The term “mind-blowing” has been used so pervasively when it comes to describing a movie that it seems somewhat disingenuous to label a movie as such these days. How can so many movies be mind-blowing when the marketing campaigns for each try to pass it off as a game changing adventure the likes of which no one has ever seen before. If the past two sentences seem somewhat confusing, don’t make sense or meander a tad that is because it is, in my mind, the best way to begin talking about something like Vanilla Sky. The movie leaves you adrift in confusion and makes some questionable decisions before revealing everything as “part of the plan” and done on purpose. It’s a risky move that works and doesn’t at the same time.
Vanilla Sky is the American remake of the 1997 film Abre Los Ojos. I have not seen the original film so I can only go on what was done in Vanilla Sky for the purposes of this write-up. No comparisons will be made.
Tom Cruise stars as David Aames, a publishing tycoon/playboy who meets a beautiful woman named Sofia at his birthday party (Penelope Cruz, playing the same role she did in the original film). They hit it off but their budding romance is put to a halt when David reluctantly takes a ride with a jilted lover played by Cameron Diaz. She drives the car off a bridge and David wakes up from a coma, his face disfigured. What follows is a hectic journey as this man tries to piece together his life in a sometimes-nightmarish landscape where we can never be sure of what is real or what is actually happening.
The film is directed by Cameron Crowe, a director who isn’t known for creating mind-bending (if not mind blowing) films that question the very essence of what happens in our everyday lives, and this film comes fresh off the two-punch successes of Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. I can only imagine the audience reaction to this considering this frame of reference. While the movie does offer a sprinkling of sentiment along with its soundtrack that features a pastiche of old school rock and pop music, a Cameron Crowe staple, many scenes come across in such a strange that way that everything feels off-kilter and we can never be sure what is really going on. That is not something that the director of Say Anything is particularly known for. It’s great when a director tries to work outside their comfort zone, but the way this movie unfolds clearly doesn’t work as much as it could in the hands of someone who is perhaps more comfortable with the science-fiction/existential undertones the movie has. Perhaps the original Abre Los Ojos marks for a better take on the material in this sense and I hope I get to check it out soon, but I will not know until I do.
I know Tom Cruise gets a lot of flack for, well, being Tom Cruise, but I have always been a fan of his and he gives an excellent performance here. Outside of a nightclub sequence in the middle, which is laughably bad and feels like it can kill the movie dead while you watch it, he is the perfect vessel through which we descend into this story and makes the confusion we may feel bearable in the sense that his character feels it too. I always thought something was a little off with Penelope Cruz’s performance in this movie. She was too much what has become known as “the manic pixie dream girl” and didn’t work for me. Of course, the movie explains why she acts this way and whether this works or not for you is entirely up to how you view the movie. Cameron Diaz is great and I hoped she would have followed her career doing off-kilter roles like the one she does here along with Being John Malkovich instead of what she has been putting out over the past couple years (Bad Teacher, while not very good, notwithstanding). Kurt Russell is always a plus in a movie, and that’s all I will say about him.
I don’t want to go into the entirety of the plot. The best way to view this movie is with a fresh perspective. I will say, however, that Vanilla Sky is worth checking out if you enjoy movies that question the reality of its characters. It is an entertaining picture that proves unwieldy in certain portions. It is mind-bending, for sure, if not mind blowing.
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