Movies We Like
The Linguini Incident
Following the death of David Bowie last month, many people are no doubt still rewatching films that he starred or was featured in. I've always paid close attention to the similarities in Bowie's acting throughout his career and noticed an almost adorable sense of charm that I'd assume was fed by his neurotic and eclectic personality. These qualities shine and lend a certain edge to films like The Man Who Fell to Earth, Labyrinth and The Hunger. Somehow in the midst of all the obvious options of films I had almost forgotten that, for me, the same can be said the lesser-known flick The Linguini Incident.
The movie is a contemporary screwball comedy that fits the “formula” to a T. It's female-driven, features a zany romantic plot that emphasizes silliness more than sentiment and even has the typical love triangle. The dialog is choppy and awkward and the jokes are suggestive without being offensive or crude. Unlike romantic comedies—the predecessor of screwball you could say—films like this are refreshing as they bring on lots of laughs without manifesting cheap sentiment. In fact, there's virtually nothing to be gained in the movie except for laughs and it's completely merited.
Rosanna Arquette (Pulp Fiction) plays Lucy, a young vivacious woman who's obsessed with Houdini and wants to be an escape artist. Instead she's a waitress at a strange but chic restaurant called Dali. David Bowie stars as Monte, a suave yet slightly off-putting Englishman who's the new bartender at Dali and a pathological liar. Both are desperate and in need of $10,000. Lucy needs the money to afford a very special item that directly correlates to her lifelong dream. Monte, whose current ambition is to wed an American by the week's end, needs it to pay the “going rate” for a woman to marry him to obtain a green card. Monte literally asks every waitress in the place and, when up against Lucy, one could consider their rocky interaction a “meet cute.”
The rest of the loopy plot has everything essential: a pace that is languid and relentless, plus circumstances and details that are both charming and embarrassing and therefore non-threatening and easy to enjoy. Some of the most minute details in the movie have the power to bring waves of laughter. This is one of the reasons screwball comedies were so successful, in my opinion. The audience could, and was expected to, find innuendo in the little details: a headline in a newspaper or a smart joke that alludes to something mature, for example. Who could forget and not have a smile spread on their face in It Happened One Night in which the pair “tears down” the figurative Wall of Jericho—representing in the Code era that the two were finally going to consummate their love? The Linguini Incident has that same quality, achieved mostly by way of props. There's even a brief cameo by Iman and, to understand the joke, you'd have had to know that she and Bowie were dating or possibly even engaged at the time. Such pop culture references in today's comedies are often done with such excess and/or ease that it takes away a lot of the fun.
The final large element that helps define the film as a contemporary screwball comedy is the love triangle. This is fulfilled by Vivian (Eszter Balint, Stranger Than Paradise), another waitress at Dali who's Lucy's best friend and makeshift magic assistant. She also designs and makes self-defense lingerie: push-up bras that protract switchblades, ones with thorns, etc. She and Lucy are participants in a playful competition to win Monte's affection, though Lucy plays her love games using quirky disdain for him while Vivian maintains an awkward shyness. Once Lucy and Monte join forces and plan to rob the restaurant to get their much-needed funds, they realize they need a third person to assist. The two close in on the self-sacrificing Vivian who can't seem to decline and adds a lot of hilarity to the caper.
The Linguini Incident is simple, and that's what makes it so refreshing. The cast is obviously aware of the film's silliness, and if that's to be expected, just about any adult or teen can find enjoyment. It's also comprised of several noteworthy actors in secondary roles, such as Buck Henry (The Graduate, Get Smart). For Bowie fans, I would say it's also special as the film did come during a big turning point in the artist's life. Bowie stated in at least one interview that in The Man Who Fell to Earth, what the audience was seeing was very true to reality; he was a man coming undone and grappling with a sense of alienation. I'd like to think that his personality and situation was always evident in his acting, and if you'd agree, you'll find an example here of the man when he was finally feeling grounded enough to be playful and laugh at himself, which is very important. This also happens to be my favorite role of Arquette's, who truly shines in one of the sweetest and most charming female roles that comes to mind. She, and other members of the cast, usually play such perturbed or disturbed characters that to see the exact opposite is truly a pleasure to behold. Highly recommended.