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Nobody's Perfect: Writings from The New Yorker

Nobody's Perfect: Writings from The New Yorker

by Anthony Lane

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Anthony Lane on Con Air

“Advance word on Con Air said that it was all about an airplane with an unusually dangerous and potentially lethal load. Big deal. You should try the lunches they serve out of Newark. Compared with the chicken napalm I ate on my last flight, the men in Con Air are about as dangerous as


Anthony Lane on Con Air

“Advance word on Con Air said that it was all about an airplane with an unusually dangerous and potentially lethal load. Big deal. You should try the lunches they serve out of Newark. Compared with the chicken napalm I ate on my last flight, the men in Con Air are about as dangerous as balloons.”

Anthony Lane on The Bridges of Madison County

“I got my copy at the airport, behind a guy who was buying Playboy’s Book of Lingerie, and I think he had the better deal. He certainly looked happy with his purchase, whereas I had to ask for a paper bag.”

Anthony Lane on Martha Stewart—

“Super-skilled, free of fear, the last word in human efficiency, Martha Stewart is the woman who convinced a million Americans that they have the time, the means, the right, and—damn it—the duty to pipe a little squirt of soft cheese into the middle of a snow pea, and to continue piping until there are ‘fifty to sixty’ stuffed peas raring to go.”

For ten years, Anthony Lane has delighted New Yorker readers with his film reviews, book reviews, and profiles that range from Buster Keaton to Vladimir Nabokov to Ernest Shackleton. Nobody’s Perfect is an unforgettable collection of Lane’s trademark wit, satire, and insight that will satisfy both the long addicted and the not so familiar.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Lane writes the way Fred Astaire danced; his sentences and paragraphs are a sublime, rhythmic concoction of glide and snap, lightness and sting.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Anthony Lane has energy, wit, taste, learning, and (most signally) elegance of mind.” —Martin Amis

“A pure pleasure to read.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

Whether he's rhapsodizing about Julia Roberts, dissecting Clive Cussler novels, or evoking the the magic of Billy Wilder, Anthony Lane writes with the perceptiveness, wit, and enthusiasm of a born critic. His columns in The New Yorker don't knock you over with erudition; they coax you into alertness with apt anecdotes, images, and insights. Where others see only entertainment, Lane detects moral equations: His examination of contemporary romantic comedies, for instance, exposes the societal reasons behind their decline. That's not to say that this wordmeister is shy about his personal opinions: His scathing attack on Alan Folsom's The Day After Tomorrow, for example, cries out to be read aloud. We're happy that they have collected these articles: Now we can throw out all those magazine clippings.
English critic Lane is a tall glass of wit served extra dry.
Publishers Weekly
The title phrase of Lane's fabulous collection of reviews and profiles is taken from Some Like It Hot, uttered by the unflappable Osgood Fielding III when he finds out his flame isn't a dame. That sense of bittersweet glee is also felt throughout Lane's reviews, as he skewers the likes of Sleepless in Seattle, Poetic Justice and The Scarlet Letter with gusto. Not content to waste precious words on bad movies, he saves his longer pieces for films he likes, such as The Usual Suspects, The English Patient and, most surprisingly, Speed. There are hundreds of movie reviewers in our cinema-obsessed country, but few bring such intelligence and lan to the task as Lane, who weaves together erudition and plain language so artfully that he often trumps whatever snippets of cinematic dialogue he's using to illustrate his point. Of Braveheart, he writes: "The obsequies seem to go on forever: the bodies are buried at a Christian ceremony, after which a little girl comes shyly up to William and gives him a thistle. I thought, I'm out of here." Lane's other pieces, which include book reviews, profiles of authors such as Nabokov and Pynchon, and a few full-length magazine articles, round out the collection nicely, showcasing a writer who can make a sing-along version of The Sound of Music seem like the most compelling night in town. For those who look forward to Lane's pieces, and for the many who should, this weighty tome is as delightful as watching Marilyn Monroe doing the shimmy. (Sept.) Forecast: Extensive advertising in the New Yorker; appearances on NPR, C-SPAN and Charlie Rose; and a nine-city author tour will ignite sales for this classy film review book. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Those who have long awaited this compilation of Lane's most memorable pieces will not be disappointed. He is intellectual, witty, entertaining, and, without a doubt, one of the finest reviewers of our time. Compared frequently to Edmund Wilson and Kenneth Tynan, Lane exercises his expansive knowledge on a seemingly endless number of topics in this delightful group of commentaries, originally published in his New Yorker column. A decade of his finest work-a total of 141 columns-is neatly presented to the reader in three categories: movies, books, and people. One of the best aspects of Lane's column, and of this anthology, is that it wanders across cultural and intellectual borders. The author discusses everything from Forrest Gump to the art of cookbook writing to the joy of Legos and personages ranging from Julia Roberts to Ernest Shackleton. The main flaw, if a flaw at all, is that nearly half the essays are dedicated to the movies du jour from years gone by. Still, Lane is endlessly entertaining, and his ability to present memorable observations about less-than-memorable movies makes him a joy to read. For critic-at-large wannabes, this collection will serve as a de facto guide for years to come. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries with extensive journalism collections.-Ken Winter, Preston Lib., Lexington, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An avalanche of Lane, resident wag at The New Yorker—and how enjoyable it is to be buried under it all. "I am merely stating an argument," says the critic. "Freedom to disagree is part of the fun." A review, he continues, should be "a sensory report on the kind of experience into which [moviegoers] will be wading." And that’s what he gives us: Lane out there sinking his arm up to the pit in some book, film, or personality, returning from the briars and swamps of culture with a reading of the atmospheric conditions. The writing is debonair, even when he sticks in the knife and gives it a twist. The magazine gives him enough room to stretch his legs, but not so much that he doesn’t have to work at compression; deadlines loom, so the impressions are reactive, but don’t loom so closely that he can’t consider his lines of attack, humor, and benediction. It’s a doorstopper of a tome, and so there are bound to be some slow moments. ("James Bond is doing just fine; it is Ian Fleming who needs help"— too much help, it appears, to warrant an explanation.) And Lane occasionally overdoes the humor in pieces like "Astronauts," where the taglines fall over one another. Almost always, though, he finds the balance of brains to laughs: Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark, for example, "wants to be a universal life force who happens to specialize in architecture." His prose swings with the sheer exuberance of someone having a good time and inviting us along, perhaps to spend some moments with a bunch of hairy gents dressed as nuns caroling, "For here you are, standing there, loving me," and then to explain just how these participants in a "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music" are involved in the Proustian principle of memory.Another guy who knows how to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, thoroughly unpredictable as to whether he’ll administer pain or pleasure.

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


Indecent Proposal stars Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore as David and Diana Murphy, a young married couple living in California. He is an architect, she sells real estate, but times are hard; the film starts in a welter of voice-overs as they look back on better days. This is sad for them but great news for the audience, which gets to see Woody Harrelson trying to play a high school kid by wearing a shaggy wig: it's one of those preposterous, sublimely wrong moments that make you glad to be a moviegoer. As I watched these early scenes, I began to tremble with anticipation: this could be the great bad film of our time, a host to all its plagues. The omens were certainly good: the director is Adrian Lyne, the man who brought us Flashdance and 91/2 Weeks. On the other hand, his last movie was Jacob's Ladder-confused, maybe, but also genuinely sombre and scary, and played without show by a haunted Tim Robbins. Was that just an aberration, or was Lyne really turning thoughtful? Would Indecent Proposal punch us awake with a study in sexual envy worthy of Polanski? No need to worry. From the moment when David and Diana sink to the kitchen floor and start to deconstruct their underwear, and the pulse of a love song throbs into life on the soundtrack, you know that Adrian Lyne is back in form. And there's more to come: a yacht that cruises into the sunset, straight from a Bacardi rum ad, and a Las Vegas casino where the dice are shot in fun-size close-up, tumbling in slow motion over the baize.

You may have gathered that Indecent Proposal is a teeny bit obsessed with money. Amy Holden Jones wrote the script, which is vaguely propelled by a belief that money can't buy you love; but the rest of the movie doesn't want to know. It adores the stuff, and can only come up with feeble suggestions for doing without it. "We never had much money," Diana muses, looking back on their early years, "so David would show me architecture that moved him." Now, there's a fun day out: have Woody Harrelson take you around and point out buildings that move him. All in all, it's a relief when the two of them go to Vegas on a whim and win twenty-five thousand dollars in a single night. They then make love on top of all the crackling bills, with the camera right there, shifting its position in excitement and rising to a sudden fade. (I think the movie comes before they do.) John Updike pulled a similar stunt in Rabbit Is Rich, where Harry Angstrom screwed his wife amid a hoard of gold Krugerrands, but there you heard the clink of self-delusion as Rabbit lost a coin and scrabbled around for it in panic.

No such ironies are permitted here. Instead, the film bundles together all its desires and smelts them into one gleaming character: a billionaire named John Gage, played by Robert Redford. Gage thinks that money can buy you love-or, at any rate, the kind of sex that might, you know, sprout into love. So when he sees Diana in a Vegas boutique the wheels of lust start to grind, and before you can say junk bond he's asking her to kiss his dice and throw a seven. She wins, of course, whereupon he installs her and David-who have just lost all their cash-in an expensive suite. They look awed and pleased, although it's probably the nastiest hotel room ever seen on film: a steel-blue mess, rounded off with a delightful touch, at least in the print I saw-a microphone nodding from its boom at the top of the frame. Gage then makes his big offer: a million bucks for a night with Diana-no aftermath, no strings. "It's just my body," Diana explains. "It's not my mind." I was glad to have that cleared up, though it does raise an interesting question: How much would you pay for an evening with Demi Moore's mind?

I would happily give away the rest of the plot, except that you can guess it anyway. Indecent Proposal induces a strange power in the viewer, a glow of prophecy: you can see every kink in the plot minutes, even hours, before it happens. Looking back at my notes, I found a scribbled menu of predictions-"He'll buy the dress," "They're going to lose," and the eerily specific "He'll find the copter taking off as he arrives"-each of them followed by a gratified "Yup." There's nothing wrong with movies that run true to form; you could easily guess how Now, Voyager would pan out, yet still warm to the pattern of its melodrama. In those days, the studios treated weepies like thrillers-in the pursuit of love, Bette Davis had to skirt all the obstacles that fell into her path. Demi Moore wins her man back, too, and, unlike Davis, she gets him all to herself, forever; but the manner of the victory is so sluggish, with long pauses sagging between the lines, that it hardly seems worth the bother.

The whole thing needs a leading man with snap and vim, instead of which it gets Woody Harrelson. Admittedly, it's an awful part, which calls for little more than unfocussed emoting, but then Woody trying to emote looks like anyone else trying to go to sleep. At one point, he has to give a lecture on the inspiring joys of architecture, rising to the contention that "even a brick wants to be something." He should know. Harrelson has long been crucial to Cheers, which both mocks and somehow dignifies the dumb hick in him; this movie does the exact opposite, solemnly turning him into a total idiot, and could subtly dent your pleasure in the TV show from now on.

And what, you may ask, is Redford doing in all this? Doing a Robert Redford, that's what: a lot of shy smiling, a lot of looks that say, Hey, don't worry, things will work out fine. Whenever Demi Moore comes into view, he doesn't so much see her as glance in her direction, look away, then double-take back to her-and we're meant to like him for it, the old flirt. The fact that John Gage is a manipulating shyster appears not to have crossed Redford's mind-a shame, because if Redford ever decided to turn really sour we could be in for a fright. We've sensed that once, in All the President's Men, where the moral grime of the story, as well as Dustin Hoffman's sneakiness, rubbed off on him. None of that here: Lyne treats him like a male model, fluffing his hair and making him stand around in long shot so that we get an eyeful of his (mostly disgusting) suits. And the closer the camera comes the softer the lighting gets, as if loath to admit how crinkled and potato-chippy-how interesting, in other words-the golden boy's face has become.

The worst scene in Indecent Proposal-and there are plenty of contenders-shows John Gage going to school. Diana has taken "a second job, teaching citizenship," and just as she is telling a classroom of immigrant students about the United States, one of them looks outside and sees Gage's Rolls-Royce. Their interest is stirred, rising to outright adulation as the man himself strolls in and starts to woo their teacher. He's a messiah, smelling of fresh money, and the movie can only sit back and agree: no messing around-if you've come looking for America, this is the man you need to be. In its flailing attempt to elevate the poor, a scene like this only slaps them down; you watch it openmouthed at the loftiness of the insult. Indecent Proposal needs to be seen, if only to furnish proof that a whole movie, and not just individual performers, can be vain, and that real vanity doesn't just look in the mirror: it can turn around and damage others. There are many good films about the rich, but this one is dangerously cheap.

Of course, it's only entertainment, except that you can't conceive of anyone's watching Indecent Proposal and feeling entertained. You stare at Gage and think, How can anyone have so much money and so little fun? How can a roomful of immigrants want to be like that? As for Demi Moore, she goes from looking wistful, glazed, and poor to looking wistful, glazed, and rich-out of the fridge and into the deep freeze. The only character turned on by Gage's offer is the Murphys' lawyer, Jeremy (Oliver Platt), who has one short, cynical scene that blows the movie apart. "How could you negotiate without me?" he yells at David, sniffing a big commission. You suddenly realize that Indecent Proposal could (and should) have been a comedy; it starts off with much the same plot as Honeymoon in Vegas and smothers it in mists and moodiness.

This gets unbearable once Lyne decides to pay homage. On board Gage's yacht, Diana comes up on deck and finds him standing there in a white suit, staring out over the water. We're meant to think of another Redford role-Gatsby, on the end of his dock. It's a horrible grab at cut-price longing and pathos, but worse is to come: Gage's mournful recollection of his ideal love, a girl glimpsed once on a train and never seen again. "That was thirty years ago. . . . And I don't think there's a day goes by when I don't think about her." Remind you of anything? Try the aging Bernstein in Citizen Kane, remembering a girl in a white dress getting off a ferry in 1896: "I only saw her for one second and she didn't see me at all-but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl." Orson Welles called it the best thing in the movie, and said once, "If I were in Hell and they gave me a day off and said, 'What part of any movie you ever made do you want to see?,' I'd see that scene." How times change; when Redford speaks the lines, the audience giggles. Everything that Indecent Proposal touches, it sullies. It's trash without zest, keeping a poker face when there's nothing to be serious about; as for the sex, you can see most of it in the trailer. The kitsch extravaganza that I'd been hoping for just lay down and died.

April 26, 1993

Meet the Author

Anthony Lane has been a film critic for The New Yorker since 1993. He lives in London.

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