According to Shallow Grave/Trainspotting writer John Hodge, his original draft for A Life Less Ordinary went something like this: "It took place in Scotland and France," he says in the script's introduction. "In the opening scene, a girl swallows a ring. In a secret laboratory somewhere a man is injected with Compound X403. He wakes up on the central reservation of a busy road with a hand in his pocket, but not his own, ie someone else's hand. Off he goes to France, and before long he and the girl are standing in the grounds of her old school reciting Tennyson. The film was to reach its climax with spontaneous combustion on the Isle of Barra."
Of course it's nothing like this now, more a boy-meets-girl, boy-kidnaps-girl, angels-try-to-get-boy-and-girl-together sort of movie. Yes, we have a romantic comedy - quirky, offbeat, with a freewheeling imagination that takes in fate, Heaven, love, respect and a basketball-playing God (although sadly he doesn't appear in the final cut).
What it isn't is another Shallow Grave or Trainspotting. Yes, it's directed by Danny Boyle and produced by his mate Andrew MacDonald, and yes, it features the young Obi-Wan elect, Ewan McGregor. But don't expect A Life Less Ordinary to be a tale of drug-addiction, clubbing, death, betrayal, AIDS, booze and crap-stacked bogs. If you do, you'll only be horribly disappointed.
As a romantic comedy, the film has to observe the conventions of the genre - boy obviously meets girl, then exciting/ funny/horrific things happen, after which they are blissfully happy. The same old, same old, but the acting is excellent, the cinematography (autumnal golds, browns, etc) is gorgeous, while the script glitters with an infectious, sparkling wit. "We were on a game show called PerfectLove," says Robert to Celine after a pleasant night of sex, tequila and karaoke. "It's just a dream. I don't think that the fact that it's a game show has any relevance. It merely indicates my cultural origins. Were I a tribesman from the Kalahari, the location would undoubtedly have been different."
As for the performances, Boyle wrings out the best in everyone. McGregor (in a succession of garish Hawaiian shirts) is naive, confused and genuinely funny, proving again what a great actor he is. Holly Hunter is mischievously sexy and scene-snatchingly vampish as Heaven's appointed matchmaker, eclipsing partner Delroy Lindo. But it's Diaz who's the revelation. More than just a stunning blonde in a skimpy swimsuit (although she's undoubtedly that too), she turns in a terrific comedy performance, egging on McGregor's inept criminal ("You're the worst kidnapper I have ever met"), then masterminding her own ransom demand ("Half-a-million dollars is not very much for a woman like me"), before eventually deciding on a more hands-on approach to crime, so to speak.
It's the dazzling interplay between Diaz and McGregor that lights up the pic. It is, perhaps, to Hodge's credit that the obstacles placed in their way - her father (Ian Holm) refusing to cough up the ransom; a couple of crazy mountain men; Stanley Tucci's flirtatious dentist - are as bizarre and warped a collection as you could ever wish for. And with Heaven depicted as a blindingly white US police precinct, and Diaz blasting apples off her butler's head with a revolver, A Life Less Ordinary sprints at right angles to reality and dares you to catch up.
At once both brilliantly conceived and wonderfully written, this is probably the best romantic comedy of '97. And if it's not a patch on Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, then so what? It was never meant to be. Taken purely at face value, A Life Less Ordinary is a thoroughly enjoyable, feelgoody, crowd-pleasing night out with a unique spin and style that thumbs its nose at US movie convention. And above and beyond all of that, it leaves you with the abiding image of Cameron Diaz in a swimsuit. With a gun.
Not a classic, but nonetheless A Life Less Ordinary brims over with an indie effervescence that's hard to match. It's brilliantly written, entertaining and off-the-wall funny. A must-see.