Movies you should own: Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel & Laurence

Rom-com meets Rashomon

From the 17th March, Film4 are going to have a new range of budget DVD titles. The RRP is £6.99 and the films being released are:

  • The Yards
  • My Beautiful Launderette
  • She’s All That
  • Bostonians
  • Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel & Laurence
  • Raining Stones
  • Another Country
  • Maurice
  • Monsoon Wedding
  • Life is Sweet
  • Sexy Beast
  • Bread and Roses
  • Dogma
  • Buffalo Soldiers
  • My Name is Joe
  • Riff Raff
  • Heat and Dust
  • Europeans
  • Blue Juice
  • Gangster No. 1

I’ve just checked Amazon and they’re listing them at £15.99 discounted to £11.99, so I’d advise buying them in shops while the initial discount campaign is running at least.

Anyway, since I’m very partial to Monica Potter, Rufus Sewell and Ray Winstone, and don’t mind Tom Hollander (shame about Joseph Fiennes though), I ordered up a nice review copy of Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel & Laurence as a sample of the range.

They sent me 10.

Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel And Laurence

Okay, they were 10 different DVDs, two of which were Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence. Which was nice, since it’s going to be the second entry in the “Movies you should own” section of this blog.

Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel & Laurence, also known as The Very Thought of You in the US and MMFDL here because I’m tired of re-typing it, is quite a nice little rom-com with ambitions. It’s a bit like Pulp Fiction or Rashomon in structure, but without the murders, etc, obviously.

Laurence (Joseph Fiennes) has a problem, something he decides to share with his next door neighbour (Ray Winstone) at 5am, because he thinks he needs a psychiatrist. The trouble is his two childhood friends: jet-set lawyer Daniel (Tom Hollander) and failed actor Frank (Rufus Sewell). They – and he – have met this American woman, Martha (Monica Potter), who’s taken the first flight to anywhere that she could afford and has randomly come to London to escape from her terrible life in the US.

Except they’ve all met her separately and they’ve all fallen in love with her. So Laurence relates each of their encounters with Martha, which turn out to have overlapped in odd ways. What seems an odd coincidence, decision or event in one story turns out to have an explanation in another.

MMFDL is a 1998 film (oh Sweet Jesus how time passes. It’s a whole decade ago!) and lies somewhere between the “eccentric Brits” rom coms of the early 90s (cf Four Weddings) and later “Cool Britannia” films that have a slightly less antediluvian view of England. The South Bank’s just starting to look cool, it’s glorious sunshine most of the time with minimal use of rain, and no one owns a castle or mansion. We even have Martha and Frank competing over who has the worst life, with Frank citing his horrible bedsit in his defence. He eventually trumps her “goes to sleep to the sound of police helicopters and gunfire” with “arrested three times for falling asleep in the street, drunk.”

It’s all a rather sweet take on love at first sight, friendship and “finding yourself”. The dialogue’s sparky and occasionally laugh out loud funny and the twists and turns, while leading to a near inevitable and predictable outcome, still manage to surprise: you expect certain clichés and quite often they appear but are then inverted. Potter’s kookily mesmerising, if a little wooden – sort of the previous romcom generation’s Zooey Deschanel – and Fiennes is a bit wet. But Sewell is as charismatic as always, without managing to steal the movie, something Ray Winstone almost manages to do with probably his most understated performance ever.

As for the DVD itself, there’s a new set of titles compared with the previous release, designed to bring it in line with the new Film4 branding. The extra features are pretty minimal, since the content hasn’t been updated since the 1999 issue, so there’s a trailer and a behind the scenes documentary that puts the “ette” in “featurette”, but that’s about it. Picture quality is very good and while the sound quality is good, it’s all very low, so you’ll be cranking the volume up on your tele quite high if you ever buy it.

At £6.99, it’s quite a bargain, so if you’re going to buy it, buy it now rather than wait until the price goes up – or wait a very long time for it to start winding up in the bargain bins of pound shops again. It’s a shame that this is really just a rebranding exercise – Film4 could be a name associated with quality in the world of DVDs, just as it is in the broadcast sphere. Instead, they’ve gone for minimalist reissuing of existing titles. Maybe we’ll get something better for the Blu-Ray releases. However, the three high def titles being released on the 31st of this month (Touching the Voice, Motorcycle Diaries, East Is East) are all coming out on HD-DVD. I asked whether there’s a Blu-Ray strategy yet and they told me to “keep watching this space”. That would be a no for now, then.

Now for some YouTube content for MMFDL. First is the trailer, then an interview with the ever so gentle Joseph Fiennes. I’ve also included a clip of Monica Potter on the alleged comedy Head Case, which started on Starz in the US this month. She should be more famous.

  • Stu

    I’m not ashamed to say I bloody love MMFDL. It had the misfortune of being released I think the same week as Sliding Doors which the publicity didn’t do much to dissuade the potential audience that they were v. different films. I saw them as double bill and liked them for different reasons, although I think this has more heart.
    Should you ever have the chance, there is another Monica Potter film in a similar mode which skipped this country — despite the cast — and is equally sweet. It’s called I’m With Lucy and I wrote about it here:
    It is a shame that FilmFour still have their mits on Dogma though — it’s because they part financed it I think. I imagine this’ll just be a rerelease of the old vanilla rather than the extras filled US edition:

  • Unfortunately, Dogma wasn’t one of the ten DVDs so I can’t help you out there.
    I spotted I’m With Lucy during my research (you can pretty much watch all of it on YouTube if you want) and thought to myself “My, that Monica Potter pretty much has the ‘three or more men chasing after one woman’ genre down pat.” Looked interesting, too, and your write up suggests I should find the time to sit down in front of YouTube and watch it.
    Since, depressingly, I have a ‘type’ – namely, the feisty blonde – I too am a big fan of Sliding Doors, although naturally I think the wrong Gwyneth triumphs at the end. One Gwyneth dumps her rubbish boyfriend, sticks by her friends, starts up her own business and meets a nice (albeit Monty Python-quoting) guy; the other stands by her man, works dead-end jobs to support him then gets pregnant by the philandering swine. Which one gets mown down by a van? The first one! What kind of message is that? Oh well, it had to happen that way, I guess.

  • Stu

    The ending to Sliding Doors is the gold standard of a writer not knowing how to resolve the high concept idea they’ve had. It’s a casualty of being written in the Hollywood narrative style I guess. If it had been an art film it probably would have just ended or with a split screen of both women walking off into the distance in their own worlds. Have you seen Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique? V similar idea but done in a far more ambiguous way.
    In a similar vein I’d also recommend the Jennifer Garner film 13 Going On 30 which is far cleverer than the box and publicity suggest. On the commentary, the director, who’d previously worked on indies, essentially says on the commentary ‘I wanted to take this Hollywood teen comedy and make it more worthwhile and deeper’. If you have seen it, what did you make of that ending?

  • Peter Howell pretty much admits in the Sliding Doors scriptbook that he’s not a proper writer, just an actor with an idea, and it was Sidney Lumet who helped him craft something together.
    I’m a little more tolerant of the ending. It’s relatively consistent with the rest of the movie’s theme: that accidents can change your whole life.
    Strand 1 is the more subversive, in that sense, since it’s quite ‘un-American’ – feisty blonde Gwyneth does almost all the right things, takes charge of her life, etc, but just when everything’s going so well, a freak accident destroys everything. The moral of that strand is that control is an illusion and the universe is cruel and capricious. Sign the audience up for a course in French existentialism faster than you can say “Hien? Quoi?”.
    Strand 2 is the optimistic strand. That says that no matter how much you balls up your life, no matter how many wrong choices you make, there’s never a point of no return and somehow things will work out all right in the end.
    So you can effectively take away the message that you want about the universe: an optimistic one or a pessimistic one. More importantly, for me, anyway, taken as a whole it suggests that in Everett’s interpretation of quantum mechanics, the eigenstates of Schrödinger’s Hamiltonian are not independent, which is a far more important conclusion.
    The two women walking away into their own lives might have been interesting if unfeisty brunette Gwyneth ends up dying her hair blonde at the end, suggesting a Kieslowski-like Trois Couleurs “history is about to repeat” itself motif, while feisty blonde Gwyneth lives happily ever after, but it would then have left us only with the optimistic message, rather than the double-edge dual message of the original. All the same, I still think FB Gwyneth should have survived.
    I have to admit that while I have seen Double Vie, it was such a long time ago that I can’t remember much of the plot so the ending’s a bit of a blur. Which is embarrassing. I steered clear of 13 Going on 30 since it looked like a teen comedy and got bad reviews. I’ll check it out when I have a mo.

  • Is this a rare example of the romantic comedy that men love and women hate? I *loathed* Martha meet boring guys 1, 2 and 3.

  • MediumRob

    Could be. My wife doesn’t especially like it either. It does seem to have more of a male viewpoint than other romcoms I could think of.
    Maybe the males in the audience are all looking at Martha and thinking “she’s kind of nice”, and failing to notice that F, D and L are a bit dull individually. Although F isn’t that dull – he’s just not a very desirable commodity.
    All the same, I do agree that she could have done better than L.

  • Peds corner here but should that 31 March title be “Touching the Void“?
    And in terms of male / female responses to MMFDL at least be grateful that it doesn’t have the imposed ‘humour for blokes’ of “Along Came Polly”.

  • Probably. I just copied and pasted them from the press release. I had to adjust MMFDL from Martha Meet Frank Daniel Lawrence so I’m prepared to believe there are other mistakes in it 😉
    I follow the Kermode’s advice on movie with Jennifer Aniston in them…

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