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When writing and acting overcome a formula

Posted at 1:07 PM on May 11, 2009 by Euan Kerr

Over the weekend we saw two very different movies which followed a predictable formula, but the writing and the acting made the films so interesting they overcame the fact you knew where this was going.

Israeli director Eran Riklis' film "Lemon Tree" tells the story of a Palestinian woman's struggle to protect her family's lemon grove after the Israeli Defense minister builds his dream home next door. Mossad security experts decide the grove is a perfect hiding place for snipers, and order the removal of the trees. The woman, named Salma, takes the case to court, arguing the grove which has been in her family for decades has never been a place where terrorists have hidden, and it's her sole source of income. The minister's wife Mira recognizes Salma as a kindred spirit, but doesn't know how she can help.

It's clear things aren't going to end happily.

Hiam Abbass plays Salma with a mixture of earth mother patience and barely suppressed fury. (Abbass played the mother in "The Visitor" last year.) Salma is in many ways a simple woman with simple needs, but Abbass plays her in such a way she becomes an everywoman who represents all of us who have ever run into bureaucracy. It's well worth watching.

"Role Models," now out on DVD, is at the end of the spectrum, but is similarly surprising in how the acting and the script pulls it from the mire. Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott play two smart alec yahoos who get themselves out of jail time by agreeing to mentor kids. They get stuck with a teenager who only come alive when he's role-playing as a medieval knight, and a sex-obsessed 10 year old with a mouth like a sewer pipe.

The movie easily earns its R rating for bad language and bad behavior, but there is a naive charm about it. Director David Wain works well with Rudd (who co-wrote the screenplay) and Scott as well as Christopher 'McLovin" Mintz-Plasse and Bobb'e J. Thompson as the cape-wearer and potty mouth respectively.

You really know where this one is going, but there's guilty pleasure in getting there.

May 2009
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