Camille consists of three very different types of movies stitched
together into one story.
1. The first third of the film is a backwoodsy comedy about a cheery,
naive girl so in love with her sullen fiancÚ and so excited by the idea of
her honeymoon and marriage, that she can't see, or won't accept, that her
beloved doesn't really love her back. Nothing can dampen her mood,
however, not even when the preacher asks him if he'll take this woman, and
he can't decide.
And, mind you, it was really an easy choice: either marry the girl,
who's too talkative and a little ditzy, but gorgeous and sweet natured; or
go back to prison for life. The girl's uncle is a lawman, you see, and he
pulled some strings to get the groom and the bride together, but is
willing to let those strings go slack again if his niece isn't getting a
husband out of the deal. We know immediately that the groom is really
having a hard time choosing between marriage to her and life in prison, so
it seems that life's pathway will be a rocky, uphill climb for them.
This section includes an awkward wedding and the beginning of a
honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls, all played to milk the laughs and pathos
out of the mismatched lovers.
Until she dies in a traffic accident.
2. The middle portion of the film is a dark, dark romantic comedy. The
bride is dead, but just plain refuses to leave. Oh, she's cold, has no
pulse, is decomposing, is losing her hair, and smells foul, but she's just
not going to join the choir invisible until she gets her honeymoon in
Niagara Falls. And she is still one perky and talkative corpse, even
though the whole death thing gets her down from time to time. During this
time, the ne'er-do-well groom starts to realize that he just pissed away
the love of a great woman, and that maybe he ought to give her something
back for all the love she has given him since 6th grade, so he resolves to
make her post-life experience as pleasant as possible, given that she's a
rotting corpse among live people.
3. The film's finale is sweet and sentimental. In fact it's
over-the-top syrupy. The supernatural and fantasy elements of the film are
stepped up a notch, and the film turns into a high-concept romance,
complete with teary eyes and stirring music.
Does it work? Almost. I'd say it's an OK chick-flick that falls just
short of being a good one because it fails to find the right balance
between dark humor and sentiment. There's nothing wrong with sentiment.
Casablanca is one of the best films ever made, and it can be gooey, but it
pays the price necessary to earn its emotional moments by building up to
them with cynical humor and important themes. Camille has no important
backdrop like WW2, but if the film had exploited the dark premise better
in the middle of the film, the schmaltzy ending would seem like a tasty
dessert. As it stands, the film gets gushy too soon, in the center, and
starts too early to pile on many consecutive corny moments backed by
maudlin music, so that the mawkish ending is not only telegraphed, but
seems too sweet, like the idea of eating a box of chocolates after
devouring a big meal which already included a rich dessert. The middle
third of the movie needed a lot more jokes and a lot less treacle.
But I find it hard to be too critical of a film with a good heart and a
good message, even if that message is just as simple and shallow as "love
each other more, and appreciate what you have." James Franco and Sienna
Miller do a solid job as the groom and bride, and there is some solid
back-up from screen veterans like Ed Lauter and Scott Glenn and David
Carradine, who steals the show as an eccentric cowboy. After never having
thought much about Carradine one way or another, I am now becoming a big
fan since he turned toward offbeat and funny character roles. He was
drop-dead hilarious in Big Stan. He's not wildly funny in Camille, but he
infuses the film with a soft/rugged presence which manages to be both
profoundly odd and warmly appealing. Who would have thought he could
transform himself into Richard Farnsworth!