Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Princess Bride

How do I keep myself from merely reciting my favorite lines and revealing my favorite scenes? The Princess Bride (1987) is one of my favorite movies and certainly has something for everyone: romance, adventure, comedy, action, and satire. Just as important, it works on every level for every age group in the audience. Everyone I know has either seen it and loved it or hasn't experienced it.

As told by a grandfather (Peter Falk) to his grandson (Fred Savage) as a bedtime story, The Princess Bride concerns itself with the fairy-tale romance Westley (Carey Elwes), a poor farm boy, and Buttercup (Robin Wright), a demanding but beautiful country girl. Five years after Wesley is believed to have been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, Buttercup is betrothed to Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) but soon kidnapped by a trio of criminals (Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and Andre the Giant). Their leader means to kill her to ignite a war, but a mysterious man in black follows the group.

The Princess Bride works on three levels. At its heart is the love story between Westley and Buttercup. This is not merely two attractive people who meet cute and get together. This is true love. No matter how many obstacles get thrown their way, these lovers will end up together because it is their destiny. It works well enough that if you can accept the fantasy, you can be swept away (or whatever cliche fits).

Of course, the movie has a sense of humor and knows that concept is a little corny and outdated. That's why Peter Falk is there to skip over the boring "kissing" stuff as the grandson calls it. Then, there are all the strange and hilarious supporting characters who frequently steal the show: Vizzini the diminutive plotter who's not as smart as he thinks, the gentle giant Fezzik, the oddball couple of Miracle Max and his wife Valerie (Billy Chrystal and Carol Kane, both unrecognizable under old-age make up), the revenge-minded Indigo Montoya, the snaky Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), and the cowardly Humperdinck. All these characters give a modern, ironic touch to the proceedings, enabling the film to comment on the very romantic-fantasy conventions it's exploiting.

Then there's the action-adventure. Sure, the movie's light and good-natured, but we get a stunning sword fight, a fist fight with a giant, a battle of wits, torture, revenge, plotting and strategizing. Not only is this material actually pretty thrilling, but they also have their own little spins, so they're also funny. Indigo and the man in black banter about sword techniques while they duel, Fezzik thinks the method he's told to kill someone is "unsportsmanlike," and the battle of wits involves Vizzini creating the most convoluted, ridiculous logic ever.

Most movies with so many different elements end up having them cancel each other out, but somehow, director Rob Reiner and writer William Goldman strike the perfect balance. It's a movie that really does have something for everyone.

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