Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jean Arthur in The More the Merrier

Jean Arthur received her only Oscar nomination for playing Connie Milligan, a woman who decides to share her apartment during WWII in The More the Merrier. I think Jean was probably the third one that year. I guess nobody could stop Jennifer Jones from winning, except for Ingrid Bergman who starred in an epic movie. Jean, however, played a comic part and the Academy prefers serious drama to comedy. Still, the fact that she was a star helped her, I'm sure. It's ironic that the funny ladies of the 30s and the 40s (Roz Russell, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur) never received Academy Awards.

The More the Merrier is a nice comedy about a woman who shares her apartment with two strangers (both of them men, one is older, the other one is young, guess what happens). The last time I saw it, I was much more impressed by it and I kept on raving about it. However, this time I'm much less enthusiastic about it. While it was enjoyable, it's no His Girl Friday or The Awful Truth. It is lovely and the screenplay is quite good but it's nothing amazing. Charles Coburn won the Oscar for his performance but I don't see how they voted for him.

Jean Arthur is an actress I mostly know from Frank Capra's 1930s movies where she usually played a bit cynical women who turn out to be really charmed by a simple American fella but she was also quite memorable as the mother character in Shane. That being said, I think she's a very lovely, charming actress who was most certainly the best choice to play Connie in The More the Merrier. She has the opportunity to show all her comic skills and to display her irresistable charm.

However, to tell the truth, Connie's character is not the most original one ever created. She's very firm, she has a boring fiancé and such things. Her normal life (which is full of her own rules) is turned upside down by two strangers. One cannot accuse Jean Arthur of not developing Connie. We can see her journey from her initial self to a more loving and kinder woman. And the best thing about it is that this development never becomes too ordinary or predictable. Sure, the story is predictable but thanks to Jean, it's really no problem.

Arthur gets many funny scenes with Charles Coburn in the beginning and she nails them all. Again, she filled those clihés with her own charm and they turned out to be very amusing. First, the movie is a typical comedy of errors and Jean knows perfectly well how to handle it. She neither overplays nor underplays the scenes. They are just fine the way they are. It's like when you hear a joke for the fifth time and you still keep laughing at it because the person delivers is excellently. Well, that's most certainly the case with Jean Arthur here. The scene where she locks Charles Coburn out of the apartment and then he knocks on the bathroom window is an entirely predictable sequence and yet it works because of Jean.

When Joel McCrea enters the picture, the movie becomes much more romantic but Jean does that part excellently, too. They make up an excellent couple and I really was rooting for them. Everything worked out with them and the scene at the party is just wonderful. I was totally taken by Jean's charm and I became just as dazzled by it as Joel McCrea's character.

The end is also fine: Arthur's timing is excellent (once again) and I really laughed out loud when she was crying. Again, I'm a sucker for those exaggerated cries and this one was no exception (still, Diane Keaton remains my favorite in that category).

As you see, everything works perfectly with this performance. Then why am I still a bit disappointed? For some reason, I was never totally blown away by Jean Arthur's work. Although I enjoyed it from the beginning to the end, there wasn't a moment when I said "Wow! She's amazing!". Still, it's a well-played, entertaining comedy role and I really don't have complaints.
What do you think?


Fritz said...

I basically agree.

Oh, but I loved Charles Coburn in this.

Louis Morgan said...

I also basically agree on Arthur, but I find it very very easy to see why they voted for Charles Coburn.

dinasztie said...

OK, so I'm alone with my indifference towards him. But I didn't really focus on him. :)

joe burns said...

I'm guessing she'll be third, it depends on how strong this year is for you.

joe burns said...

Oh, and although it was discussed in the last post, here's how my ratings go:

5: Unbelievable

4 and a half: Fantastic, maybe a small complaint, or it's just not the level of a five, but still, a worthy winner.

4: Looking back through my reviews of Best Actress, a 4 rating isn't too great for me a lot of times! I guess it depends on what level of a four, Judy Davis in A Passage To India is a low-to average four from me, marsha mason in The Goodbye Girl, and Emma Thompson in The Remains Of The Day a solid four, and Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give a high 4.

3 and a half: Good, but flaws or lack of passion or interest keep me from liking it.

3: An effort is clear, but didn't try hard enough, made obvious mistakes, or brought down by the film, ect.

2 and a half: extremely underwhelming, but maybe a few good points.

2: Bland, dull, awful, but one good scene might make me not HATE it.

1 and a half: Never given this grade, I think, but probably downright bad.


Zero: How did they even be cast at all? Acting classes should be taken immediately!

dinasztie said...

Joe: Yes, that system seems just fine for me. :D

joe burns said...

Oh, and Fritz said that he can't put a comment on my blog, but I think he can now, not sure, because there are still zero comments on my newest post!

Are you running into the same problem?

Anonymous said...

I am indifferent to everything in the movie. I don't fall for schmaltz that easily.

Anonymous said...

Love the Diane Keaton reference! I can honestly say I thought of Something's Gotta Give while watching Jean Arthur.

dinasztie said...

Anon: Really? :D If I really think about it, there are many similarities in the story. :)

Alex in Movieland said...

I've seen 20-30 minutes of this a couple of years ago and I gave up for good. To me it seemed like a cliched ridiculous pathetic film. :) but who knows, maybe it would've gotten better