Analyzing Films: Finding Meaning

Can a movie explore and effectively convey two ideas at the same time? What Happens in Vegas does just that. The most obvious and compelling ideal is that of human nature; true love will find you whether you like it or not, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The characters are in charge of successfully communicating this message through their trials and conflicts and inevitably succumbing to the love that has built up within them. The second ideal, and less obvious, is that of moral opinion; every choice you make, no matter where you are, will affect the rest of your life. The filmmakers are in control of focusing the audience’s attention to this message; from the screenwriting to the editing room.

The story begins with two very broken and different people. Both of them, Jack (Ashton Kutcher) and Joy (Cameron Diaz), seek comfort from their closest friends, who encourage each of them to take a trip to Vegas. Sin City is the place to go where you can leave the cares of your world behind. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. This is the phrase that we all know, and many believe.

Ashton Kutcher is an interpretation actor; his roles reflect a lot of his own characteristics (Boggs page 332). We can see this through his television program Punk’d. Most of his roles portray a foot-loose and care-free personality, one who is not thinking about tomorrow, and usually not very bright. “Jack” is another one of those characters. He has recently been fired by his father, incapable of maintaining a serious relationship, and does not think much about his own future. Jack is headed to Vegas with the intent to forget about his troubles and have some fun.

Cameron Diaz’s acting goes a little deeper, but her roles are still remarkable similar. She could be categorized as an impersonating actor, due to the wide variety of roles she has stepped into (Boggs, page 332). However, once again, we see her playing the part of an overly emotional, slightly obsessive-compulsive, and up-tight character. “Joy” is a person who needs regular routine, she schedules time to schedule. Essentially, this is the very thing that drives her fiancĂ© to break up with her at his own surprise birthday party; which she planned for him. Joy is headed to Vegas to break free from her life for a moment, to cut loose from her routine and step outside herself.

These two are complete opposites, and would normally never give the other the time of day. However, they are thrown into each other’s lives by a hotel booking mishap. They wind up spending the night together; and upon waking, realize they were married. If things could not get any worse, before leaving the hotel, Jack strikes the jackpot with a quarter Joy put into the machine. Things heat up when they get back home and the judge decides the two cannot be divorced, nor touch the money, until they spend 6 months working on their marriage.

This is the part of the film that many critics did not like. Anyone with the ability to use their brain would know that the two could have kept the money hush-hush, get divorced, than split the money and go their separate ways. However, then there wouldn’t be a story to tell. Instead, for the next hour, we get the joy of watching two people who despise each other, taunt and torment each other, with the hopes the other will give up and relinquish the money. Contempt bore out of greed, the perfect romance?

There are moments throughout this time, where we see some sexual tension build. Put two attractive people in the same small apartment for six months, and take away their right to be with anyone else, and there is no doubt moments get heated. However, one always breaks the tension with some dig at the other, or throwing some little snide remark. This is where I think the actors did a magnificent job of portraying their characters. It must have been difficult to put all of each other’s past work out of their minds, and only focus on the characters at hand. Many critics claim these segments seem quite rehearsed and all too familiar.However, I felt myself caught up with the characters, almost forgetting I was watching actors.

Through trying to repel the other, both Jack and Joy each reveal much about themselves; that they would not normal try to hide. They do not have to keep the things they are not proud of quiet, because each thing that may turn the other away they see as helpful to their schemes. By doing so, each person is able to really be themselves. Because of this, they start to fall for each other. However, the ground work has already been laid for disaster. All of this time, each one has been plotting against the other, and just before the final court hearing it blows up. Joy is hurt, and walks away with nothing, but holding her head high.

In the end, they both realize they were made for each other, and decided to re-marry. They learned how to be themselves, and inevitably that love will not back down. I can see two internal truths of human nature (Boggs, page 42); love will find you no matter where you are, and love cannot be deterred because it is a force of its own. This is true romance in the story, because it is very similar to one I have lived, and many I have been witness to. This is only an underlying theme, though; the filmmakers were really bent on humor and comedy.

Before seeing the movie in its entirety, I assumed the title was meant to reflect the well known phrase. However, after watching it, and noticing a few minor details, I realized it may go a little deeper. The night of heat, conflict, and romance in Vegas is composed with flash cuts of highlights (Boggs page 202). From drinking to dancing on the bar, from making out in the hallway to instantly waking with a head ache; gives the impression that a night spent in Vegas is out of control. However, when the honeymoon wears off, and the contention is building, Jack looks to his friend, Hater, and says, “What happens in Vegas follows you home.” This gives me the impression that the writer does not agree with that old familiar saying, and may have wanted to make a moral statement with this picture. Thus, this film successfully conveys a subtle externally observable truth, along with a more dominant internal truth of human nature.