BACK ISSUE #407

The Sky's the Limit
"I don't want to make any grand moral statement, but Vanilla Sky is about casual sex, or more specifically, it asks "How casual is casual sex?'" Cameron Crowe

There was plenty of gushing and back-patting over Vanilla Sky when stars Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and director Cameron Crowe came to town, Chris Betros observed.

Movie fans seem to be divided into two groups: Those who love Tom Cruise and those who hate him. The Japanese media are in the first group, turning out in droves to pay adoration to the 38-year-old during a recent visit to Japan with co-star and new squeeze Penelope Cruz and writer-director Cameron Crowe to promote Vanilla Sky.
In fact, Cruise probably gives his finest performance to date as narcissistic New York publishing executive David Aames, who has inherited everything and earned nothing. Using women like tissues, David finally gets into trouble with one jealous lover (Cameron Diaz) who drives him off an embankment one morning. Partially disfigured after the crash, David finds himself on a mind-bending search for his soul and the true meaning of love.
A remake of Alejandro Amenabar's murky 1997 thriller Open Your Eyes, Vanilla Sky pushes the envelope a bit further. "I don't want to make any grand moral statement, but Vanilla Sky is about casual sex, or more specifically, it asks, "How casual is casual sex?'" Crowe said. "I see this in the lives of so many of my friends, people pretending that sex is casual when they feel otherwise. And it can lead to tragedy."
Crowe said he was inspired by Amenabar's film and wanted to transplant it to Manhattan where he could develop his own pop culture themes. Indeed, Vanilla Sky is rich in references to Western pop culture. Its plot is full of twists and turns, but clues are everywhere on characters' T-shirts, in movies playing on TVs in the background, photos on mantels and so on, most of which won't be evident unless you watch the film again and again.

The photogenic Cruz had the same role of "the one true love" in the original. She said she approached it as another film. "I didn't want anyone else to play this part because it is sort of mine. I played the character a little bit differently this time. There is more to the love story in Vanilla Sky," she said, adding the main difference between the two directors is that Crowe "sees life and beauty in little things."
Cruise, who produced the film, said the original gave him an adrenaline rush. "Its themes are not culturally dependent. It's about the eternal nature of love and how the choices we make in life affect other people's lives. Where we are today is the result of decisions we made long ago. Every passing minute is a chance to turn it all around... am I talking too much?" He certainly had no shortage of praise for Cruz and Crowe. In fact, the threesome spent most of their time gushing about each other.

Not that multitalented Crowe needs it. His semi-autobiographical film Almost Famous earned him a best screenplay Academy Award this year. His earlier achievements make for heavy reading. He began his career at 15 as a music journalist, writing for such publications as Creem, Playboy and The Los Angeles Times. One year later, at the tender age of 16, he became a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. At 22, he wrote the novel Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which became a hit movie, and then went on to become a writer-director of films such as Singles and Jerry Maguire. Vanilla Sky is rich in music, with contributions coming from Paul McCartney, who performs the title song, Radiohead, R.E.M., Peter Gabriel and Bob Dylan, among others. "I like to use music as the jumping off point for my movies," Crowe explained. "We'd often play music on the set as a background to the acting and then let it stay in."
While Cruise was a hands-on producer, he said the film was definitely Crowe's voice. "I just tried to protect the director's vision and make it the best possible environment so that everyone could work toward the same goal," he said. It wasn't always easy, especially the confusion over names on the set, what with two Camerons, not to mention Cruise and Cruz.
Cruise and Crowe faced their biggest challenge when they went to ask New York authorities if they could shut down 40 blocks around Times Square for a pivotal scene in which the Cruise character finds himself totally alone in the streets. "The mayor actually said yes," Cruise said. "So we filmed it early one Sunday morning. Every vehicle was moved away and no one was allowed on the streets, and you know New Yorkers. Their level of patience is not high."

Photo credit: Chris Betros