A Life Less Ordinary

Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, Holly Hunter, Delroy Lindo, Dan Hedaya, Stanley Tucci, Ian Holm, Maury Chaykin. (1997, R, 103 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 24, 1997

From the trio that brought us Shallow Grave and Trainspotting (director Boyle with producer Andrew Macdonald and screenwriter John Hodge) comes this woefully botched tale of that unholy, clichéd triumvirate: love, kidnapping, and angels. Hodge actually wrote this script before the other two films, so that may have something to do with the deadly, dated feel of the material… but perhaps not much. A Life Less Ordinary fails on so many levels it's nearly a textbook case of What Not to Do. The always sympathetic McGregor plays Robert, a blue-collar schmo who reacts to A Very Bad Day by taking his boss' daughter Celine (Diaz) hostage and lighting off to parts unknown. Celine hates her father to begin with, so it's not much of a kidnapping; she gives him tips on how to hustle the ransom and save his bewildered backside again and again. Meanwhile, the pair are being stalked by Lindo and Hunter, who play a pair of killer angels sent to force the unwitting couple to fall in love or be killed, or maybe both (it's hard to tell). Add this to Diaz and McGregor's utter lack of chemistry and toss in Boyle's penchant for confused and confusing magical realism, and you've got the biggest disappointment since New York, New York. None of the leads seems to know much about what's going on here, and as a result, neither does the audience. It's almost as though the filmmakers had cobbled together a series of vignettes left over from previous works, and then forgot to stitch them together. McGregor's ongoing dreams of a bizarre game show he participates in and Diaz's otherworldly knowledge that she shall “save his life with an arrow” raise further questions about what the hell is going on here. Unfortunately, there's no clear response from the film. Even the film's soundtrack -- always a high point in Boyle's films -- is a messy, uncalculated thing, abruptly popping up when it should be quietly throbbing along and then vanishing when it ought to be shrieking and cacophonous. Literally everything about A Life Less Ordinary is amiss, from casting on down to story. Its reach exceeds its grasp in the grandest of terms, and what you're left with is a muddled, soggy, and ultimately boring picture that goes nowhere, does nothing, and resolves all those loose ends not one iota. If this were some scattershot debut from an unknown, it would be easy to dismiss, but it's not -- it's from three of the most talented men in modern cinema (four if you count McGregor, and you really ought to), and a stumble like this stings. Better to rent Trainspotting (yet again) and hide until this dog vanishes from view.

More Danny Boyle Films
Steve Jobs
Everyone works at the top of their game to deliver this timely biopic

Kimberley Jones, Oct. 16, 2015

Danny Boyle's film swerves unevenly between moods and motivations, from heist film to psychosexual thriller, and dreamy logic to amped-up action.

Kimberley Jones, April 12, 2013

More by Marc Savlov
The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Gum King
The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Gum King
How Andy Paris cornered the market

Feb. 24, 2017

Bitter Harvest
In 1930s Ukraine, young lovers fight Stalin and forced starvation

Feb. 24, 2017


A Life Less Ordinary, Danny Boyle, Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, Holly Hunter, Delroy Lindo, Dan Hedaya, Stanley Tucci, Ian Holm, Maury Chaykin

This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)