokes are frequently set up and discarded and even such surefire crowd pleasers like a bear in the campground fail to elicit big laughs. Even a potentially touching subplot about recovery from alcoholism fails to elicit pathos.
A Walk in the Woods is a good walk spoiled but, alas, without any golf scenes. Perhaps it’s time to return to the classics of the genre. Grumpy Old Men, anyone?
Two halos: Some nice scenery to view and scenery to chew as beautiful vistas and crude comedy hi-jinx ensue.
Three pitchforks: Pervasive swearing; crude and derogatory treatment of women; implied oral sex.
As I am one of the geezers who is even older than Redford, I did not see this film as such a waste as you do. I am repulsed by the foul language, but I saw this story as an examination of the feelings that we old people have as we move well past our prime and wonder about the set of possibilities we face now.
Unlike you, I feel that there are few movies that many of us seniors are interested in many more. One of the things that repels me is the extreme loudness. Even if one has come to see a "quiet" movie, the trailers are deafening. When I went to see "A Walk in the Woods," I watched 30 or 35 minutes of television (yes, television) commercials and trailers of movies, most of which I certainly will not plan to see.
Jim Magaw, Mount Vernon, OH
I think my friend Bruce must have been in a grumpy old man mood himself when he saw this movie. Certainly he saw it differently than did I. And although I confess I have not read the book either, friends who have read it implied that the movie is fairly accurate to the book. I enjoyed it. And so, from all appearances, did all the other old people in the theater with me. The shame is that most younger people will not see it because it has been promoted as a film about a couple of old guys instead of a film about not being afraid to pursue your dreams and overcoming stereotypical limitations. The other stuff in the movie was only ancillary.
I read your analysis of the movie with interest, because I wondered how it was "unfiltered". I read the book, but even more, I backpacked a portion of the Appalachian Trail in my 30's (I'm approaching 70), and I enjoyed the reminiscing. I suspected that the movie wasn't very good, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for the evaluations.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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