[box cover]

Vanilla Sky

Vanilla Sky is a film you must see twice, especially if you hated it the first time. Chances are, you didn't hate it exactly — you were more frustrated or annoyed, either miffed that Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise would team up to re-make an already sufficient contemporary foreign film (Vanilla Sky is almost exactly adapted from Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar's 1997 Abre Los Ojos), or simply believing the picture was a failure: a trippy, drippy self-indulgent wrongful turn in Crowe's supposedly lovable oeuvre of the sweetly maladjusted everyman (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous), Vanilla Sky was out of his element. His so-called "cover song" of this dark, sci-fi-related picture was seriously off-key, something like William Shatner's rendition of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" — entertaining and bizarre, yes. But also dumb, self-serious, and unintentionally arch. But watch Vanilla Sky again and don't think of Cameron Crowe. Try to ignore Crowe's often-cloying turns of phrases, don't believe you have to like the characters, and look into yourself a little bit. Chances are you'll feel disturbed — perhaps even embarrassed that the film gets to you so much. Cruise plays David Aames, a handsome, 33-year old New York publishing tycoon who has the world on a string: A beautiful girlfriend Julie (Cameron Diaz) whom he uses for sex and so-called "friendship," oodles of money and charm, a New York City pad complete with a genuine Pete Townshend guitar and a genuine Monet (the "Vanilla Sky" of the title) and a quirky writer for a best friend (Jason Lee). David's living the dream life in real life, but he's not exactly a nice person. Snaking his buddy's date, a lovely Spanish dancer named Sofia (Penelope Cruz), during his lavish birthday party, he spends a celibate but wildly romantic night with her. However, full of himself, David nevertheless agrees to get into jealous Julie's car after she does a drive-by stalking while David emerges from Sofia's apartment, apparently drunk with love. One more time with Julie is his attitude, and in an incredibly acted scene by Diaz he learns his sexual romps meant more to her than simple handshake shaggings. She's in love with him. Crashing her car off a bridge, David is left disfigured, losing his looks, and on his own accord Sofia. When he re-emerges, he's like a rich John Merrick, deeply depressed, and trying in vain to maintain an almost aggressive sense of humor with his friends. But one morning everything changes. Sofia loves him again, he's able to get plastic surgery, and he's living another dream, still rich, again handsome, and madly in love. But there's more. By this point, the film's already established some jumps in narrative that we haven't put together yet (if we didn't see the original), such as scenes with David wearing his Phantom of the Opera mask while talking to a shrink (Kurt Russell) in a jail cell. What is real?

*          *          *

Ambitiously, Vanilla Sky spreads out its sometimes baffling narrative nicely, with just enough tweaks to keep us engaged without exasperating us. But by the time the film is resolved (which is not to be revealed here), we wonder "What was the point of all this?" This is where Vanilla Sky irritated so many critics in its initial release. Many criticized it as the ultimate vanity project. Cruise spends ample time staring at his beautiful, well-built visage in mirrors, plucking out gray hairs or basking in his deformed, gimp-like state, simultaneously terrorizing and applauding himself — how awful to be ugly, but what a great, brave actor I am to show myself this way. This vanity, however, is what makes Vanilla Sky so gloriously creepy. Like Jerry Maguire, this is Cruise's film. Never mind the whole "You had me at Hello" business — Vanilla Sky is a cold, dismal bit of filmmaking that manages to become significantly true in its un-truths. It's all a ruse, as the picture inadvertently poses a life that isn't that meaningful, isn't that deep, that doesn't really have an answer. In that way, it accidentally becomes more like John Frankenheimer's masterful Seconds, another film in which a gorgeous movie idol (Rock Hudson) chooses another life with a better face, but one that reveals his pursuit is meaningless. You have to want to be somebody if you choose a new life, it just won't come to you. As Seconds terrifies, so does Vanilla Sky in its own resplendent, accidentally hollow way. Paramount's DVD release of Vanilla Sky offers a pristine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include the short documentary "Prelude to a Dream" in which Crowe introduces the film and explains why he made it, the somewhat-revealing doc "Hitting it Hard," which is a behind-the-scenes glance into Vanilla Sky's world press tour (where Cruise and Cruz appear definitely the couple). Also here are theatrical trailers, TV spots, bloopers, a useless interview with Paul McCartney, the music video "Afrika Shox" by Leftfield/ Afrika Bambaataa, and a photo gallery. And of course, a commentary — which is incredibly annoying by Crowe and his wife/film's composer Nancy Wilson. Explaining the movie to death with all its layers of meanings, relating it to Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Truffaut or Sgt. Pepper, or saying things like Kurt Russell "is a gem in the community of actors," Crowe nearly ruins the film while Wilson strums along on guitar and giggles or says "yeah" a lot. During a pivotal part of the movie, Crowe calls Cruise, who drops in a bit of commentary that is, of course, more interesting — Tom finds much of the film morbidly funny, and he's right. Keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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