Thursday, June 29, 2017

Two Little Films that Gave Me Big Pleasure

My wife and I are trying to make a weekly thing of movie going. You know, the real thing, where you go to a movie? It’s one of the better, cheaper dates.

So last week, sifting through the summer dreck of action and explo, I gave her two choices: “Norman,” starring Richard Gere as a New York “fixer”; and “Megan Leavey,” about a female Marine who serves as a dog handler, sniffing out IEDs in Iraq.

Now we’ve seen them, and although we both enjoyed “Norman” more, I particularly liked “Megan Leavey.” My wife rightly commented that it is manipulative in the way that it systematically pulls on your heart-strings. All I could say by way of rejoinder was that “Megan Leavey” is the first dog movie to make me cry since “Old Yeller.”

“Megan Leavey” is aimed at a Venn diagram of demographics in which dog lovers and veterans (preferably female) intersect. Oh, and there’s a wonderful father-daughter scene, which probably sealed my deal.

Based on a true story, “Megan Leavey” is formulaic in more ways than one—not just a tear-yanker but also a rags-to-spiritual-riches story of the young woman from a torn family who hates her dead-end job and enlists in the Marines in order to effect a geographic cure. Only, Megan’s cure is canine.

“Norman” is something stranger. Gere’s character is all but homeless and stays that way. In the last scene—and this is not a spoiler—he is seated on a park bench with, as Bob Dylan wrote, no direction home. Yet his life is shown to be a triumph.

It’s not clear that by befriending an Israeli politician and trying to connect him with a big New York financier while also raising a $7 million matching grant for a synagogue (where, seriously, Steve Buscemi is the rabbi!), it’s not clear, I say, that Norman even wants riches. He just wants to matter. He wants a meaningful life, and Norman finds his meaning in establishing such connections and making them click.

Whether they do click in the end is the drama of this lovely little film, and I won’t tell you more. But see “Norman,” please. And if you are a female vet (in either sense of vet) and you need a good cry, see “Megan Leavey” too. They are two tiny gems waiting for you in the huge pile of summer crap still steaming at your local megaplex.

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