Vanilla Sky – L.A. Daily News

Taste of Vanilla

Tom Cruise is talking about casual sex, and what’s interesting isn’t necessarily his view on the subject (although we’ll get to that later), but the fact that Cruise is talking at all.

The notoriously press-shy star hasn’t extensively promoted a movie since he was dancing around on screen in his BVDs, but then his latest film, “Vanilla Sky,” isn’t just any movie. That’s evident when director Cameron Crowe prefaces an interview by begging people to give “Vanilla Sky” a second chance if they didn’t like it the first time around.

That doesn’t mean “Vanilla Sky” is a bad movie. It’s actually pretty amazing in many ways. It just explains why his pal Cruise is currently making the rounds, glad-handing the press.

“It’s an important movie for me, and it’s a very personal movie for Cameron,” Cruise says. “It’s a very ambitious movie with a lot of different layers. It’s a thriller, a love story and a pop culture ride with a lot of questions about life mixed in throughout.”

Or as Crowe puts it: “It’s a little challenging. It’s got a lot of stuff in there. Some people are really anxious about what the movie is trying to say to them. Some people just need to see it again.”

Open your eyes

Paramount, the studio releasing “Vanilla Sky,” is just hoping to herd audiences into theaters once. “Vanilla Sky” is an expensive remake of the 1997 Spanish thriller, “Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes),” an early movie from Alejandro Amenabar, whose first English-language film, “The Others,” was a critical and commercial hit this year. (Cruise produced both “The Others” and “Vanilla Sky.”)

Amenabar’s film was a trippy, psychological suspense story about a playboy (now played by Cruise) whose life veers between reality and nightmares following a brutal car crash that left his face horribly disfigured. Crowe’s remake is largely faithful to its source material. But Crowe has added a layer of pop culture into the womanizer’s dream state and made the movie more of an eternal love story. (Penelope Cruz, who plays Cruise’s main love interest — a role she has now assumed off-screen as well — played the same part in the original film.)

“I wanted to play ball with the original film,” Crowe says. “I didn’t want to say, ‘No way, we’re doing ours completely different,’ nor did I want to be utterly faithful. What I wanted was to have a dialogue between the two movies. What was wonderful was that when Amenabar saw ‘Vanilla Sky,’ he felt like the movies were two brothers, one that was into opera and the other into rock ‘n’ roll.”

Rock and sensibility

That Crowe’s version of the movie would be into rock ‘n’ roll is hardly a surprise, given his almost famous background as music fan and former reporter for Rolling Stone. “Vanilla Sky” begins with an overhead shot of the Dakota, the New York apartment house where John Lennon lived and died. There are references to the Beatles throughout, a visual homage to a famous Bob Dylan album cover and a Paul McCartney song that plays over the closing credits.

The McCartney connection isn’t coincidence. (But then, nothing is in a Cameron Crowe movie.) Crowe played Beatles and McCartney music constantly on the set, establishing mood for his cast and crew. He aimed to give “Vanilla Sky” a “Paul is dead” tone, referring to the famous 1970 rumor that surrounded McCartney, which said that he had been killed in a car crash and replaced in the Beatles by a lookalike.

“I wanted the movie to have that game where you were constantly looking for clues,” Crowe says. “There would be things you didn’t see the first time and it would involve you like a fan.”

Crowe also wanted “Vanilla Sky” to have a rock ‘n’ roll rawness that might surprise some fans accustomed to the romantic sensibilities of his earlier movies. (Remember “You had me at hello” from “Jerry Maguire”?) Early in the film, Cruise’s playboy makes love with a young woman (played by Cameron Diaz), someone he derisively calls a sex buddy, and then treats her as if she doesn’t exist. His casual attitude toward sex comes back to haunt him when his buddy demands something more.

“She’s someone we’ve all been,” Diaz says. “We’ve all been the person who has these feelings for someone and found they weren’t reciprocated. It’s heartbreaking and humiliating. And she can’t deal with that.”

Says Cruise: “The film asks, ‘When you’re on that level of intimacy with someone, is there a promise?’ What is that promise? Because really there’s no such thing as casual sex. Somewhere at some moment, there’s something there where one person or both people have some agreement or some carrot that has been held out there.”

Say anything but ‘sex’

For Crowe, the film’s examination of sex reminded him of a scene in his first directorial effort, 1989’s “Say Anything.” John Cusack’s underachiever Lloyd Dobler is worrying about his relationship with his gifted girlfriend. A friend, played by Lili Taylor, tells him: “Lloyd, you had sex. If you don’t see her for 20 years, you’ll run into her on the street and you’ll talk about something else, but really what you’ll be thinking is ‘We had sex.’ ”

“It’s just the most personal thing two people can share,” Crowe says. “And sure it can be carefree, but what’s cool to remember is that sex is a big deal and you don’t really ever forget it.”

Sex, of course, became a big deal in connection with “Vanilla Sky” after co-stars Cruise and Cruz began dating shortly after Cruise petitioned wife Nicole Kidman for divorce. Cruise insists that he and Cruz weren’t an item until after the shooting ended. Crowe is predictably circumspect, saying that he was pleased to see the chemistry developing between the two leads because “you’re never sure if it’s going to happen.”

Crowe had struck gold before with Cruise, pairing him with Renee Zellweger to great success in “Jerry Maguire.” He’s aware of Cruise’s colossus status as a show business icon, saying at one point that “Tom Cruise is pop culture.” Knowing that, Crowe wanted to have a little fun with Cruise’s tabloid image, particularly in a movie that explores the ways pop culture impacts our lives.

What Crowe wrote, though, is still a little surprising. In a bar scene, a man, trying to help Cruise’s character through his confusion, tells him that “you can control everyone — even me.” Cruise looks at the man, waits a beat and then says, “I’m straight, OK.”

“I was a little afraid of using that,” Crowe admits, “because I thought it would take people out of the movie and make them think of all the tabloid headlines. But it was too much fun, so we had to keep it in and Tom was all for it.”

Tom foolery

Indeed, Cruise seems up for just about anything these days, perhaps because he’s out from under the weight of the events of the past year. He filed for divorce from Kidman while making “Vanilla Sky.” He was producing “The Others” (which starred Kidman), while acting in and producing “Vanilla Sky” and then went straight into a grueling shoot for Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller “Minority Report” (due in theaters next summer). He’s just now finding the time to breathe.

“I was averaging on some nights three hours a sleep a night,” Cruise says. “But I’m not the kind of person who believes in making my problems other people’s problems. I’m not a complainer. No matter what happens, I live a very blessed life.”

Courtesy of Los Angeles Daily News – Glenn Whipp – December 14, 2001