Tom Hanks’ production company is planning a remake of Olivier Assayas’ “Summer Hours,” news that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Assuming someone can get it together for an adequate rewrite, the result won’t be remotely the same movie. It might not be any good either, but that has nothing to do with trying to transfer over imaginary French intangibles.
“Summer Hours” takes work seriously — in its story of a three adult siblings gathering to divide and dispose of their mother’s house and possessions, we’re constantly being reminded of who works in what business in what country — and no, they’re not all book-critics and lollygagging workshirkers, as the stereotypes have it. (One of the children manages a Nike plant in Beijing, which is about as red-meat American business as you could ask for.) And the movie takes this seriously: it presents us with people whose work has a tangible but not overbearing presence in their lives.
None of which is true in the average American movie. Office jobs can be a mixture of tedium, camaraderie and (if you’re lucky) occasionally interesting work, but for some reason, in movies, the most ever see of your average workspace is in romcoms — the better to inappropriately demonstrate ebullience/despair in a professional context, or to prance through on the way to the next date.
That is, unless you’re always working, in which case you’re probably one of those terrible, heartless harried fathers always leaving your kids’ ballet recital/spelling bee/soccer event to take a phone call or a meeting (probably the single most mindlessly manipulative cliche that exists in family movies). Or unless you’re a police officer, or a writer, or a politician, or Michael Douglas, or… you get the idea. There’s cinematically appropriate employment that can ground whole movies. But if you work your average, keep-your-head-down kind of job, good luck with that.
The only movie I can think of of a fairly recent vintage that tries to take work seriously is 2004’s “In Good Company” — not a perfect movie, by any means, but one which tries to seriously figure out what it means to work in the midst of the middle class while trying to wrap your head around globalization and the implications of the changing face of business. It works the texture of employment concerns into family life, something most American movies can’t be bothered to do. (And on the Amerindie end, only those operating under conditions of crushing poverty or artistic pursuits need apply.)
I suppose in “Summer Hours, American EST,” any businessmen involved won’t talk intelligently about the implications of their job; they’ll just be checking their BlackBerries and failing to bond with their kids. It speaks volumes about how much most Americans feel about their jobs, and how completely they try to erase it from their lives when they’re out of the office.
[Photos: “Summer Hours,” IFC, 2008; “In Good Company,” Universal, 2004]