Tonight's cinematic coin-toss could have gone three ways. I really wanted to see The Tale of Desperaux, but I arrived at the theatre at an inconvenient time to see it. That left me with a choice of Yes Man or Seven Pounds. I had to decide whether I was better able to stand a Will Smith melodrama or a Jim Carrey comedy. Will edged Jim out.
So I went to see a film in which, in the first scene, the main character calls 911 to report his own suicide. Obviously, the story unfolds out of chronological order, with flashes back to the distant past and more recent events diced and tossed like a chef's salad. It's one of those movies that slowly and deliberately pays out the information you need to understand what's going on, concealing the key pieces until the very end. Unless, that is, you've guessed all...which I did, except for the emotional reaction of the characters (very moving).
Will Smith plays a guy who is either an aerospace engineer or an IRS auditor, either a self-destructive survivor of a deadly auto accident or a slightly creepy philanthropist who stalks the people he is thinking about helping in order to observe whether they are worthy. He lives in a crummy hotel with a pet about which he tells us only two things: (1) that he thinks it's beautiful, and (2) that it is the deadliest creature on earth. Guess which is the reason he keeps it around.
He romances a heart transplant candidate who has slim chances of finding a donor. He performs highly specialized service on an antique printing press. He makes a breathtakingly cruel crank call to a disabled telemarketer. And he makes vaguely threatening and intimidating remarks to several men over whom he holds some unknown power - remarks hinting at a plan whose shape you gradually come to guess, though the movie continues to reveal surprising details about the audacity of his plan. But as he gets closer to Heart Condition Girl, you wonder whether he's making a mistake, whether he'll have the strength to go through with it...
Well, that's enough spoiling. It's a soppy, sniffly, tear-jerking movie that also attempts to blow your mind with its convoluted plot. It makes good use of its cast, which includes Woody Harrelson, Rosario Dawson (pictured above with Smith), and Barry Pepper. In terms of romantic appeal, it comes just on time for women for whom Twilight came too late.