Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Day 47: Bringing Up Baby

My face hurt from laughing after watching this.  It hurt most after watching a dinner scene during which Cary Grant left the table frequently to follow a dog.  After leaving a couple times, he returns, looks at the table and complains to the flabbergasted people at the table, “My soup’s gone!”

There’s something so effortlessly charming about this movie, due in large part to the chemistry between Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.  She’s on fire in this role, shooting out fast paced dialogue with a devilish grin and an infectious lust for life.  Her character is impulsive (to the point of madness, I thought) and forgetful.  In lesser hands, the character would be completely annoying in how she disregards the other people around her, but Hepburn adds an element of caring and class to the role that, ultimately, avoids this pitfall (though it’s a close call at first).  Cary Grant is a great match for her too as an ineffectual nerd, bursting with latent aggression.  His bumbling and stuttering would also be annoying in lesser hands, but the way Grant bursts out of it from time to time is a joy to behold.

These characters have a volatile relationship from the start.  But after a psychiatrist informs Katherine Hepburn that the male love impulse often expresses itself in terms of conflict, she decides that Grant loves her and that she’ll love him too.  Then, the plot places a leopard named Baby between the two, and their efforts to control the volatility of the wild animal teaches them how to control the volatility between themselves.  

As you can see, this is an entry in the “couple hates each other until they fall in love” genre, featuring the staple mismatched characters and many plot contrivances to bring them closer together.  But where other movies fail, this one succeeds because most of the contrivances are character-driven.  After our introduction to the characters, we could honestly believe that Hepburn would be sent a leopard by her brother or that Grant’s character is good-hearted enough to see a task through to the end, no matter how horribly he’s treated.  And the leopard is, I must say, a nice touch.  It gives the couple an external force to reckon with, causing them to unite (and it does it without all the super-serious fuss of something like a war to hone in on the fun).

To be sure, it left me a little exhausted with all of the running around and fast-paced talking.  And a couple characters are played so broadly that they were never, ever funny (the Constable being the worst offender to my mind) though they were clearly trying to be.  And, you know, there’s not much on the surface of Bringing Up Baby that differentiates it much from something like Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.  There’s a lot of mugging and a lot of jokes that fall flat because of this.  The action onscreen is, at times, as stupidly zany and reckless as it was in Goldfoot.  And, yeah, some things bugged me, like Hepburn deciding on a whim to love a man she hardly knows.  But it’s all so whimsical, anyway, and the movie hits more often than it misses, so why bother?  This is a solid effort all the way through with good writing, a sure-handed pace, and wonderful chemistry between its co-stars.  The chemistry is so good that I forgave all of the absurd (and ultimately unconvincing – Grant’s fault) declarations of love in the final scene the way everyone forgives them in the last act of Shakespeare’s comedies.

Eh, I’m thinking too much.  This is an utterly charming movie and a funny one at that.  The dinner scene mentioned above is a perfectly pitched, farcical scene.  It’s played so well that peals of laughter came out of me, and I don’t use the word peals lightly.


zora said...

since it happened to me, i don't doubt the possibility of deciding to love a man i (or anyone) hardly know(s). and it works, too!
what i would like to point out - or ask whether you noticed it in the same way - is the scene where grant runs about the house in the (supposedly pink) feathered gown and, encountering the aunt, yells out: "i feel so gay!"
is that a documentation of the moment in linguistic history where the meaning of this word took a turn from "happy" to "homosexual"? i always wonder and am looking forward to enlightenment.

David Wester said...

Wow, nice job with deciding to love and working it out.

I wondered the same thing... that's such a funny, breakout moment for his character. FYI he actually says something along the lines of: "I've just gone GAY all of a sudden"

zora said...

and funny too it must have felt for cary grant... if it did mean then what it means for us today.

(and, lest i be seen as an unromantic b****: it was more along the lines of finally realizing what i really wanted in a relationship. just so y'all know. *pout*)