Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hollywood and Teen...Thoughts on Whatever it Takes...

So I spent part of yesterday (Saturday, 9 July) watching the teen flick Whatever it Takes written by Mark Schwahnn and directed by David Raynr. I wanted to watch this film, I guess, because I heard or read somewhere that it was an updated version of Cyrano de Bergerac. I have an interest in Hollywood updated adaptations of the classics be it Cyrano (Roxanne), Laclos (Cruel Intentions), or Shakespeare (O, She's the Man, 10 Things I Hate About You). The final and perhaps most important reason I viewed Whatever it Takes is because I picked up the DVD of the film for $3 bucks at a local Big Lots. There's nothing like a bargain to make you take a chance on something you may only have a modest interest in all things being equal.

I found Whatever it Takes to be a mediocre film. It did have a bit of the Cyrano in it but it was a Cyrano transformed and mixed up with a significant number of teen film cliches. There was the usual insider and outsider divide. On the looser side were Ryan, Maggie, and their friends Floyd, Cosmo, and Harris. On the beautiful people side were Chris and Ashley (played by former model Jodi Lynn O'Keefe). There were the teen romance cliches, the high school students going to the prom cliches, and the teen nerd cliches.

Two main narrative threads run through Whatever it Takes. The major story thread revolves around Ryan's attempt to get the girl of his dreams, the beautiful insider Ashley, and Chris's attempt to get the girl of his dreams, the romantic and intellectual Maggie. So Ryan and Chris cut a deal and here is where the Cyrano part comes in. Ryan agrees to help Chris get Maggie if Chris helps him get Ashley. So while Ryan is feeding Chris the words and the knowledge of flims, TV shows, and rock groups that will get him get Maggie, Chris is teaching and helping Ryan to get mean because nothing attracts the I have problems with my self-esteem Ashley more than a guy who ignores her.

As the film progresses Whatever it Takes has the normal twists and turns of a typical Hollywood teen flick. Ryan discovers he loves Maggie while feeding words to Chris in the high school theatre as Maggie prepares the set for a play. Ryan discovers that Chris's interest in Maggie doesn't go beyond getting her into bed on prom night. He simply wants another I had sex with her notch for his belt.

There are also a number of subplots that run through Whatever it Takes. Floyd wants to go out of high school with a bang and so, in a shout out to Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life--Whatever it Takes was filmed at Beverly Hills High School, the same school where Capra filmed It's a Wonderful Life--he presses a button that opens the gym floor to reveal a pool underneath on the night of the prom sending prom goers flying into the pool beneath. At the end of the film he succeeds in achieving his dream: he places the neck of a statue at the front of the school which had been stolen by a previous student prankster years before, a prank that had entered school folklore, back on the statue, backwards. As a result Floyd takes his place in high school folklore as well.

Though I found Whatever it Takes pretty mediocre I found the commentary track on the DVD release of the film with director David Raynr, one of the few Black directors working in Hollywood, and actors Marla Sokoloff and Shane West, quite interesting. On the commentary Raynr talks quite frankly about how contemporary Hollywood really works. Raynr notes that he had to cut several scenes in the film in order to obtain a PG-13 rating, critical for a film, as he notes, aimed at an 18 and under audience. Cuts were made in a sexual foreplay scene between West and O'Keefe, a scene that revealed part of O'Keefe's breast in side shot. He cut O'Keefe's reference to West's shrinking manhood. He cut a scene in which Franco's thonged derriere appeared briefly in frame. Raynr goes on to note that several scenes had to be taken out of the film and several scenes had to be put into the film after the film was tested with audiences. This was necessary because audiences weren't quite sure why Ryan would want Ashley when the gorgeous, bright, and funny Maggie lived right across the balcony from him next door. Raynr notes that test audiences didn't like the original title of the film so the films title had to be changed. Raynr talks briefly about a Japanese version of the film made for the Japanese market. This version of Whatever it Takes incorporated a subplot with a Japanese character played by a "well known Japanese actress"--you can see a brief clip of her in the deleted extras on the Whatever it Takes DVD--into the film. Finally, Raynr talks about the problems associated with filming (weather, time, locations) and the fact that he, a Black director well aware of the Caucasian persuasion of most Hollywood cinema, intended to have a Black actor play one of the secondary plot roles in Whatever it Takes. He was unable to do this, however, because another studio, Warner Brothers, had the actor under contract for a film that was planned to at the same time. All of this, but particularly the inability of Raynr to use the black actor he wanted to give Whatever it Takes a bit of colour, is worth remembering, particularly by academics, because far too often academics eschew production analysis of a film in favour of a crystal ball textualism, a crystal ball textualism that I suspect would see the Caucasian persuasion of Whatever it Takes and of Hollywood films, in general, as black and white evidence that Hollywood is racist. That would be wrong in this instance.

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