The Insanity of Brian Robbins, Who Will Someday Accidentally Make a Genuinely Great Movie
- Brian Robbins Taking On the Critics
- Brian Robbins' Tales From the Hood (Literally)
-Discussion of Keanu's Acting "Choices"
Directed by the Too-Cool-For-School Greaser from "Head of the Class"...Who Will Someday Accidentally Make a Great Movie
The movie the Filmsnobs are asked about most is not The Fellowship of the Ring, nor is it probable Oscar-winner A Beautiful Mind. It's Hardball, the Filmsnobs' choice for Film of Special Merit of 2001. "What's your guys' f'n deal with Hardball?" they ask. The Filmsnobs obsession with Hardball is quite complex, but if you've actually seen it, you'll probably get exactly what we're talking about.
The Robbins canon is defined by his takes on class and race in America. He's gone behind-the-scenes with rappers in The Show, and he's even been nominated for an Academy Award for a documentary about the impact of Henry Aaron on the African-American community. This doesn't sound so bad, but Robbins is much like another favorite Filmsnobs Insane Genius—Robert Altman. Altman and Robbins both try to integrate their ideas on class into films that have no business with social commentary. The results are just, well, bizarre. Robbins turns The Good Burger franchise into a poor man's protest against corporate globalization. Robbins gives Good Burger racial overtones, like when Kenan, with a big Nickelodeon smile on his face, asks Kel, "You didn't try to help me out with money just because I'm black, did you?"
That's not as bizarre as Brian Robbins' notion of kids entertainment: Abe Vigoda (!) and George Clinton funk dancing in an insane asylum while the mental patients walk around like they're sleepwalking in a "Scooby Doo" cartoon, then at the order of the guards, they start dancing like the zombies from "Thriller." With Abe Vigoda and George Clinton. Do you see what we mean? Robbins is insane. Later this spring, the Filmsnobs will hopefully present a long-planned feature, "The Films of Brian Robbins" where you'll get our take on the rest of the Robbins canon: Varsity Blues, Ready to Rumble, and his Citizen Kane: Hardball.
Robbins and his screenwriter John Gatins provide two hours of the very reason God made DVD: the filmmakers' commentary. They talk about Keanu like he's Marlon Brando, Robbins calling him "brave" for taking a role that other actors turned down because "They couldn't overcome their ego enough to be upstaged by ten black kids." They discuss Matthew McConaghey's interest the role, to which Robbins responds, "Can you imagine Matthew McConaghey in that scene, doing what Keanu does?" "No." Gatins answers, point blank. Actually, Keanu had plenty of brave moments during the filming of Hardball. He needed stitches after punching through a car window and was often startled by neighborhood gunfire. Robbins also speaks of Keanu and Diane Lane's "chemistry." "He's smitten with her," observes Gatins. "I've been in love with her ever since The Outsiders," admits Robbins. They talk about Keanu showing up hungover after the Oscars, but mostly, they talk about Keanu's "choices." And the more I listened to them, I actually started to believe that Keanu turned in a great performance. He's embarrassingly clumsy, but Keanu is so dedicated to the role, he really means it and wants it to be good, that he creates a character that's an extension of himself: just a guy who really wants to do right in the world but isn't talented enough to pull it off with anything besides absolute conviction. Accidentally, Keanu creates a good performance. And Brian Robbins convinced me of it because he genuinely believes Keanu creates a good performance.
As for the Kekambas, Robbins talks a lot about the "methods" he and his acting coaches used to get these "real kids" to conjure the magic they do. Listening to him talk about the Kekambas, Robbins reminds me of a Little League coach who gives his all to his son's team, not for personal glory, but because he really wants them to succeed. I am not so cynical that I will mock his enthusiasm for these kids. Robbins is insane, like when he says about the kid who plays G-Baby, "During the shoot, he was the light of my life." As a film critic, that's downright laughable, but goddamnit, Brian Robbins genuinely loves these kids, and I admire that. Robbins takes us through the method by which he provoked tears in the scene where Keanu has to tell G-Baby he can't play on the team: "Think of something really sad. What would make you sad? If your Grandma got sick? Ok, think of that. How does that make you feel?" Little G-Baby started crying and Robbins flipped on the camera. Lee Strasberg, James Lipton, let the Actors Studio eat your snobby little hearts out.
For Robbins, this film is all about the kids. He tells us that "the reason I made this film" is the scene in which Miles explains to Miss Wilkes what he thinks of A Wrinkle in Time. Again, Robbins is going after some big statement about race and the American neglect of the African-American community, but the line, "Where I come from, it's just whacked" just doesn't quite sell it. No matter. Later, he calls the scene with Miles dancing to "Big Poppa" on the mound "brilliant." He never explains why everyone is raising the roof if the music is only on his Walkman, but Robbins doesn't care. It means something. He doesn't know what, but it does. The song is about scorin' bitches and has nothing to do with youth or baseball, but that doesn't stop Robbins from getting Diane Lane to wave her hands around. This song has nothing to do with oppression or youth, but everyone in the stands starts singing, acapella, this six year old hip-hop song about scorin' bitches, which inspires this twelve year old kid to pitch better. What the hell is Robbins thinking? It doesn't matter exactly what he's thinking because he, and thus his cast and crew, believe it means something. That's what separates Robbins from other bad filmmakers: an admirable, misguided lack of cynicism.
Robbins talks of the difficulty of filming Hardball. Robbins employed "real gang members" in some of the scenes and filmed it in "real projects"—that's right, Hardball was actually filmed in the 'hood. Robbins even questions his own sanity: "What am I doing leading a hundred people to one of the poorest parts of Chicago to film this movie? But everyone was so dedicated to the project that nobody complained." Not even when random gunfire one hundred yards away startles Keanu. Not when gunfire sends everyone ducking at a 3am shoot. Not when Robbins wouldn't let his actors shoot blanks for fear of starting a riot. All this for the artistic vision of Hardball.
And as for Robbins' other methods, he speaks of a scene filmed with a handheld camera because the dugout was too small: "If I had this project to do over again, I'd film the whole thing on handheld." That's right, Robbins wants to film Hardball like Steven Soderbergh or Lars von Trier. He also talks about the genius idea of interspicing G-Baby's big hit with the funeral footage, and the studio's insistence that he actually film the championship game. But Robbins stood his ground: "What they don't get is that it's not about winning, it's about SHOWING UP!" It makes you wonder: Do these big-time studio execs even know what the most important thing in life is?
My favorite part is when Robbins TAKES ON THE CRITICS. Point blank, he says, "Listen, critics: There is so much you can do to make a team better other than playing baseball. Conor gets them to SHOW UP, which is a big thing for these kids." There it is! The secret to life: Showing Up. Robbins continues, "Screw the critics. This is the first film I've made that got applause at the audience screenings, so screw the critics—except Gene Shalit. And stay off the internet!" JimmyO and I have concluded that Brian Robbins has seen the Filmsnobs Hardball Archive and Reviews. Brian, we really do respect you and your enthusiasm for film. I know you're pissed at us—the ire unleashed on the DVD confirms it. With as much hell as we gave this film, we're sure it came up on a "Hardball" search. Mr. Robbins, in a time when filmmaking is intentionally mediocre and cynicl, your unvarnished vision inject life, a certain joie'de vive into the American cinema. Seriously. This is our appeal to you: We know that nobody will insure an Altman film without a back-up director signed to finish the film in case Bob gets flow-cammed up to heaven. Stephen Frears got the nod for Gosford Park, and the Filmsnobs would like to use this platform to begin campaigning for Brian Robbins as Robert Altman's back-up on Voltage. It's Altman's next movie, and though we have no idea what it's about, we know that Brian Robbins should be the man for the job. They're kindred spirits, really. This could be Robbins' masterpiece. Altman and Robbins have virtually the same sensibilities of American capitalism, separated only by: 1) Overlapping Conversations 2) Flow Cam 3) Big-Ass Ensembles. If Bob dies, the second and third crew directors can step in and show Brian those brilliant stylings from such masterpieces as O.C. and Stiggs. And once Robbins proves that he can master the Altman stylings, critics will be forced to come on board, lest they defile the Altman name. Audiences will follow, everybody will be making truckloads of cash, and the awards will come rolling in. Alan Rudolph, if Altman doesn't make it, take a chance and hire Brian Robbins. You will be blown away by his ability to show up.
2 Orson Welles + 2 Good Burger = 4 Brian Robbins' Director's Commentary for Hardball
See It For:
(second photo) Brian Robbins asking G-Baby for more "sassy rapping" to fully flesh out his exposé of life across the racial divide in America's inner cities.
Photo Captions: "Yes, Keanu, I know you know Kung Fu. But there's no Kung Fu in this movie, so quit kicking the Kekambas. And quit asking me if I tagged that Simone broad! I'm telling you, I had no chance. Take off those glasses, and that Arvid guy was a stud!"