‘Alfie’ 2004 movie: Remake & Jude Law deserved warmer reception
A major financial flop that received – at best – mixed reviews, Charles Shyer’s Alfie 2004 remake, starring an accomplished Jude Law, deserved better. A dramatic comedy about a thirty-something supreme narcissist (Alfie / Law) who must shag every good-looking woman in sight until he is taught a Lesson, Alfie is no worse than other trendy, moralizing films like the well-received About a Boy and Bridget Jones’ Diary. In fact, I’d say Alfie is actually much better than these two movies and than most of the product currently being churned out by film studios and independent filmmakers everywhere – though, admittedly, that’s not saying much.
After all, despite its good intentions, a charming star turn by Jude Law, and beautiful cameos by Susan Sarandon and Marisa Tomei, Alfie can’t really be called a good movie. It passes the time the way its lead character passes his time: taking its voyeuristic audience from bed to limo backseat, doing lots of wink-winking, and pretending to offer depth and intimacy when all it’s willing to give us is a pleasant but inconsequential lay.
‘Alfie’ 2004 vs. ‘Alfie’ 1966
Back in 1966, Bill Naughton adapted his own play for the film directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Michael Caine. In that version, Alfie is an embittered, lower-class jerk who calls women “birds” and refers to them using the pronoun “it,” his only real friend being a cute mutt that follows him around the streets of Swinging London. With its vivid portrait of a place and an era, Alfie 1966 struck a chord with audiences in the UK and abroad; Caine became a star, and was nominated for an Academy Award along with Naughton, Vivien Merchant (as the woman who has an abortion), the title song (by Burt Bacharach and Hal David), and the film itself.
The mutt is nowhere to be found in Alfie 2004. That may seem mean on the part of director-writer Shyer and co-writer Elaine Pope – I mean, Alfie hasn’t a single friend left at the end? – but then again, Jude Law’s Alfie has so much more going for him than Caine’s ever did. He has magazine-cover good looks, a sparkling smile, great clothes, a bubbly personality, and a rosy outlook on life. He doesn’t have sex with women as a misogynistic act of aggression or as a form of class-conscious self-affirmation. Sexual intercourse with the liberated women of 2004 New York City is all for (mutual) fun.
This Alfie has a good heart as well. When he crosses the line, as when he impregnates the girlfriend (Nia Long) of one of his good friends (Omar Epps), he feels really sorry afterwards. Sure, this Alfie is also a sort of cad – but a cute, likable one. Even so, he must pay for having all those multiple partners: besides the threat of impotence and even cancer in his genital area (AIDS is less of an issue because Alfie is a regular condom user), there are the inevitable rejections that take place several times throughout the narrative. The beautiful and mature Julie (Marisa Tomei), for instance, goes her own way and finds another boyfriend long before the final fadeout. Poor, lonely Alfie can only look from a distance at the intimacy his former girlfriend shares with her new man.
Although that scene works well because of Law’s and Tomei’s subtle playing, this softening up of Alfie’s character ultimately detracts from the film. Since Shyer and Pope desperately want us to like Alfie, they refrain from revealing this man’s selfish heart in all its coldness. After all, friends, no matter how drunk, don’t shag friends’ girlfriends. In Alfie, however, it’s just a blood-alcohol-level accident. No harm intended.
Superb Susan Sarandon
Indeed, this 2004 Alfie is such a nice cad that when hot and horny older woman Susan Sarandon (politely) tells him off in a touching scene – thanks to Sarandon’s superbly controlled playing – her bluntness seems uncalled for. I mean, why would she want to hurt poor, little Alfie’s feelings?
Now, considering that Sarandon’s character has been successfully playing Alfie’s game for even longer than he has – and has been doing quite well at it, thank you – where did her moral high ground come from? Nearly forty years of feminism is the answer. According to Alfie, it’s ok for an experienced woman of the world to act like a cad, but if it’s a man doing the same thing, no matter how puppy-doggishly cute and cuddly the guy in question, he must pay for it. Call it Hollywood karma: retribution for all the machismo-on-film of past and present.
Thus, while fifty-something Sarandon finds herself a cute kid, Alfie ends up all alone. That, however, may not be such a bad comeuppance if one compares his plight to that of the psychotically dysfunctional couple working at the limo office. Charles Shyer, Elaine Pope, and company may not think so, but being alone – and/or having multiple partners – can be more satisfying than being in a relationship simply for the sake of being with someone – anyone.
Solid Jude Law
Now, what keeps Alfie from drowning in the mushiness of its moralizing message are two ingredients in the film – one good, one bad. The bad one is Charles Shyer’s penchant for using alienating freeze-frames and quick cuts as a demonstration of trendy filmmaking. The good ingredient is Jude Law. The British sex symbol is a generally competent actor who has been getting a big buildup of late. Even though his 2004 movies have all been major box office disappointments, Law himself doesn’t disappoint as the Englishman losing himself inside Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei, Nia Long, Jane Krakowski, Sienna Miller, and other Manhattanites.
Even the absence of a fourth wall between the audience and the film’s lead, always a dangerous proposition, succeeds remarkably well in Alfie because of Law’s consummate Cary Grant-like charm. It’s easy to believe that all those women would fall for this lovable horndog, whose chief concern is to keep on trying to satisfy both his insatiable ego and his equally insatiable libido.
What’s it all about? Agreeable, superficial, glitzy filmmaking trying to pass for a profound depiction of 21st-century relationships. Or perhaps it’s all about an animal-rescue promo disguised as a film: Adopt Alfie as a pet.
Dir.: Charles Shyer.
Scr.: Elaine Pope and Charles Shyer.
From Bill Naughton’s 1964 play and 1966 screenplay, based on Naughton’s 1962 radio play Alfie Elkins and His Little Life.
Cast: Jude Law. Susan Sarandon. Marisa Tomei. Sienna Miller. Jane Krakowski. Jeff Harding. Omar Epps. Nia Long. Renée Taylor. Kevin Rahm. Edward Hogg. Stephen Gaghan.
Alfie 2004 cast information via the IMDb.
Susan Sarandon and Jude Law Alfie 2004 images: Paramount Pictures.