Hollywood loves the "seize the day" picture ' life transformation! From ugly ducking to princess, from troubled to carefree, from misdirection to fulfillment. Although there is always an element of Capra-corn to the genre, at their best these pics can be heartwarming, even inspiring. Good Will Hunting managed it, mostly, even with the presence of Robin Williams in one of his neutered guru roles. Life or Something Like It does not.
It's hard to wade through the layers of phoniness at play here, because this is a phony film about a big phony. The scenario you're supposed to opt into is this: Lanie Kerrigan (Angelina Jolie), a Seattle television "lifestyle" reporter, is assigned to work with Pete (Edward Burns), a cameraman she hates, or pretends to hate because they have an undeniable sexual attraction that they're both desperate to suppress. We're supposed to glean this from their witty sexual banter, the sophistication of which would make any group of sixth-graders seem like characters in a NoÃl Coward play. The two team up to interview a homeless man, Prophet Jack (Tony Shalhoub), who tells the future on a streetcorner soapbox. On-camera, he predicts which team will win the football game, that it will hail and that Lanie's going to die the following Thursday.
The football prediction comes true. It hails. And Lanie? In her few days to live, will she stop being a shallow, weight-obsessed fame-seeker and become ' what? A person full of substance with a more down-to-earth wardrobe? Unclear.
Lanie, who from childhood has been insecure in the shadow of her cheerleader sister, has been on a "meaningless quest for the approval of others," yet seems to have transcended that to become a natural egomaniac. When she's out on a "story," she's the real story ' the basis of each segment she does is "I am a TV personality." Her hair ' her "trademark" ' and makeup make Lanie look about 45, like a puffy-lipped Stepford wife. Jolie's trademark as an actress has been her heavy, I'll-do-anything sensuality; here she only occasionally emerges from the Avon Lady facade. The limper Lanie's hair gets, the more appealing she is. Even so, the pivotal scene where she supposedly "lets go" and becomes "her real self" is the movie at its most concocted and unconvincing.
Shalhoub's would-be prophet is one of the film's more interesting characters, yet we never find out if he's a psychotic or just a homeless guy trying to make a couple bucks. Stockard Channing is also good in a cameo as a famous newswoman, though her scene with Jolie is completely illogical.
The romantic comedy falls flat. The mystical suspense angle falls flat. The rhythm of Lanie's transformation is all wrong ' what's left? Jolie is game, but Lanie's awkward combination of smart and stupid, lost and super-directed, doesn't add up. This film is less likely to leave the cockles of your heart warmed than your eyes rolling to the theater's ceiling.