First I wanna say that when I started looking for this movie about a month ago I typed the title into Amazon and, holy shit, “Trouble in Paradise” has to be the most abused title in the history of media. Innumerable romance novels. Lifetime movies, albums and songs and TV episodes, feature-length movies, self-help books. Jesus. If you’re in any way creative and choose to use this title for something you’ve made, however well-suited or clever its application may be, you’ll have a way better chance of reaching an audience if you call it something else.
But yeah, this particular Trouble in Paradise is really good. The director, Hans Lubitsch, does some really interesting stuff with the camera, particularly a segment in the beginning (which gets repeated in the end) where it carries us around the perimeter of a house, dipping in and out of windows all along. So there’s some technical stuff to admire but also, even if the comedy doesn’t work for you, the way that Lubitsch manages the pacing of dialogue, the setup and payoff of jokes, is really impressive and pleasant in almost a musical way. Something I experienced a couple times here is that thing where a joke is super clever, but not particularly funny, and so instead of a laugh I just grin really hard and this embarrassing whine goes wheezing outta my throat.
The other night after dinner my dad wanted to share this new scotch he bought and when I joined him in his room, and he poured me a glass, he also tossed me the TV remote, which is unprecedented, so I flipped it to Turner Classic Movies and The Roaring Twenties was on, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart playing prohibition-era gangsters, and there was this one particular speech by Bogart, I’ll try to find a link, it’s like this long string of very ‘20s-sounding threats (even though the movie was made in ’39). Bogart spits it so fast, so gracefully, that your breath gets caught as it all unfolds. It sounds so asinine now – but lovely. Totally lovely. The moment he went quiet my dad and I started laughing – but it was a complicated sort of laughter. We were laughing at it but I think it was also something near a squeal of delight.
(Speaking of complicated laughter: I got to see Martin Amis during the book tour for The Zone of Interest, his “comedy” about the Holocaust, and when somebody asked him why he wanted to work levity into a novel on that topic Amis delivered what was probably at that point a well-rehearsed response about how laughter can be a very complicated emotional response to shit. You laugh when you’re amused, nervous, some people laugh simply because they’re in a situation where they know they aren’t supposed to. So I think his point was that it isn’t necessarily a “comedy” just because you’re laughing. In relation to Trouble in Paradise, I’d turn that around and say that it doesn’t cease to be a great comedy just because you aren’t laughing throughout.)
Anyway the movie is about a couple of thieves who fall in love with each other and then find the diamond-covered handbag of an heiress, which leads them into a series of capers – it’s not important. What I think is worth mentioning, however, is one of the early scenes in the movie, where the two thieves have their first tryst in a hotel room and playfully pick each others’ pockets before getting down to whatever sort of nimble-fingered klepto fucking the camera refuses to show us. In this scene, before lust prevails, Lily (Miriam Hopkins), is anxious and remorseful about having shown up to her thieving paramour’s room. She talks about the social consequences. She reels away from his touch, hating herself. But eventually, desire prevails, and she goes in to steal some dick. (I’m proud of that joke.)
It got me thinking about my use of the dating app Tinder. I suck at it. Whenever I match with an attractive woman I suddenly lose interest. If she sends me a message I freak out. Like I am 100% relating to Lily here: traveling some long and dangerous distance through the night, trying to get some booty, but then, whence my arrival has been made and the aforementioned booty is presented, I can’t go through with it because I’m worried about the drive back. Start thinking, with dick-softening intensity, about the likelihood of encountering a drunk driver on my 3 a.m. journey back to my dad’s house. Or I mean I can go through with it, but it’ll take some effort.
The heiress says at one point, “Marriage is a mistake two people make together,” which rang my bell big time.
I laughed a lot throughout Trouble in Paradise but, truth be told, I paused it and walked away like three times. Maybe I was just restless. But still, I’m left wondering why it couldn’t hold my attention.