Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
It’s about an Englishman – a successful corporate attorney, who works in a big law firm in one of the most exciting, vibrant cities on earth. He’s married to a glamorous American wife. Suddenly, against his will, he finds himself transported to a small town in the middle of rural America, where he is forced to draft wills for the redneck locals who neither like nor trust him.
I’m speaking, of course, of the Hugh Grant character in the movie Did You Hear About the Morgans?
(What did you think I was referring to?)
It really is a terrible movie. Grant hardly shows up; he just delivers the same one-note performance that he’s been doing for years. His co-star is Sarah Jessica Parker, doing her vapid, wide-eyed, sunken-cheek thing. I’ve never watched Sex in the City, so I was surprised to discover just how bad an actor she is. There was a total absence of chemistry between the principals. The plot is silly, and the writing is awful. Christina and I sat stony-faced throughout, each snippily accusing the other of putting it in our Netflix queue.
But here’s the thing. When it was finally over, glutton for punishment that I am, I went to the gag reel on the DVD. Not even the out-takes were funny – until the final item. It was an extended clip of an early scene when for some reason the director just kept the camera rolling as the cast struggled through their lines, all of them desperately trying (and failing) not to crack up. And it was utterly hilarious. I was snorting with laughter – and I didn’t even know why they were laughing in the first place. There’s something hysterical about watching people trying to keep a straight face. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the temporary dropping of the professional veil, the secret acknowledgement that nobody’s perfect.
At least writers don’t have the camera rolling when we’re doing our thing; novels don’t come with a blooper reel. We just get to hit the “delete” key and continue serenely on our way, our more egregious literary indiscretions left in our computer’s trash file. We should be grateful for small mercies, I suppose.
All of which put me in mind of this priceless and much-loved example of a complete failure of professional rectitude – from Test Match Special, in 1991. Yes, American friends, this is cricket commentary on the radio. But listen anyway. You’ll be glad you did.