Cinemalphabet: B is for Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
- Oh the juicy intersection of a polarizing director – Brian De Palma – a “likable” movie star audiences were not ready to see play “bad” and Bruce Willis in an earnest hairpiece! It’s like they were trying to mountaineer to the top of the box office bomb reference list on the wings of a cinematic cautionary tale.
lulz, I see you, Rita Wilson!
The opening tracking shot always kills me; demonstrating De Palma’s visual brilliance and trafficking in Bruce Willis persona tropes. The first five minutes models much of the pre-Demi tabloid persona of Bruce that I’m convinced it was intentional. And it’s freaking hilarious. Willis is just so damn likable in all his smarmy, drunken glamour.
Sometimes when I’m feeling sorry for myself I reread reviews of De Palma’s spectacular box office fail. While my own feelings about the film place me in solid contrarian territory, I can’t resist the lulz. The elements most critics loathe about the film – the over the top De Palmalicious film techniques, the jerky, disjointed plot, the awkward tone shift and the fact the otherwise talented cast engages in acting typical of a mediocre episode of Murder, She Wrote – are the things I find most charming about it. More importantly, it’s like the only movie where I find Tom Hanks a pleasure to watch. That alone makes the film gem in my book. I find Hanks’ screen presence terribly grating and avoid his films the way people with nut allergies avoid vegan cooking.
The film is such a hot mess, but in a way I find so irresistible I can’t quit it. So instead of reading the technically accurate hateraid written about Bonfire of the Vanities why not view it for yourself and make up your own mind. The film wears a lot better than it did in 1990 and it’s surprisingly insightful, funny, twisted and very De Palma!