So I'm watching this again, and I can't believe I ever thought it was merely OK. The skill with which it deftly weaves together irreverent humor, pathos, and even wisdom has rarely been equaled in turn-of-the-century film; maybe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes close, although the latter ultimately takes itself so seriously that it loses some of its dexterity.
A partial list of virtues of GPB:
- The scene where Martin Blank (John Cusack) revisits his old home address to the tune of Guns 'n Roses' Live and Let Die never ceases to be hilarious.
- The awkward tension between Martin and Debi (Minnie Driver) hits this perfect compound of emotional veracity and factual implausibility. No meet-cutes or other boilerplate infrastructure of romantic comedy here; we just get an international hit man coming home to chase down an old ex-girlfriend. Boom, there it is. Deal with it. And yet it feels more real than any number of superficially more "realist" entries in the genre.
- Dan Aykroyd. Hit man. And somehow, against all odds, funny, for maybe the last time ever.
- The degree of care evident in virtually every line of the script is astonishing. The dialogue is as dense and snappy as the best Coen brothers films. Even throwaway lines are frequently exceptional. (Waitress at diner: "...there's Gatsby's 'West Egg' Omelette..."; you might not even notice the line, yet observe how exactly this item, offered by the waitress at Martin's Midwestern (!) hometown diner, echoes the broader themes of the movie. Rather than ordering this, Martin opts for an omelette without filling.)
- Two years before The Sopranos started turning the "emotionally disturbed criminal in a shrink's office" into a cliché, we get a criminal-in-a-shrink's-office setup that's funnier and more plausible than basically anything in The Sopranos' entire run, and also doesn't overstay its welcome.
I could go on and on, but basically, you should just go watch this movie again, with attention.
(However, I will admit that Debi's character, as written, veers close to being the mere projection of Martin's psychological needs, rather than a character in her own right. This is perhaps redeemed by Driver's performance.)