US, 2004, 98 minutes, Colour.
Jude Law, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Nia Long, Jane Krakowski, Sienna Miller, Susan Sarandon.
Directed by Charles Shyer.
Critics do not complain when a play is performed by different casts over the years. They say it gives the opportunity for audiences to experience different interpretations of the play and characters. They are not so tolerant for film remakes, usually branding them as ‘unnecessary’. This has happened quickly with Alfie. One of the problems is that as critics grow older, they hallow their past. This means that Michael Caine has become Alfie in their imaginations and no one can take his place.
Well, Jude Law has taken his place in a remake, unnecessary or not. The film has been updated from the swinging 60s to the present and Alfie transported from London to New York.
Alfie is still a self-absorbed cad with a hedonistic attitude towards life, assuming that the world owes him a living just for being there. His assessment of women is a mental and emotional version of harassment, to say the least. However, he is a gentler presence than Michael Caine was: cocky but not quite so cocky, tough but not quite so tough, chauvinist but not quite so chauvinist. Michael Caine was bewildered and partly regretful when Burt Bacharach’s song, ‘what’s it all about, Alfie?’ came up at the end. Jude Law is more gobsmacked by what he has done and what he has learned.
This means that, unnecessary or not, the remake is reinterpreting Alfie for these times.
Significant is the difference in the abortion issue. Denholm Elliot’s abortionist was a sinister figure and Vivien Merchant’s pregnant, middle-aged woman was a figure of pathos, a victim of Alfie and the abortionist. This time the character is much more permissive but also betraying her boyfriend. The audience is not taken inside the abortion clinic. When she comes out and Alfie asks how she is, she replies, ‘Empty’ and Alfie laments the son he will never see. However, there is an unexpected twist late in the film, reinforcing Alfie’s lament.
Marisa Tomei is sympathetic as the single mother that Alfie loves deep down – but, again, too late. Susan Sarandon does a glamorous variation on the Shelley Winters’ older woman in the original.
This means that the new Alfie is not as sharp as the original, but Jude Law, especially in his frequent confessions from screen to audience, taking us into his confidence, makes him a contemporary searcher who might be able to accept some demanding answers to ‘what’s it all about?’
1.The impact of the original Alfie in the 1960s? A film of the 60s, style, moral perspective? The value of a remake at the beginning of the 21st century? The forty years’ difference, men and their attitudes, women and their attitudes? Responses? Love, playing the field, commitment?
2.The New York settings, the panoramic glimpses of Manhattan, in the autumn and winter?
3.The musical score, Burt Bacharach’s theme, at the beginning, at the end? The new songs, by Mick Jagger? The lyrics and their comment on Alfie’s behaviour and attitudes? The blind leading the blind?
4.The adaptation from the earlier film, from the play? Alfie’s comments, the effectiveness of his speaking directly to the audience, the effect of the audience having to become confidants? Agreeing or disagreeing with his attitudes? Judging his behaviour? The insights, watching his progress – even though small? The different women, his relationship with them, his observations, comments, the effect of learning from them?
5.The film as a moral fable, the contemporary Lothario, self-centred and self-absorbed, hedonistic? His regard for women, his use of women? His friendship with Marlon? The director’s comment that in some ways Alfie had to become more ‘mindful’?
6.Jude Law as Alfie, his appearance, style, speech, English background, his motivation for coming to New York, his attitudes to life, women, using them, hurting them, hurting people without realising it?
7.Alfie and his apartment, his explanation, the neighbour and her cleaning his apartment for him? His effortless charm? Automatically charming? The attitude behind it – exploiting his charm? His work, driving the limousines, the friendship with Marlon, the business plan? Wing and his running the company? His attitude towards Wing, ridiculing him? Wing’s final crisis, advising him to write the poem – and the humour of the rhyme with ‘blossom’, ‘awesome’?
8.Doreen, wife, her regard for her husband, disregard? With Alfie in the car? The driving, his dropping her off, wanting to drop her altogether, the panties, in his pocket, in the rubbish bin – and Julie finding them? Meeting her at the end, her straight talk to him?
9.Julie, attractive, the single mother, Max, Alfie using her, talking about love, lying? The scenes at home, the birthday party? The discovery of the panties, her break with him? Julie and Alfie meeting her in the café, her telling the truth? Meeting Adam, looking through the window at Julie and her happiness? The portrait of Julie, as a woman, mother, needing love, her support for Alfie, affection, wanting the truth?
10.Lonette and Marlon, Marlon and his sad story, playing around, going back to Lonette? Her serving the drinks and her attitude towards Marlon, with Alfie, the attraction, playing pool, the sexual encounter? Her revealing her pregnancy – and his comment about a wet Wednesday? His going to the abortion clinic, her decision about the baby, saying she felt empty? Moving to the country? His later decision to visit, Marlon’s absence, Lonette and the baby, his previous comment about the baby that he would never get to know? Watching the baby, seeing it as his own – but his being rejected by Lonette? Marlon’s arrival, his look, Alfie’s realisation how much he had hurt Marlon, his own pain?
11.Nikki, seeing her as his Christmas gift, her wildness, the relationship, the New Year’s Eve, cracking the glass? Her being at home, not wanting to be dumped? Going out into the rain and his watching her?
12.Liz, his driving her, her relationship with the man, going shopping, his intervention and talking about the dress? Going at night to her house, her wealth, running the perfume company? Her age and his comments about her and her beauty? The absinth and its effect? His return, the elaborate buying of the flowers and the flower arrangement? Her giving him the brush-off, her finally telling him that she preferred a younger man? The repercussions for him, his being dropped?
13.His illness, impotence, going to the doctor, the tests? His limping home, the schoolteacher with the schoolkids and her getting them not to look? The news that he was all right, his comments about thinking about God and life?
14.His meeting Joe in the toilet, Joe’s story about his wife, her death, his grief, affection and lack of affection? Offering his card? Not expecting Alfie to use it? The irony of the end, Joe as his friend, the walk along the beach? Joe and his wisdom and common sense about identity, relationships?
15.The cumulative effect of the experiences on Alfie, the visualising of each of the women? Lonette and the baby? Marlon’s look?
16.Alfie and his questions, his voice-over, the musical theme – “What’s It All About?” How far had he progressed in self-understanding, in relating to others?