Sap and cheese aren't just the chief ingredients of an especiallydisgusting breakfast, they're the chosen weapons of Hollywoodtearjerkers.
But evoking emotions in an audience is like killing a relative for theinsurance money. You have to be sneaky. You can't just pack your filmwith heartfelt speeches and dying but brave children--the cinematicequivalent of the candlestick in the observatory--it needs to besubtle enough that emotion appears without us realizing where and howit happened. You know, like poisoning your spouse with mercury-lacedsalmon, or bumping your grandpa off the edge of a scenic cliff. Provethat one, cops.
Will Smith isn't known for subtlety, but then I'm not known for notbeing lazy, and just the other day I got out of bed. Tomorrow, I mightbrush my tooth. If Smith's new movie Seven Pounds isn't whollysap- and cheese-free, it's definitely a step in the right direction.
Several years ago, Smith was in a car wreck that killed seven people,including his wife. Now, as an IRS auditor, he's trying to atone bygiving tax breaks to those in desperate circumstances -- if they're goodpeople.
Among them is Rosario Dawson, a woman with a congenital heart defectand a load of medical bills. Smith clears up her tax problems, butDawson begins to fall for him -- and though he's guilt-crippled by whathe's done and distracted by the other people he's trying to help, hestarts to develop feelings for her, too.
By all rights, here's what Seven Pounds should have been: WillSmith is vulnerable but good-hearted, he charms his way into ourhearts and pants, everyone ends up happy and has beautiful babies,handkerchiefs are passed out in the theater, roll credits.
Instead, it's an understated, gimmick-free journey that largely avoidsnaked sentiment through the ancient secret of what we in the biz call"good writing." Writer Grant Nieporte, who's only worked in TV to thispoint, gives Smith and Dawson deceptively simple dialogue that ends upsounding natural instead of forcedly clever. Rather than Smith kickingin the ultra-charm like a RomanceBot 3000 who's two smooth lines fromexploding while Dawson sits around and looks pretty, theirrelationship finds a way to be quiet, strange, but plausible.
Oh, and you know how in real life, people never, ever say how theyfeel because talking about feelings is scary and we're all putrid,stinking cowards? The people in Seven Pounds never come rightout with it either, yet their emotions still emerge clearly. Godlikefeat of screenwriting prowess? More like basic competence, but thething about basic competence is most people don't have it.
This naturalism extends to Smith's big plan, which is kept secret(until being weirdly telegraphed by director Gabriele Muccino abouttwo-thirds in) without the use of dirty tricks and outrightmanipulation common to directors who think we're all stupid jerks whodeserve to have the rug yanked out from us so hard our heels burstinto flame.
As for Smith's finale, it's gonna be divisive -- in isolation, it's tooneat by half, and it's sappy as a lumberjack's flannel. Also, it'sinspiring, which is another word for "idiotic." But after thecontrolled and understated story that led up to it, I bought it, andmy heart's so black pumping ink would actually make it whiter.
There are moments in its middle when it meanders, and it can't alwayskeep its melodramatic tendencies under control. But by consistentlyunderplaying its most emotional scenes, Seven Pounds comes offbetter than it had any right to be.