Lane, who lives in London and is married to writer Allison Pearson (whose wonderful “How Does She Do It?“ was reviewed her a couple of issues ago), has been with the New Yorker since 1993, maintaining their tradition of great movie critiques and critics. He assumed the mantle from the late Pauline Kael, the woman who single-handedly redefined what the craft is about, and has done it consistently since, with wit, style, and elegance.
With “Nobodys Perfect,“ Lane follows another Kael tradition, that being the compilation of columns into book form. The result is joyous, and a true celebration for those who appreciate good writing, films, and good writing about films. A delight from start to finish, this assemblage of almost 150 reviews and profiles also includes several book reviews and other pieces on art and culture, broken into three categories - movies, books, and people. Every piece here is proof positive that Lane is not just Kaels successor, he is every bit as insightful, spirited, and gifted as she was. Reading this volume, there is little doubt that Lane is one of the foremost film critics of all time.
His skills are so considerable that often, his writing is better than the films themselves. In fact, the worse the movie is, the sharper and funnier his columns are, and that is not meant to undermine that he has an incredible depth of knowledge about a dizzying array of topics and is an astute analyst. Its just that he is so sharp and incredibly entertaining, especially when he writes about movies that dont live up to their potential, as he does here in this excerpt from the Robert Redford-Demi Moore-Woody Harrelson soaper “Indecent Proposal“:
“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...“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... 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.“
Lane (and the reader) has great fun with the skewering of movies like this one, as well as others like “Sleepless in Seattle,““Poetic Justice,“ another Demi Moore clunker, “The Scarlet Letter,“ and “Braveheart,“ of which he says, “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.“ The bulk of the book, though, is given to films he admires, and the eclectic list contains the likes of “The English Patient,“ “Speed,“ and “The Usual Suspects.“
The other selections here, profiles of authors such as Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Pynchon, and some full-length articles, round out the collection and demonstrate the authors versatility as a critic, as well as his humor and intelligence. Whether hes dissecting Forrest Gump, Shakespeare, “Sound of Music“ sing-along events, the Oscars, a Walker Evans retrospective, or cookbooks, Lane is a true pleasure to read. At one point, he says that “the ideal literary diet consists of trash and classics...books you can read without thinking, and books you have to read if you want to think at all.“ One can say the same about a walk down this Lane - his work has set new standards for criticism, whether the topic is on the disposable or the indispensable.