‘Alfie’ still wonders what it’s all aboutThe 1966 movie “Alfie” made Michael Caine’s career. He played a cold, heartless cad pursuing glamorous birds in the “Swinging London” of the 1960s. The movie was nominated for five Oscars, including best actor; Caine eventually titled his biography “What’s It All About,” after a catchphrase in the film. A recent BBC review said the movie “broke new ground by interspersing its amorous anti-hero’s sexual conquests with frank and witty confessionals delivered straight to the camera.”
The new version of “Alfie” is set in New York, with Jude Law in the lead. Law’s Alfie is a chauffeur with a wardrobe alphabetized from Gucci to Prada, and a shoe collection he keeps in boxes, with a Polaroid of the shoes taped to each box. Alfie is in search of a “showstopper” woman who can keep his interest; in the meantime, he charms and beds woman after woman. As in the original, he sometimes speaks to the audience directly, almost as if trying to justify his behavior.
This remake, directed by Charles Shyer (best known for the Steve Martin remake of “Father of the Bride”), may not be the groundbreaking film that the original was, but it’s well-made, entertaining and relevant. It’s visually pleasing, imbued at times with a deliberate craftsmanship reminiscent of a magazine spread. The movie also delivers an emotional punch. It resonates as true in the way that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise” does.
The issues that Alfie grapples with, if womanizing can be considered a moral dilemma for the womanizer, are still around today. Some of the situations in the updated “Alfie” represent the changes in society between the 1960s and the 2000s. Interracial dating is now acceptable, for instance, and never has it been more apparent that the older, single women of today may prefer younger men in the way that older men have traditionally preferred younger women. Times have changed. And this Alfie doesn’t break hearts so much as offer a sort of temporary relief to the women he flits between.
First there’s Dorie (Jane Krakowski), whose husband hasn’t touched her in months. She becomes too attached, and Alfie simply disappears from her life. There’s Julie (Marisa Tomei), a single mother; she may not be a showstopper, but what’s a man to do when he falls for her adorable son? There’s the young blonde Nikki (Sienna Miller, Law’s fiancee in real life); she’s a beautiful sculpture, but damaged in a way that he doesn’t notice until he gets close.
There’s Liz (Susan Sarandon), an older, self-made cosmetics mogul who sees a younger version of herself in Alfie. And there’s Lonette (Nia Long), ex-girlfriend of his best friend (Omar Epps). In a way, these women serve as stereotypes, but they are also representations of society’s evolutions.
And at first, it seems as if Alfie is in an ideal situation with these women. But he finds himself losing his bearings and asking himself that question: “What’s it all about?” The answer is never clear, and Alfie doesn’t set out to redeem himself. But “Alfie” was never a movie about morality. It’s more one man’s brush with the shadow of love.
Drama, Comedy / English
by Joe Yonghee