The Out of Towners

The Out of Towners. Paramount Pictures 1999.
The Out of Towners. Paramount Pictures 1999.

Before watching the movie:

I need a break from Christmas. Also there are very few Christmas movies I can get hold of that I can blog and wanted to see.

The impression I had of a couple getting out to New York for a change and everything going off the rails reminded me a lot of Date Night, but it looks like they’re looking at moving out there permanently as a change once their kids have moved out, so it’s a different time of life here. And also it probably isn’t going to go off the rails in anything like the same way.

Steve Martin is of course very consistent, and I recall Goldie Hahn doing well in Foul Play, but that may be the only thing I’ve seen her in.

After watching the movie:

Henry and Nancy Clark have one daughter living in New York not going to medical school and one son who just left to find himself in London. Henry was let go from the Ohio-based ad agency of several years, but refuses to let Nancy know. Without any children to mother and no warmth or excitement with Henry, Nancy wonders if the marriage is over, but decides to surprise Henry by joining him on his trip to New York for an interview at the last minute. Their plane to New York is rerouted to Boston due to the weather, they miss the train out, and no sooner have they gotten to New York than they crash the rental car, walking straight from that into a mugging. Their credit card declined at the hotel because Nancy gave a card to the daughter who dropped out of college behind Henry’s back, they wander New York penniless, hungry, and cold, with what little hope the job interview had of turning everything around for them quickly slipping away.

I didn’t know this was a remake until after I chose it, but looking over a synopsis of the original, it looks like they found plenty of room to update the concept for the late 90s. A couple on the verge of separating because once the cloud of child-rearing lifts they find they may not have anything left to keep them together. An aspirin from an inmate in the police holding pen isn’t an aspirin. The GPS navigation is problematic.  John Cleese isn’t just a snooty concierge but a fabulous crossdresser. Very much a movie of its time.

This went further into the comedy style of piling on than is to my taste. I knew going into it that this was going to be a trainwreck of a trip, but while I enjoyed most of the scenes on their own, the continuing downward spiral is almost as bothersome to me as cringe comedy (which this flirts with in places). So much of the progression is moment to moment that there’s not much of a sense of working on the problem of the night, just the problem of the minute and the ongoing marital crisis. If they never manage to crawl a little out of the hole, dumping more on them isn’t funny plotwise.

There’s a delicate balance kept in who the Clarks take advantage from when they can get it. Everyone they steal from has some reason to be unsympathetic. Usually the victims are awful to them first, though Nancy does steal a few things from an incredibly rich couple who just probably won’t miss it. There seemed to be a theme of discovering the excitement of stealing honestly, but it never really paid off. It’s just part of the adventure they barely admit they’re having.

While the pieces are all fun, the movie altogether isn’t my thing. Maybe it could have been improved with some pacing work. Maybe the original has sharper, Neil Simon dialogue. But this adds elements that are relatable today that wouldn’t have been 40-odd years ago, and works a decent emotional core from that. It’s an enjoyable diversion when it’s time for a change of pace.

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