To say that Angelina Jolie (2001's "Tomb Raider
" and "Original Sin
") is a character chameleon through and through would be a gross understatement. She adapts her entire being when on camera to become the person she is playing. While the films she stars in aren't always very good, she consistently stands head and shoulders above the material. "Life or Something Like It," directed by Stephen Herek (2001's "Rock Star
"), hands Jolie the type of sunny, lighthearted role that she has never played before, and she shines for every second she's onscreen. That the film is an adroit comedy-drama with more than its share of gently soul-searching, thought-provoking moments that ring resoundingly true is simply a bonus.
Lanie Kerigan (Angelina Jolie) is a career-focused, up-and-coming newscaster at Seattle's KQMO4-TV who believes she has everything going for her. When studio execs at Manhattan's "AM-USA" morning show take a possible interest in her, Lanie's boss decides to get her out on the streets and start covering stories herself to see if she has what it takes. Lanie is none too happy, however, when she is pared with ace cameraman Pete (Edward Burns), whom she does not get along with.
While out one day doing an interview with a supposedly psychic homeless man named Prophet Jack (Tony Shalhoub), he makes three predictions: (1) the Seahawks will win tonight's football game 19-13, (2) it will hail tomorrow morning, and (3) Lanie will die by next Thursday. When the first two predictions come true, Lanie begins to panic about whether her life has had any meaning up until this point. With only a week left to live, Lanie sets out to make the most of her time and start living by her own rules.
Right from the get-go, "Life or Something Like It" is blessed with a novel premise. Director Stephen Herek has wisely bypassed a possibly corny treatment of this particular story for something a little more thoughtful than the usual romantic comedies that come down the Hollywood pike. Geared with a smartly written screenplay by John Scott Shepherd (2001's "Joe Somebody
") and Dana Stevens (1999's "For Love of the Game
"), Herek takes advantage of offering viewers a motion picture that is not only entertaining and occasionally funny, but has something deeper to say about one's own mortality and the way you opt to live your life.
One of the pleasures of the film is in seeing how Lanie decides to handle this tragic newfound knowledge, all the while recognizing what a shallow, self-absorbed person she has become in her single-minded pursuit to succeed in her career. Obsessed with exercising and eating nothing but health food, Lanie starts eating whatever she wants, showering whenever she wants, and acting like herself, rather than the way she believes everyone expects her to act. A key sequence comes when Lanie shows up drunk at a bus-driver protest to cover the story, and spontaneously leads the group in a sing-along to The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The payoff to this scene is priceless.
What raises "Life or Something Like It" above the norm is in its quieter moments where Lanie gets to speak her mind to those closest to her. Two individual scenes between she and her older sister (Lisa Thornhill), and she and her widowed father (James Gammon), are poignantly truthful. Likewise, the romance that Lanie predictably starts with Pete is not jammed down the audiences' throat as much as it is subtly viewed as two people simply connecting with each other.
Starting off as someone with a sole interest in herself, Angelina Jolie wonderfully portrays Lanie as a woman who gradually makes the changes required in her life to make her not only happier, but a better person. Sporting platinum-blonde hair, Jolie resembles any number of Hollywood startlets from the '40s and '50s as she radiates energy and feistiness. Edward Burns (2001's "Sidewalks of New York
"), as the ruggishly handsome Pete, could play his respective role in his sleep, as it is basically the same one he almost always plays. Still, he is good at it, and the chemistry he shares with Jolie is apparent.
Nicely played secondary characters go to Lisa Thornhill (2000's "The Family Man
"), as Jolie's stern big sister; James Gammon (2000's "The Cell
"), as her loving father; Tony Shalhoub (2001's "Thirteen Ghosts
"), as Prophet Jack; Stockard Channing (2000's "Where the Heart Is
"), as Barbara Walters clone Deborah Connors; and lovely newcomer Marika Ashlee Anuik, as Lanie's younger self.
Since the entire plot of "Life or Something Like It" hinges on whether Prophet Jack's prediction that Lanie will die is correct, the movie backs itself into a corner. On one hand, it wants to be a light and airy comedy, but at the same time a darker meditation on its subject matter. The compromise director Stephen Herek makes in the climax to try and satisfy everyone is his one misstep. Without giving anything away, I think there was a more obvious, more meaningful setup for an ending that could have more easily satisfied all audience contingents, but it was never followed through. The finale, which does come back for a good-spirited last scene, cannot take away from all else that is right about "Life or Something Like It." This is Angelina Jolie's movie all the way, and she does not disappoint.
©2002 by Dustin Putman