Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On DVD: "Gigantic"

Gigantic is the kind of movie that tries to fool you into thinking it’s up to something clever, and it’s mostly just throwing dust in your eyes. It’s got a tremendous cast: Paul Dano and Zooey Deschanel star (and I’m getting to the point with Ms. Deschanel where I’ll see just about any terrible movie if she’s in it), and the supporting cast includes John Goodman, Ed Asner, Jane Alexander, Zach Galifianakis, and Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon from The Wire). Director Matt Aselton has a nice sense for visual comedy; his framings are a little off-kilter, his compositions imaginative. And the opening scenes have a sprung sense of comic timing that appears promising—there’s some ripely funny comic dialogue (particularly from Goodman and an actor named Brian Avers, as Dano’s buddy) and auspicious situations.

Unfortunately, Gigantic is a film obsessed with its own belabored attempts at inventiveness and originality, unsatisfied with the conventional notion of taking its story to a logical and satisfying conclusion. The screenplay, by Aselton and Adam Nagata, loses interest in its primary romantic entanglement almost immediately, burying it underneath a clutter of barely-connected scenes and half-baked comic constructs. The narrative loses steam and the tone is all over the place, and by the end of the film, all but the most patient and forgiving of viewers will likely have thrown up their hands and given up.

Dano plays Brian Weathersby, a sullen New York mattress salesman who wants nothing more than to adopt a Chinese baby. One morning, a blustery, plus-sized businessman (Goodman) charges in, buys the most extravagant bed in the joint, and informs Brian that his daughter will be by later to pay and arrange delivery. That daughter, Harriet “Happy” Lolly (Deschanel), turns out to be a sweet stunner; they begin a tentative, uneasy romance.

That’d be enough for most movies, but Gigantic seems determined to subvert itself wigth its own self-conscious strangeness. What are we to make of the scene where Brian’s brother is trying to buy him a black market baby from his Asian business associates, in the midst of a four-man, ahem, “massage” session? Or the hunt for the hallucinogenic mushrooms? And then there’s the subplot with Galifianakis as a seemingly deranged man who keeps popping up and beating the hell out Brian. Why do these scenes exist? Why are they never explained? Why are they in such a jarringly different key than the rest of the film? Most importantly, why on earth would you hire Galifianakis, one of the funniest, strangest men in modern comedy, for your supposedly funny, strange movie, and then not give him anything funny to say or do?

Meanwhile, as sidebars and afterthoughts are playing badly, the primary plotline flounders. The biggest problem with the relationship between Brian and “Happy” is that we’re not given much evidence of what, exactly, she sees in him; the role is written as a cipher, and Dano is something of a blank slate (a trait used to great effect in Little Miss Sunshine and overcome with gusto in There Will Be Blood). She does her best to juice up their relationship, but they’re absent of any particular chemistry—and this is the actress who put across a convincing relationship with man-child Jim Carrey, old enough to be her father, in Yes Man. Maybe it was because that film gave her more of a spark-plug to play; “Happy” is a quieter, less boisterous role than her usual, and she responds with a subtle, finely-tuned performance. But we still don’t believe the relationship.

Sure, there are elements of Gigantic that work—some smart dialogue, a well-played scene here or there. And many of the performances are quite good; Asner and Alexander have a wonderful, grounded reality (which the film badly needs), and Goodman is plain terrific, using his considerable heft, deft comic timing, and grumbling lower register to create a memorable, likable character. But Aselton never manages to the thread it all up; when the closing credits rolled, my primary thought was, “Well, what the hell was that all about?”

Gigantic is, candidly, a mess. It plays less like a narrative and more like a filmed notebook—a random assemblage of poorly-connected scenes and half-cooked notions. Goodman and Deschanel are good enough to keep me from discounting the picture entirely, but it certainly doesn’t warrant anything more than a rental.

"Gigantic" hits DVD on Tuesday, August 11th.

No comments:

Post a Comment