Dragonfly

Lovely parting gift basket from a ghost
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2002
Director: 
Tom Shadyac
Starring: 
Kevin Costner, Kathy Bates, Joe Morton, Susanna Thompson
The Setup: 
Guy is receiving messages from his dead wife.
Discussion: 

This has been on my list pretty much since it came out. This is the sort of thing I think is awful, and it was, yet is usually totally watchable, and I'm as up for spooky chills as the next person. This came out around the same time as The Mothman Prophecies, however, and that was the one I chose to see in the theater. This one still lingered, however, and seeing as I had quite a few serious movies coming up, I decided I needed something totally silly, and this was it.

The DVD opens with a trailer for The Scorpion King, which can only bring a chuckle now. That anyone would want to see that! Then the movie proper starts and right away were in Venezuela, where Kevin Costner's wife Emily is a saint providing medical care to poor kids, when there's some politics of some kind and she has to get in a bus, and before you can say boo is sliding down the hill to her doom. Only we don't even get to SEE the bus crash! Movie's barely begun, and already I feel cheated.

Then it's Chicago of present day and Costner is physician Joe, who has become a workaholic because he can't deal with the pain of missing his wife. Also in here I learned to my horror that this is directed by Tom Shadyac, who is resonsible for such banalities as Patch Adams and Bruce [and Evan] Almighty. It also has that typical yuppie-entertainment-lite music which is that hideous stuff quite endemic to the time where you'd have a blanket of lush strings with a few tinkly piano notes dotted on for effect. This music has been proven to cause spontaneous combustion in lab rats. Anyway, it's a rainy night on the cliche ward, and Joe refuses to treat a suicide, saying "I'm interested in people who want to live." He then delivers a 6-month developed fetus stuck inside a dying mother via C-section. You might be distracted by asking yourself if this is really the best thing for the child, the city, the state, or the nation, and not know until later that this little event is QUITE pertinent to the way all this works out.

After work, Joe goes to the bar, where his friends are laughing over the GOOD TIMES and downing some cold brews! God, these people are just all so market-tested, such perfect little consumers who never have a thought that isn't putting good money into the American economy. Joe only stays a second [so then why the fuck did he GO?! The scene doesn't even introduce any important characters!] then goes back to his gorgeous and GINORMOUS house. This is the kind of place that only movie characters live in, with all sorts of wooden features and huge leaded windows over the gigantic wooden stairs. Next door lives useless character Kathy Bates. This movie came out in that post-Misery period where everyone was trying to find something to do with her, even though there were no roles for her. We have a flashback in which we see that Emily had a dragonfly-like birthmark on hr back, and soon learn she was obsessed with dragonflies. Hmmm, I knew the movie had to be named that for SOME reason.

Then Joe has fallen asleep at the hospital--hiding from his pain, ya know--in one of those hospital corridors that may be MORE dark and deserted than the ones in Halloween II. He hears a voice calling to him! Then a young black boy comes by, and dies on the table, then comes back to life. The next time Joe sees him, he's drawing this symbol of these two wavy lines making a cross, and says that he saw Emily "Inside the rainbow... in the mist. She flew me out... So I could tell somebody a message." Soon after, another kid on the ward who has had near-death experiences is drawing the same symbol, and is telling Joe he saw Emily too, and she wants him to "go there." Okay, now can you see the symbol in the picture above?

This is the one that appears a thousand times in the movie, and is also all over the movie's marketing materials and the DVD menu and everywhere. And when I look at it, even before seeing the actual movie, and think "It looks like a waterfall." Furthermore, we are, throughout the movie, looking at pictures of Emily in front of huge waterfalls in Venezuela. And the other messages, about rainbows and mist--such as are seen at the base of waterfalls--also cement this impression. Well, if this thought has crossed your mind, you are ten steps ahead of poor hapless Joe, who is apparently QUITE an idiot without the tiniest bit of imagination, and by the way, you have over an hour of movie ahead of you before poor stupid Joe figures out what is going on. He's just particularly thick.

So Joe's chillin' in his palatial homestead when he hears a noise downstairs, the parrot [let's not get into it] talks--which it only does when Emily is present--and Joe goes down and sees a dragonfly outside the window, and, for a flash, sees Emily. He later discovers a ton of little waterfall marks all over the windows. If you watch the deleted scenes and the trailer you'll see that originally there were many more flashes of Emily hanging around, and there was a dream where a ton of CGI dragonflies burst through the window. Still, Joe is like "DUH! What could it mean?!"

Then there's some bullshit with Linda Hunt as a nun--again, let's just not go there, although it's always nice to see Ms. Hunt. Then comes the point in the decreed script-o-matic perfect plot machine's subroutine where Joe has to decide that he's just been silly and needs to give up all this business! So he packs up all Emily's clothes, but a second later--they're all back in the closet! So let me see if I have this straight--she can transport large volumes of clothes across distances, yet can't do anything more than scratch out some symbol? She can't write "Waterfall" for instance? Or buy a copy of TLC's "Waterfalls" and leave it on Joe's desk? Or circle the waterfall in one of her numerous pictures with a sharpie? Director Shadyac actually addresses this in the commentary, saying "Well, how do we know what the dead can or can't do?" And it's true, we don't know, but if you're showing her as able to do all THIS stuff, it starts to seem odd that she can't do THAT stuff. And the impression that starts to really come across is that the movie is stringing us along as long as possible.

Anyway, finally a map whooshes up onto a table and Joe sees the symbol on the map, and figures out it's a waterfall. Then he realizes what a goddamned worthless dumbshit he's been this entire movie, and kills himself, joining Emily in the afterlife. Actually he doesn't, because that would imply that he has some capacity for self-reflection, which the movie has provided incontrovertible evidence is not the case. Instead he realizes he must away to Venezuela! Great job figuring that out, Joe! Now you've caught up with the rest of us! Here's your pudding cup, and if you're good the rest of the week we'll give you a pizza party at Chuck E. Cheese!

SPOILERS > > >
So Joe aways to Venezuela and goes to the place where the bus crashed--after some asking for directions from the natives. There was a lot of political hugger-mugger about where he could and could not go, which I believe was there just so we could have Joe jump off a waterfall in a symbolic leap of faith. I confess the details are blurry because I was fast-forwarding through it, eager to get this movie over with. Anyway, there's the bus, still stuck at the base of the waterfall, and Joe swims in, then gets his foot stuck as it fills up with water, at which point he has a near-death experience of his own, and sees his wife appear with hand outstretched in ye olde peaceful and comforting light. Then this other guy pulls Joe out and he lives, and is taken to a bunch more natives, where I started fast-forwarding again, and eventually, after some sort of native controversy, is brought into the big secret hut! Is he going to find Emily there, alive and in a coconut shell bikini, recumbent on a grass chaise and slowly devouring syrup-coated hissing beetles? No, but there is a lovely gift basket, and inside--a baby! It's JOE'S baby. Remember back when I said it was an important thematic thing when Joe choses to deliver the premature baby from the dead mother, despite the fact that it will enter the foster system in cash-starved Illinois and more than likely enter a life of drug addiction and prostitution upon maturity? Well, same thing here, where apparently Emily's still-warm corpse washed up on the shores and the natives pulled out her baby, putting it on layaway for Joe to claim later. Anyway, all this cynicism is not the intended response; you're supposed to tilt your head to the side and say "Awwww!" We have a final shot of the child a few years later, blonde and radiant like a toddler version of Emily as outfitted by Laura Ashley kids, playing in dried leaves, as young white affluent suburban kids seemingly endlessly do, there's a tedpid yuppie rock song by a forgotten group, and we're out.
< < < SPOILERS END

Yeah, it was fairly dreadful. I mean, I [and, I hope, you] are not the audience for this kind of thing. This is for people who self-generate warm, fuzzy feelings from vague, blurry spirituality and affirmations that everything's going to be all right. I suspect there's a high correlation with enjoyment of seeing a bunch of yellow lab puppies in a wicker basket with a big red bow. It's just that kind of Hallmark-card, mid-90s VH1, Oprah-lovin' yuppie thing that seemed a little dated and irrelevant when it was out and hasn't aged well.

So I skipped through commentary [you can often get a surprisingly good sense of a commentary by listening for a second or so at the chapter stops] and I have to say Shadyac earned a lot of goodwill from me by discussing the problems of the movie and how they had to go through a number of edits in order to get it right, describing it as too slow and talky up front. I admire that--most commentaries, even for the worst movies, tend to skip over all problems and try to act as though whatever it is was released to universal acclaim and is in line for preservation at the Smithsonian. That's great. But it doesn't change the fact that the movie is just so much schmatlzy garbage. I was hoping for a lot more spooky freak-outs, such as the similar Mothman Prophecies had, but this one is more about gauzy feel-good affirmations, and ghosts are just here to facilitate that. This is the kind of thing you're expecting to hear about when you visit the retirement community and your grandmother tells you she just saw the BEST movie on the USA Network. Everyone else, stay away.

Should you watch it: 

I kind of hope that if you're reading this site, you're the kind of person who would have no interest in this.