The Terrible Surprises That Lurk
The first bit of news I heard on waking up this morning was that the wedding was off. That Jennifer was “spotted” in tears and alone in Hawaii. That, according to People, she’s “devastated.” That Ben “initiated the split.” This after the report just days earlier that the California wedding was postponed due to media excesses. I confess that, even with all the tragedy and violence and bad weather in the world, this item seemed briefly awful, in its way. That way being: enough already.
With all this in mind, it seems, perhaps, especially cruel, ironic, and bizarre overkill to be reviewing Columbia’s Special Edition DVD of Enough, Jennifer Lopez’s wronged-wife-dispensing-lethal-vengeance flick. Just why this film needs a second DVD release is unclear, except for the apparent diktat that there is no such thing as enough or even too much J-Lo, no matter what Ben Affleck told her over the weekend of 13-14 September 2003.
The Special Edition DVD, unlike the unspecial one released last year, has a raft of extras. These include three deleted scenes (one entitled “Strip Joint Break In,” which just seems too terrible right now even to comment on), a music video by Lopez, for “Alive” (from the album J to tha L-O: The Remixes)as well as the Cinemax making-of documentary, “Max on the Set: Enough,” in which Lopez says she was attracted to the film because it was “like a female Rocky,” and in which writer Nicholas Kazan says (almost unbelievably, given current events), “About the worst aspect of the male psyche is that males have been taught, traditionally, to expect to get what they want. Much of the problems that men have, or the problems that men impose on women, have to do with feeling like they’re entitled, and that women should do what men want.”
In the same documentary, director Michael Apted—who brings to the project not only his superb documentary experience (the Up films), but also his respected “girls’” movies, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Gorillas in the Mist (1988), even Nell (1994)—not only his notes that Lopez was “very much on the case, and that was very impressive.” From this and other comments you might glean that she does her homework, understands her value as an entertainment object, and into looking great. On one hand, this sounds like a director’s standard declaration of affection for his star, whose commitment to a potentially controversial project has helped him to think of it as a more profound project than it may have turned out.
On another, it intimates Apted’s sincere interest in working with serious people. He says again, during the commentary track he shares with writer Nicholas Kazan, that Lopez is “very good” at creating character through unscripted details, physical gestures and fiddling with props. When he says it, you believe it. (Honestly, listening to these thoughtful artists reflect on the film, it takes on a resonance that it doesn’t reveal on its own.) Kazan goes on to describe her as having “perfect pitch” regarding emotional situations, and indeed, her work here implies that her range extends beyond the Wedding Planner fluffiness for which she rightly endures criticism (again, Apted says that before they started shooting, he’d heard “urban legends” about her being a diva and hauling an entourage: none of it is true, he says; “She was fantastic”). After all, this is the woman who broke out in Selena (1997), took uncommon risks in Anaconda (1997), U-Turn (1998), and The Cell (2000), and took most everyone’s breath away in Out of Sight (1998). As
Sadly, aside from Lopez’s performance—which ranges from sweet to horrified to steely and back again, a few times—Enough is thin and predictable, too see-through to sustain emotional investment. The DVD’s three featurettes reveal what the filmmakers had in mind, their noble notions about the theme and plot, all having to do with the very real issue of spousal battery. “A Clear Message” about the abuse story from the filmmakers and actors’ perspectives; “Enough is Enough,” a look at domestic violence, introduced by Judith L. Herman, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard, who says, “I want people to understand the impact of violence on people’s lives, how a personality can change, how a personality can erode and get beaten down when the violence is repeated over and over again,” and contains interviews with counselors, activists, educators, and safe house managers, all saying much the same thing: batterers are sophisticated, relentless, and opportunistic; and at last, “Krav Maga: Contact Combat,” an Israeli form of martial arts that might be considered the optimum answer to the situations outlined in the first two docs, at least in the wife-gets-even subgenre.
The film itself lays out not only that the husband, Mitch (Billy Campbell), is cruel and crafty, but also that the legal system is specifically designed not to protect the wife, Slim (Lopez). As the film begins, Slim is a waitress in a diner, working hard for the money with her pal Ginny (Juliette Lewis), with Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” on the soundtrack. Slim calls her customers by name and leans down to pick up a child’s toy that has fallen on the floor.
Within minutes, she meets Robbie (Noah Wyle), who shows up with a rose for her. She’s about to fall for it, when she’s warned away by another guy in the next booth, abusive-husband-to-be Mitch, who says Robbie’s trying to “get in [her] pants” on a $200 bet. Slim is annoyed enough that her judgment is impaired, and she dates the eminently and immediately creepy Mitch instead. Or maybe her judgment isn’t impaired; maybe she really is as clueless as she seems at this moment.
Observing this first scene for the DVD, Kazan notes that he wanted to explore the “problem of personality, or the impossibility of knowing who someone else really is, and the terrible surprises that lurk.” (Again, it’s almost alarming how apt the language seems, given the recent news: who are Ben and Jen, anyway? They seemed so transparent, didn’t they?) “I suppose the conceit of this scene,” adds Apted, noting how the film thematizes and embodies exactly this problem, is “you think you’re watching a comedy. We wanted this to be bright and cheerful, full of life and color… which in no sense is going to intimate what’s to come.” Exactly, agrees Kazan, “Because in real life, there’s no intimation.”
While that seems true enough, the film, in fact, does intimate what’s coming—a lot. From here, the film cuts to a series of wedding photos, under a feeble cover of “This Guy’s In Love With You,” and a scene showing the wedding celebration. She’s radiant, he’s super-rich, and you find out by way of leaden exposition that her dad abandoned her when she was young and she’s distrustful of men but desperate to feel “safe.” While this might be a way to explain away her terrible judgment, it’s weak: if she’s been so picky before Mitch, why fall for his line? Perhaps it’s because he’s a billionaire contractor. (He appears at a worksite wearing a hardhat for about 20 seconds, but other than that, the film offers no clue how he’s made his money.)
There are repeated early signs that this guy is not in love with her, but with himself. This despite the fact that, as Apted notes on the commentary track, he “was always on Billy’s case about underplaying it,” not giving away “the psychotic subtext.” In one scene, Mitch and pregnant wifey are driving along a tree-lined street, when he pulls up to a house that she has apparently admired. He kocks on the door and offers a whopping big check to the guy who answers. It’s not for sale, the owner whimpers. “I’m very determined,” grins and threatens Mitch, his back to Slim, who smiles and pats her round tummy. (At this point, Apted notes that this complicates Slim’s part in the relationship, as she knows what’s going on, if not in detail, but watches his bullying and is “complicit”). The homeowner, meanwhile, looks unsettled and abruptly agrees to sell, opting not to see how “miserable one determined crazy person,” as Mitch calls himself, can make him.
Cut to post-birth scene, where Slim lies sweaty in her hospital bed and Mitch cuddles the infant, wholly ignoring his wife, casually flipping off his cell when a girlfriend calls. She frowns, briefly, then settles back to smile and watch him be a good dad. The child grows up to be the precocious Gracie (Tessa Allen), about whom producers Rob Cowan and Irwin Winkler, on their commentary track, note that they had to work around the girl’s legally ordained schedule (they also point out that Mitch is very “unpleasant,” but focus on the production details—sets and locations, difficulties of dealing with weather, Jennifer’s choice to wear the wig that differentiates the character from her too-famous persona.)
Suddenly, Slim gets a clue, when she answers Mitch’s pager and hears a woman’s voice. Gadzooks! He’s a wily cad! When Slim confronts him, he cops to all of it, insisting that this is the way it is, because he’s a man and men have different needs than women. He slaps her when she mouths off (“I’m not a doormat, I’m your wife!”), then punches her when she says he “can’t” hit her. Her husband is a psychopath and somehow she’s missed it all these years. Plus, he makes the money around here, so she’ll shut up and take it, because, he says, “It’s my rules.” When she wonders aloud what might happen if she doesn’t “like” these rules, he shrugs and says, “Come on, sweetie, life isn’t just stuff we like, is it? We have to take the good with the bad, don’t we? That’s what marriage is.”
According to Mitch, he not only gets to go see “Darcelle,” or whoever he wants, when he wants, but he also gets to beat Slim whenever he wants to. She learns quickly that there’s no way out. Apted and Kazan note that Mitch’s arrogance is born of various assumptions. “He’s also tremendously self-entitled. There’s a kind of discreet discussion of class going on here.” And, adds Apted, “As much as he’s entitled, she’s isolated. She doesn’t have a big infrastructure around her.”
Even as she’s trying to sort out what to do, Mitch threatens her again: “Love is a scary thing, how powerful it is, what it does to you.” During this speech, the camera closes on Slim, as she tries to compose a non-hysterical expression, listening, knowing he’s talking crazy, but contemplating, maybe he’s right (at this point, Apted observes, the movie gets into her mind: “We’re with her”). “Men are like land mines,” advises Ginny, “Some you trigger the first week, others, it’s years in.” Not so helpful. “I’m not this person,” Slim cries, “I’m not a person whose husband beats her up.” But she has become this person, and she needs to figure out how not to be.
When she and Gracie escape, they seek too obvious hiding places, like the Seattle home of an ex-boyfriend, Joe (Dan Futterman). When their idyll is busted up by a trio of Mitch’s thugs posing as FBI, Slim decides she’s tired of putting everyone she loves in danger and asks the advice of a lawyer (Bill Cobbs), who has a two minute scene during which he informs her that, because she’s never reported the abuse, she’s “screwed,” and Mitch will likely kill her.
With guidance like this, you can see why Slim gets a little gonzo in her efforts to rid herself of this scourge. One of her more desperate moves—one that pays off handsomely, for her and you—is to track down her long-absent, much-estranged, super-wealthy, and apparently unloved dad, whose name is, inexplicably and joyously, Jupiter (Fred Ward, a veteran of Apted’s Thunderheart and terrific, as always, juicing up the precious few minutes he’s on screen). He dismisses her at first (“from ‘68 to ‘72, I had, like, five kids…”), then gives her money when he sees that those thugs are after her. Any girl who’s been able to incite such assholes is, apparently, a-okay by him.
Slim spends this cash wisely, camping out briefly in a home full of Arabs (whom Kazan notes he’s especially happy to have included, given the events of 9-11, which occurred after the shoot), spending more tender time with Joe, rebuilding an “ordinary” life. Soon she buys her own house, Krav Maga lessons, an extra escape vehicle, and some extremely high tech gadgets she uses to rig the final face-off with Mitch. This elaborate preparation scene recalls Nancy getting ready to tackle Freddy Krueger, except Slim’s devices are more expensive than buckets and axes. “Self-defense is not murder,” she warns him when, at long last, she’s poised to take him out. She’s found a way to make the law (not) work to her advantage.
She’s also recalling, in her sweaty survival and her brutal triumph, that Jennifer Lopez has something else to offer, something besides predictable breakup stories, Glow perfume, and perfectly coiffed poses for Access Hollywood cameras. She can’t possibly compete with the wearisome excesses of Bennifer, but she might also hint at another possibility, say, a career that’s about work and planning and honing skills. Maybe it’s not enough, but you can hope.