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Knight at the Movies: Valentino; I Love You, Man; Film note
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2009-03-25

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A peek inside an unimaginably lavish lifestyle, a rare insider's look at the world of haute couture, a thoughtful depiction of a fashion doyenne par excellence, and—overriding everything else—an enduring, endearing portrait of two men entering their fifth decade as business partners and as a couple. That's Valentino: The Last Emperor, the impressive documentary portrait by Vanity Fair special correspondent Matt Tyrnauer, who makes his directorial debut with this marvelously entertaining film.

The openly gay Tyrnauer's movie follows Italian fashion designer Valentino and his longtime business and life partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, as they work in tandem on what turned out to be the designer's last two collections. Given unprecedented access to the elusive Valentino, Tyrnauer and his team capture a genius at work sketching and kvetching ( constantly ) while his partner handles the details of Valentino's business and runway shows. Ensconced in a lavish bubble, traveling by private Lear jet with their six pugs between a chateau in Paris, an Italian villa in Rome, a ski chalet in Gstaad and a luxurious yacht, the sumptuousness of their lifestyle provides the movie with enough visual eye candy for a dozen films. But the settings are simply stage sets for an intimate look at a couple who have longed learned to take the trappings for granted. The focus is on creating a shared vision of something beautiful ( and in Valentino's clothes, beauty becomes tangible ) .

As we follow Valentino through his last two years of designing and Giammetti working behind the scenes—from the spring/summer collection of 2006 to the star-studded 45th-anniversary celebration that capped his career—we get a lovely sense of the dynamics of the relationship between the two ( which dates back to 1960 ) . Valentino, it quickly becomes obvious, is used to having the final say on everything, and these two micromanagers gently disagree on many things. At one point Giammetti mutters to the camera under his breath, "It gets worse every day," but then when Valentino receives the Legion of Honor he finishes his speech with a very moving—and public—tribute to Giammetti. Tyrnauer cuts back and forth between the two men, each in tears and it's not just a very moving moment: It's the emotional peak of the film.

The film then moves on to the opulent July 2007 celebration festivities and focuses on whether Valentino will continue to design. At 75 with his contract expiring, the bottom line has changed—couture is no longer as in demand and few can afford $100,000 hand-stitched dresses. It's the ancillary products, with their lucrative licensing fees, that have long become more important to the bottom line. When Karl Lagerfeld, walking hand in hand with Valentino during the celebration, gazes upon a retrospective of Valentino gowns and comments, "Compared to us, the rest are making rugs," you realize he's right and a sadness momentarily hangs over the celebration.

But unlike the icy Lagerfeld, who didn't give off much in his insider documentary, Lagerfeld Confidential ( a fascinating counterpart to this movie ) , Tyrnauer pulls off the delightful feat of humanizing the designer and his counterpart. Artistic genius and business acumen aside, in bringing the relationship of the two men front and center Valentino: The Last Emperor has given the world—and LGBT audiences in particular—a beautifully observed portrait of a gay power couple that is as entertaining as it is illuminating.

I Love You, Man—the likeable comedy that stars pudgy, sweet-faced Paul Rudd and the easygoing Jason Segel—continues the new, enlightened direction that "guy" movies have been taking as of late. These movies have now passed the "dude don't touch me faggot" phase and have instead taken to heart the importance of male bonding without all the dreary sexual hang-ups. I love that the term "bromance" has entered the lexicon, and here is yet another comedy that says its okay for straight guys to get cozy and intimate with one another. And they won't lose an ounce of testosterone if they admit to liking a hardcore chick flick like Chocolat. That's just one of the funny gags in I Love You, Man, a movie that's sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Everyone in the movie—a batch of crude talkers—is a master/mistress of snark ( especially the ladies, who trash talk like grown-up versions of the Heathers ) . Everyone that is except Rudd, who does his best to be hip but can't quite join the cynical parade of humanity around him. Andy Samberg plays his gay younger brother, a gym trainer with a thing for straight guys and the dad, played by J.K. Simmons, affirms that Andy's his best friend; the gay character is again shown as an example for the straight ones to look up to and emulate ( another trend that's quite heartening to see ) .

The plot revolves around Rudd, who only has women friends, trying to find a best man for his impending nuptials. By chance he meets up with Segel, and the two improbably become best buds. ( Their bonding over the arena-rock group Rush is hilarious. ) With all the characters spewing snark left and right, the movie really brightens considerably when Segel enters the picture. He's a big, shambling guy—one of those guys who's completely comfortable in his own skin; he's so laid-back and cool you can't help but like him.

Though the comedy bits in the movie are rather hit-or-miss ( relying too heavily on Rudd's unfailing ability to get laughs with his nerdish line readings ) , the relationship between the two friends is enough to put I Love You, Man in the plus column.

Film note:

On Saturday, March 27, at 7 p.m., Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, will present the Chicago premiere of State Legislature, the latest film from master documentarian Frederick Wiseman. Wiseman, who has chronicled everything from department stores to high schools—and first came to prominence 40 years ago with his exposure of horrid conditions in a mental hospital in Titicut Follies—presents his often-lengthy films ( this one's three and a half hours ) without narration or comment. ( Think C-SPAN with much more judicious cutting. ) State Legislature sounds like classic Wiseman—a bird's-eye view of Idaho lawmakers at work on a myriad of social issues. www.chicagofilmmakers.org

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.


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