25 Years Later: 'A Life Less Ordinary' was an Of-its-Time Stylish '90s Crime Romp | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

25 Years Later: ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ was an Of-its-Time Stylish ’90s Crime Romp 

At one point in 1997’s A Life Less Ordinary, we hear R.E.M.’s song “Leave,” from the group’s 1994 album Monster. And really, the film has a similar feel to that album — even more than most crime films of the mid-1990s, which often compared shocking violence with lots and lots of style. 

A Life Less Ordinary was directed by Danny Boyle and starred Ewan McGregor, who together had made Trainspotting the year before. Trainspotting was a massive hit, while A Life Less Ordinary was not.

I liked it at the time when I saw it, but looking back, a lot of films of that era — especially Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, which arrived a year later — did a better job with what it was going for. 

The Plot

The film stars McGregor — sporting a truly, truly unfortunate haircut — and Cameron Diaz. Robert (McGregor) is a down-on-his-luck janitor who executes a poorly thought-out kidnapping plot on Diaz’s Celeste, a spoiled rich girl. Even though they’re very different and, you know, he’s taken her prisoner, the two soon form a bond. But not before she chides him for not knowing how to make ransom demands, sounding a lot like the Diaz-voiced Princess Fiona, chiding Shrek for not slaying the dragon.  

The other twist is that a pair of angels (Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter) have been dispatched to get the two of them to fall in love, and if they can’t, the two will be forced to stay on Earth and out of heaven for good. 

The look is sort of cool, and the supporting cast is impressive, especially since it brings together much of the main cast (Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, and Ian Holm) who starred together in Big Night the previous year. 

Launching Pad

At that point, Diaz was playing a lot of ice queen parts, as this was a year before she was cast as the world’s most appealing woman in the megahit There’s Something About Mary. McGregor at the time was also an ascendant actor, just a couple of years away from beginning his run as Obi-Wan Kenobi. He also guest-starred on ER the same year, sporting that same terrible haircut, so it was likely filmed at the same time. 

The biggest problem with A Life Less Ordinary is that I didn’t really care about the romance plot or the part with the angels, nor does the angels’ aspect really add anything necessary. 

Danny Boyle would go on to make a wide variety of films, including The Beach, with Leonardo DiCaprio, in 2000, and 28 Days Later in 2002; later films included 127 Hours, Steve Jobs, the 2017 sequel to Trainspotting, and 2019’s Yesterday. His Best Picture winner, 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, was in my opinion his worst film. 

A Life Less Ordinary was a flop, making just $14.6 million worldwide, but it was one of those flops that didn’t really prevent anyone involved from being successful in the short term after that. 

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