Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Vamps: Sweet Fang

Written and Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Starring: Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Richard Lewis, Sigourney Weaver, Wallace Shawn, Justin Kirk, and Malcolm McDowell
Director of Photography: Tim Suhrstedt, Editor: Debra Chiate, Production Designer: Dan Leigh. Original Music: David Kitaygorodsky

            The wondrous Amy Heckerling can be a coy writer and director, as especially seen in her latest film Vamps. A horror comedy about two vampires who are trying to live forever in their twenties (like actually literally), it is so easy to dismiss the broad comedy for its own inconsequentialness. But such a texture is essential to Heckerling’s approach to this and other films like Clueless or Fast Times at Ridgemont High. No need to shove themes or ideas down one’s throat just let them glide by, as vampires are wont to do.

            And thus Vamps is a charming film about growing up and getting in line that (excuse me) nails the coffin in the rest of our current vampire metaphor culture. Its humor is silly, but Heckerling sells it all with an energetic wit, even when it’s the image of Alicia Silverstone drinking the blood from a rat by a straw. Silverstone, who starred in Clueless, joins with the always adorably mesmerizing Krysten Ritter to play the vampires Goody and Stacy in present day New York. Goody isn’t just a bit older than she looks—she was actually changed back in the 1840s, but lies to her bestie Stacy about, who got turned in the 1980s. The two have vowed off human blood and attend AA-style meetings with other vampires in between their nights of clubbing and sex with the texting generation with no end in sight.

            If Vamps goes all over the place, its cast is filled with ridiculously fun characters that liven the forever dead. Wallace Shawn plays vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing through his usual rambunctious energy. Richard Lewis plays a sad sack liberal named Danny who fell in love with Goody in the 1970s. Justin Kirk appears as a Ukrainian bloodsucker who exudes his own sexuality. And Sigourney Weaver plays a villainously sexual head vampire with a lot of zest for Spanish dancers.

            Heckerling meanders through her plot without much gusto or real aim, which is perfect for her approach. Goody falls back in love with Danny, while Stacy pursues a romance with Van Helsing’s adorable son. Both must hide their vampire ways, which leads to Heckerling’s own amusing spin on some of the classic jokes, as when Stacy tries everything possible to make herself more tan, or Goody freaks out when a cute boy gets a small nosebleed after doing some coke. It’s all played with appropriately C-grade special effects and even sillier comedy, but it all congeals in Heckerling’s own unique way of never giving the film too many stakes (!) beyond the feelings of its central characters (the biggest threat is cleverly subdued during a delightful montage set during an eclipse).

            Ultimately, Vamps is about the same theme that many classic films are set: growing up, moving on, and finally maturing because what else is there? The film might be called slight, but its slightness is essential to its appeal in getting its themes across. Goody and Stacy can’t live with people addicted to their phones forever—there’s a world out there beyond what those with high hormones do, and Heckerling plays along and around it, making Vamps delightfully sweet, even if it can be quite bloody. 

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