In the winter of 2001, journalist turned playwright Anne Nelson’s The Guys—an autobiographical two-hander about a writer who helps a fire captain compose eulogies for the men he lost in the World Trade Center attacks—served as a Lower Manhattan mourning rite. Not unlike a sympathy card, it appeared to transcend aesthetics and resist criticism. But it’s harder to ignore the whiff of opportunism wafting off the movie version—introduced at Toronto last fall by director Jim Simpson as a “terrific dream,” “one of the good things” to have emerged from the tragedy.
The best that can be said about The Guys is that it is now 15 minutes shorter than it was, and the cuts have reduced to a more bearable degree the inane framing device that has Sigourney Weaver’s Joan at her PowerBook, alternating between furrowed-brow Rodin-thinking and Streep-as-Orlean typing bursts while her stiffly theatrical voice-over drones on. What remains for the most part are halting, repetitious scenes of Joan and Nick (Anthony LaPaglia) at work: He recalls details about the firefighters; she transforms them into blandly euphonious tributes. Watching the film is like reading a Times Portrait of Grief that keeps shifting focus to the journalist who wrote it. At once glazed and shrill, Joan moves from myopia to solipsism: “Words! This is all I know how to do!” Ironically, The Guys is a film about the utter failure of language, too self-absorbed to consider a scenario where words are not, and never will be, enough.