Movies on a Plane: A Thousand Words

The last movie on my recent extensive intercontinental flight was A Thousand Words, an Eddie Murphy flick that felt largely life a riff on comedies like Liar Liar where busy work-absorbed professionals experience unusual semi-mystical phenomena that helps him to reset his priorities, resulting overall in a happier man with a better family life.  Where did this sub-genre of film actually begin?  There are elements of It’s a Wonderful Life, but in that one, George’s problems are not really of his own making.  I don’t imagine it really began with Liar Liar, but my film history / light comedy knowledge seems to be a bit lacking in this case.

Anyway, the plot of  A Thousand Words involves a mystical tree that suddenly appears in self-absorbed and fast talking literary agent Jack McCall’s yard after he fakes being interested in an eastern self-help guru’s philosophy in order to make a deal.  Turns out this magic tree loses a leaf for every word Jack says, and as the tree gets closer to death, so does Jack.  Once Jack catches on to this connection, he obviously gets very selective about what he says.  This goes on to cause all sorts of problems – from the banal challenges of ordering his coffee at Starbucks to the more profound exacerbation of his marital difficulties.

Critically, the movie has taken a pretty bad rap, with an astounding 0% on the Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes.  A lot of the hate, or maybe disinterest, is understandable.  The humor is pretty thin on the ground with only a few laughs here and there.  Jack’s assistant Aaron is enjoyable at times, but annoying for a lot of it.   The dramatic side of the story isn’t much better, but I did appreciate the way the movie connects Jack’s behavior with his family with his childhood experiences with his father.  It’s pat and simple, yet still rings true that he is not able to move forward in life until he deals with that critical relationship.  So I liked the way he used his last three words to release forgiveness at his father’s grave – it made that final epiphany feel fairly authentic.  It’s not enough to make it a good movie in my mind, but it is enough to make me not dismiss it wholesale.  This is what accounts for it’s apparently high “rating” in my not completely straightforward scale.

This film concludes my run of movies on my journey, not counting a couple of episodes of The Simpsons and the first five minutes of The Amazing Spider-Man, which I missed when I saw it at the drive-in.  A Thousand Words was not necessarily the worst movie (see here and here for the likely contenders for that).  It certainly wasn’t the best (this and this are up for that spot).  But it might be the most forgettable–either it, or that other movie that I can’t really recall.

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