You don’t need to see many movies to understand that in Hollywood, once a woman hits forty, she suddenly lacks relevance. She’s not sexy, she’s not assertive, and if she doesn’t have a man, there must be something wrong with her. Just recently, Twitter users collapsed under a Super Bowl-related avalanche of anti-Madonna tweets. As she played the halftime show, many wanted to discuss the abnormality of her body, and her biceps — she was being punished for actively trying to stay relevant at an advanced age. We should all be so lucky.
In Bart Freundlich‘s “The Rebound,” credit must be given to the filmmaker who at least has the teremity to not portray luminous leading lady Catherine Zeta-Jones as a sex object. Her Sandy, a fussy career woman, just left her husband’s side due to his infidelity, moving to the city with two chatty moppets. Her interest lies in the world of sports, giving the film’s title a tenuous double meaning, so it’s not long before she ends up crunching stats in the big city while searching for a babysitter.
Young floater Aram (Justin Bartha) is in a similar predicament, having his young marriage dissolve as his college career ended. After a shame spiral of sorts, filled with nights in front of reality TV with cartons of ice cream, he’s left adrift behind the counter at a coffee shop. Gee, if there were only a hot cougar in town looking for a hand! Sandy takes a shine to Aram after throttling him during a self-defense class, and trusting he’s reliable, he asks for the young charge to watch over Sandy’s school-age kids. Shiftless and intrigued, Aram says yes.
It’s an interesting study in film chemistry, the ease in which Sandy and Aram become friends. They share private jokes, they trade info on the kids, and the two of them refuse judgment on each other, knowing that they’ve both been through the relationship wringer. As friends, it makes complete sense these two would be attracted to each other, particularly as he develops a rapport with the children. Aram even begins to think about having a purpose in life, even if it is modest, and suddenly, his biological clock starts ticking. He’s perfectly content shepherding these kids into their preteen years, even if they don’t do as much as play games, tell jokes, and vomit on each other.
But the demands of generic American filmmaking suggest these two have to end up together, and it’s slightly less than plausible. The youthful, pug-nosed Bartha is a shlumpy mess, and the statuesque, moviestar-confident Zeta-Jones seems too well put together to settle for his charms. The movie makes no secret of their arrangement being one of convenience, but Freundlich’s film feels arbitrarily dedicated to certain details. We know that Aram wants a sense of belonging, a sense of contributing to the world, enough that he’s willing to refuse divorcing his wife because it would mean her deportation. But what does Sandy want? She’s a career woman, but why does she like sports? When she goes on one horrific, fart-filled date (don’t ask), what is she looking for? Instead of filling in the gaps of this character (she’s over forty, she couldn’t possibly want anything, right Hollywood?), Freundlich finds new ways to put her under society’s thumb.
“The Rebound” is even more frustratingly opaque because of its datedness. The film was shot years ago, and has spent the last three years slowly unspooling all over the world. Naturally, it’s view of “middle class lifestyles” is a bit hard to swallow. Aram’s collective disinterest in the world leads him first to the coffee shop, and then later into a boardroom, where he rejects a massively attractive job opportunity. Sandy, meanwhile, almost immediately finds a massive, and likely massively expensive, Manhattan apartment for these children. These characters almost exclusively dine at expensive restaurants, exercise in fancy gyms — there’s no need for signs of financial crisis (it would be impossible, given the shooting timeframe), but maybe an acknowledgement of how hard it is to make ends meet in New York City might be helpful. Freundlich, who has shot in New York a couple of times in his career already, is more at home with brownstones than he is with actual neighborhoods and communities filled with people, and on multiple ocassions, he turns homeless people into morbid punchlines.
Freundlich has worked the independent circut for awhile now, but his earlier austerity in challenging films like “World Traveler” has diminished, replaced by coarse gag-making. Dramas like “The Myth of Filmgerprints” showcased a talented filmmaker with the restraint to avoid pressing that button, the cheap joke, the sly reference, the wink and nudge. Now, in his last two films “Trust The Man” and this (not to mention his work on “Californication,” like most cable dramedies a Glib Factory), he’s leaned into that button heavily. Sandy’s children aren’t normal children, they’re more snappy and whipsmart, pure sitcom creations. And why spend time focusing on the desires and triumphs of a forty year old woman when you can indulge both Sandy and Aram’s commentator best friends, maybe the weakest contrivance in the romantic comedy genre? “The Rebound” is an apt title, as the film is a definite loose ball, bouncing casually along the baseline, content to roll unbothered, out of bounds. [C-]
“The Rebound” hits DVD on February 7th.