To say that Angelina Jolie (2001's "Tomb Raider" and "Original Sin")
is a character chameleon through and through would be a gross understatement.
She adapts her entire being when on camera to become the person she
is playing. While the films she stars in aren't always very good,
she consistently stands head and shoulders above the material. "Life
or Something Like It," directed by Stephen Herek (2001's "Rock Star"),
hands Jolie the type of sunny, lighthearted role that she has never
played before, and she shines for every second she's onscreen. That
the film is an adroit comedy-drama with more than its share of gently
soul-searching, thought-provoking moments that ring resoundingly true is simply a bonus.
Lanie Kerigan (Angelina Jolie) is a career-focused, up-and-coming
newscaster at Seattle's KQMO4-TV who believes she has everything going
for her. When studio execs at Manhattan's "AM-USA" morning show take
a possible interest in her, Lanie's boss decides to get her out on
the streets and start covering stories herself to see if she has what
it takes. Lanie is none too happy, however, when she is pared with
ace cameraman Pete (Edward Burns), whom she does not get along with.
While out one day doing an interview with a supposedly psychic homeless
man named Prophet Jack (Tony Shalhoub), he makes three predictions:
(1) the Seahawks will win tonight's football game 19-13, (2) it will
hail tomorrow morning, and (3) Lanie will die by next Thursday. When
the first two predictions come true, Lanie begins to panic about whether
her life has had any meaning up until this point. With only a week
left to live, Lanie sets out to make the most of her time and start
living by her own rules.
Right from the get-go, "Life or Something Like It" is blessed with
a novel premise. Director Stephen Herek has wisely bypassed a possibly
corny treatment of this particular story for something a little more
thoughtful than the usual romantic comedies that come down the Hollywood
pike. Geared with a smartly written screenplay by John Scott Shepherd
(2001's "Joe Somebody") and Dana Stevens (1999's "For Love of the
Game"), Herek takes advantage of offering viewers a motion picture
that is not only entertaining and occasionally funny, but has something
deeper to say about one's own mortality and the way you opt to live your life.
One of the pleasures of the film is in seeing how Lanie decides to
handle this tragic newfound knowledge, all the while recognizing what
a shallow, self-absorbed person she has become in her single-minded
pursuit to succeed in her career. Obsessed with exercising and eating
nothing but health food, Lanie starts eating whatever she wants, showering
whenever she wants, and acting like herself, rather than the way she
believes everyone expects her to act. A key sequence comes when Lanie
shows up drunk at a bus-driver protest to cover the story, and spontaneously
leads the group in a sing-along to The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get
No) Satisfaction." The payoff to this scene is priceless.
What raises "Life or Something Like It" above the norm is in its quieter
moments where Lanie gets to speak her mind to those closest to her.
Two individual scenes between she and her older sister (Lisa Thornhill),
and she and her widowed father (James Gammon), are poignantly truthful.
Likewise, the romance that Lanie predictably starts with Pete is not
jammed down the audiences' throat as much as it is subtly viewed as
two people simply connecting with each other.
Starting off as someone with a sole interest in herself, Angelina
Jolie wonderfully portrays Lanie as a woman who gradually makes the
changes required in her life to make her not only happier, but a better
person. Sporting platinum-blonde hair, Jolie resembles any number
of Hollywood startlets from the '40s and '50s as she radiates energy
and feistiness. Edward Burns (2001's "Sidewalks of New York"), as
the ruggishly handsome Pete, could play his respective role in his
sleep, as it is basically the same one he almost always plays. Still,
he is good at it, and the chemistry he shares with Jolie is apparent.
Nicely played secondary characters go to Lisa Thornhill (2000's "The
Family Man"), as Jolie's stern big sister; James Gammon (2000's "The
Cell"), as her loving father; Tony Shalhoub (2001's "Thirteen Ghosts"),
as Prophet Jack; Stockard Channing (2000's "Where the Heart Is"),
as Barbara Walters clone Deborah Connors; and lovely newcomer Marika
Ashlee Anuik, as Lanie's younger self.
Since the entire plot of "Life or Something Like It" hinges on whether
Prophet Jack's prediction that Lanie will die is correct, the movie
backs itself into a corner. On one hand, it wants to be a light and
airy comedy, but at the same time a darker meditation on its subject
matter. The compromise director Stephen Herek makes in the climax
to try and satisfy everyone is his one misstep. Without giving anything
away, I think there was a more obvious, more meaningful setup for
an ending that could have more easily satisfied all audience contingents,
but it was never followed through. The finale, which does come back
for a good-spirited last scene, cannot take away from all else that
is right about "Life or Something Like It." This is Angelina Jolie's
movie all the way, and she does not disappoint.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman