Tag Archives: Romantic Comedy

CAPSULE: THE MERMAID (2016)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Chao Deng, Show Lo, Yuqi Zhang

PLOT: A wealthy Chinese business tycoon buys prime coastal real estate, but his Capitalist plans will destroy life for a tribe of mermaids (and one mer-octopus) living there. The merfolk dispatch an assassin to disrupt the tycoon’s plans, but they end up in a sappy romance instead.

Still from The Mermaid (2016)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A stylish and entertaining comedy, yes. It’s good, clean, silly fun, even fit fare to bring the kiddies. But it doesn’t touch the farthest rim of the outside category of the fringe weird movies considered here. A helpful note to future List aspirants: “fantasy” does not automatically equal “weird.”

COMMENTS: From the opening credits over shots of factories belching smoke and marine life drenched in crude oil, we expect right away we’re in for a heavy environmental message. To our relief, we end up in a bargain-basement nature museum and a farcical comedy. Tycoon Liu Xuan acquires Green Gulf, a prime island real estate, to develop. That business venture doesn’t sit well with the local fauna, especially not the kind with both arms and gills.

Shan is a mermaid dispatched by her tribe to stop Xuan’s plans by acting as a siren to lures Xuan to his assassination at the hands of a crack team of merfolk activists. But things run awry when she grows emotionally attached to Xuan, despite her leader describing humans as “pure evil” during an expository history lesson. Xuan gets mushy for Shan, too, so the fate of the merfolk hang with these star-crossed flounders. It’s just as well; as an assassin, Shan’s about as threatening as Mr. Bean. Cue Very Important Environmental/Cultural Sensitivity Message you’ve seen a hundred times in everything from Fern Gully to Pocahontas.

Even though it doesn’t qualify as “weird,” there are some memorable action scenes, top-notch special effects, grand scale slapstick sight gags, and a CGI crew who couldn’t resist inserting a Finding Nemo nod at the end there. Keep an eye out for an amok jetpack, slingshot air corps training, an outrageously over-the-top sushi chef routine, and an elder merfolk shaman with a water-bending magic ability. Stephen Chow is one director who knows how to deliver everything you were expecting, plus ten percent. The last thirty minutes even get dramatic enough to almost take itself seriously, just enough to sell the ending. Rest assured, the environmental message is not dropped with an anvil, but a quick smack from a frying pan.

“Hilarity ensues” is about all there is left to say for the rest of the film. The comedy isn’t even surreal enough to make it into territory; this is more like the Chinese Mel Brooks, complete with many classic gags from the farce school of comedy. That being said, it’s a well-done, lavishly produced, fun movie, sure to be a crowd-pleaser—it’s the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time, after all. But “crowd-pleaser” isn’t what a list of weird movies would typically include.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… the weirdest, hokiest and, at its best, funniest big-budget comedy since Stephen Chow’s last film, Journey to the West.”–Daniel Eagan, Film Journal International (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MISS MEADOWS (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Karen Leigh Hopkins

FEATURING: Katie Holmes, James Badge Dale, Callan Mulvey, Jean Smart, Ava Kolker

PLOT: A prim and proper substitute school teacher moonlights as a vigilante.

Still from Miss Meadows (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Miss Meadows has cult ambitions and tone issues, but it’s too restrained, not messy enough, and too afraid to wade into weirdness.

COMMENTS: In-movie, Miss Meadows is described, rather too ambitiously, as a “Pulp Fiction Mary Poppins.” Oh, Katie Holmes nails the “Mary Poppins” angle, alright. Dressed in flowery frocks with white gloves and ankle socks, reading books of light verse, correcting others’ grammar, and signing off with her signature phrase—“toodle-oo”—she is an anachronism that never existed, so whitebread and out-of-place in modernity that she’s uncanny. Holmes’ casting was inspired, and at times she almost steers the movie into legitimate character study mode. But, unlike Pulp Fiction, the script she’s trapped in offers no surprises, clever dialogue, or grit.

The opening, where Miss Meadows taps her way down a tree-lined boulevard greeted by CGI-wildlife of varying believability, only to find herself hit on by a scumbag whom she must blow away with her ladylike peashooter, pretty much encapsulates the entire film. The movie does venture down a few seedy alleyways, with little success. Since Miss Meadows is a sexless construct, Holmes’ flirtations with the local sheriff require her to break character and briefly act like a real human being (which she does by dancing to imaginary accordion music), but heat never develops between the two. Conversations (on a yellow rotary phone) with her equally deranged mother serve as an attempt to add another dimension, but one which only ends in obvious revelations. But it’s Meadows’ tea party with antagonist Callan Mulvey, an accused child abuser furloughed from prison in a recent budget crunch, that offers the biggest missed opportunity for the film to develop some depth. Mulvey is the only character who can stand up to Meadows and challenge her sincerity, questionable social agenda, and sanity, but the script abandons its feint towards developing this character into a true foil. That failure leaves the movie with little to rely on: it’s a toothless non-satire, an underdeveloped romance, and a black comedy with no real darkness. Miss Meadows founds itself on a coarse irony, then fails to do much with the premise you couldn’t find in a one-sentence logline.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Holmes’ performance helps Miss Meadows considerably: It’s so relentlessly upbeat and deliberately artificial that it admits no cynicism or judgment, and it makes the film daringly weird, like a less-bloody but no less savage version of Lucky McKee’s May, with less mutilation and more tea parties.”–Tasha Robinson, The Dissolve (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: A WOMAN IS A WOMAN (1961)

Une Femme Est une Femme

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: When striptease artist Angela says she wants a baby, reluctant boyfriend Emile dares her to conceive with his best friend Alfred, who has a crush on her.

Still from A Woman Is a Woman (1961)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Une Femme has that certain Godardian edge to it, but it’s not strange enough to grace a list of the weirdest movies ever made.

COMMENTS: Just as Godard’s debut feature, 1960’s Breathless, deconstructed gangster movies by contradicting cinematic conventions and defying audience expectations, his followup A Woman Is a Woman deconstructs the already unreal world of the Hollywood musical. In these early films Godard shows a fondness for the genre material, even as he rips it to shreds– he’s only taking it apart, like a curious schoolboy, to see how it works. For an alleged musical—Godard actually called it “the idea of a musical”—there are remarkably few songs, and those that do come and  go in fragments. Michel Legrand wrote a lush score for the film, but Godard chops it up and doles it out in bits and pieces, just to call attention to the emotional artifice of film music. When Emile and Angela argue over whether they should have a baby, a few seconds of angry strings punctuate each of their statements; at other times, happy woodwinds pipe up, but are laid over the dialogue, partially obscuring the couple’s words. As Angela walks down a Paris street, the soundtrack cuts back and forth at random between orchestral cues, loud street noise, and silence. When she sings her cabaret number while stripping out of a sailor suit, the piano accompaniment conspicuously stops whenever she opens her mouth to sing. A background chanson cuts off as soon as she drops a coin into a jukebox and punches in the numbers. And so on.

The jokes are in the lightly absurd mode we expect from hip French films of this era (see also Zazie; Catherine Demongeot grinning off the cover of “Le Cinema” magazine is one of the many nods to his contemporaries that Godard spreads throughout the film). When they are not speaking, Angela and Emile carry on heated arguments using the titles of books they collect from their apartment’s shelves. Angela flips an omelet into the air, runs off to answer a phone call, then excuses itself and returns to catch it as it falls back onto the skillet a minute later. The subject matter (unmarried Bohemians, one of whom dances naked for strangers, casually discussing having a child out of wedlock) and a glimpse of female nudity (not from Karina) made it a naughty picture in 1961, though it was far too sweet-natured to be a dirty one. There’s a pleasant silliness to this souffle that we do not associate with Godard, who usually comes across as angry even when he’s joking (especially when he’s joking). That could be due to the presence of the vivacious Anna Karina, the Danish pixie girl Godard offers up here as the nouvelle vague’s answer to Audrey Hepburn. Between her pout and her smile there isn’t room to fit in a centimeter of cynicism. Godard married Karina during the shoot; they divorced four years later. Perhaps not coincidentally, the director’s work turned towards the sour soon thereafter.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Analytical whimsy, captivating dissonance… Infinitely inventive gaiety is but a veil for anxiety…”–Fernando F. Croce, Cinepassion (DVD)

CAPSULE: THE FISHER KING (1991)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer

PLOT: A guilt-ridden ex-shock jock discovers he has a tragic connection to a homeless man who believes himself to be a knight questing for the Holy Grail.

Still from The Fisher King (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough, although it has a couple of transcendent moments of magical Arthurian fantasy. As weird titan Terry Gilliam’s most popular and commercial (non-Python) film, it is an important touchstone in weird movie history, however.

COMMENTS: Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King starts out strong, as a karmic drama about creep disc jockey Jack hoist on his own petard of media cynicism. When Robin Williams appears as the junkyard knight Parry, attacking a pair of punks with a garbage can lid and the power of song, it briefly becomes a wacky comedy; then develops into a redemption fable as the relationship between Jack and Parry deepens. Magical realism appears in Parry’s Arthurian hallucinations of fiery knights riding through the streets of New York. These multiple tones actually mesh surprisingly well, until the tale goes errant into the Realms of Rom-com, from whence no sane plot emerges unscathed. It concludes with a happy ending that feels very un-Gilliam; the story requires a happy ending, but this one is too pat, too Hollywood. Maybe it’s all over the map, or maybe The Fisher King just has something for everyone; high drama and mythological touchstones for the art house crowd, comedy and sentimentality for the masses.

Plot and style aside, The Fisher King is an actor’s showcase, anchored not by headliner Robin Williams, but by the excellent Jeff Bridges as a self-centered Jack (a character who inevitably evokes Howard Stern). Bridges is slick and unlovable, admired by the public only for his outrageous cruelty. But because he suffers, and because his guilt is enormous and comes from a core that has not yet been drowned in the oily cynicism that engulfs the rest of the character, we root for him to reform. Williams, of course, is the Fool. Under Gilliam’s direction, he’s restrained so that his berserk improvisatory tendencies never overshadow the story and turn it into a Robin Williams vehicle. The comic still gets plenty of moments, both manic (a nude moonlight dance in Central Park) and mawkish (his romantic stoop speech to Lydia, in which he essentially confesses to being a stalker). Mercedes Ruehl is wonderful as Jack’s long-suffering girlfriend, a typical New York Jewish/Italian mutt in trampy miniskirts. This character, who has attached herself to a down-and-out ex-celebrity, could easily have come across as needy and pathetic, but instead she is strong, sexy and noble. She justifiably won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Of the four major characters, only Plummer disappoints, slightly, and that can be blamed on the screenplay rather than her thesping. Her super-quirky, clumsy love interest role is simply unnecessary, a distraction from the film’s important relationships between Bridges and Williams and Bridges and Ruehl.

Standout moments include the Red Knight rampaging through Central Park, a massive waltz in Grand Central Station, and in a cameo as a “moral traffic light.” Curiously, one of the stylistic inspirations for the film is the Hollywood musical. Williams breaks into show tunes throughout, a fellow homeless man dresses up like Gypsy Rose Lee and does an Ethel Merman song-and-dance number, and the words “the end” even appear in the sky above Manhattan lit up like a Broadway marquee. Though not a musical, that spirit of light fantasy bubbles through the movie, leavening some of the themes of mass murder, alcoholic despondency, and homelessness. Even though The Fisher King has a strong sense of purpose, stylistically it’s more than a bit shaggy around the edges. Perhaps that’s appropriate in a film featuring a madman, and perhaps that makes it more lovable in the end.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

 “…a wild, vital stew of a movie… veers with great assurance from wild comedy to feverish fantasy, robust romanticism and tough realism–with only an occasional stumble.”–David Ansen, Newsweek (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: JAKE SQUARED (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Howard Goldberg

FEATURING: Elias Koteas, Mike Vogel, Kevin Railsback, , , Jane Seymour

PLOT: A director makes a self-indulgent autobiographical movie about his failed love life, and, “Twilight Zone”-style, versions of himself in his teens, thirties and forties show up in unwanted cameos.

Still from Jake Squared (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Jake Squared is like 8 1/2 done as a romantic comedy by a Hollywood phony. It’s a little weird, sure, but mostly you just feel embarrassed for the screenwriter.

COMMENTS: 50-year old, semi-successful indie film director Jake Klein is a helpless romantic, as he himself announces to the viewer minutes before kicking out his lead actor so he can perform the hot tub scene with the three bikini-clad bimbos himself. Later, he bemoans the fact that “some people want to deny the poorest children health care and nutrition so the richest people won’t have to pay a few thousand in extra taxes” while doing his morning breaststroke in his backyard pool. It hardly seems possible, for a movie that boasts about its self-awareness and meta-conceits, but Jake Squared doesn’t really seem conscious of these ironies. It expects us to honestly sympathize with the internal struggle of its wealthy, balding, chick-magnet protagonist, this achingly wounded Lothario, while reserving its scorn for humbler targets, like the airheaded aspiring starlet who wants to convert to Judaism to further her show business career.

Jake admits his autobiographical film project is self-indulgent, expecting us to forgive him his self-indulgence because he’s up front about it. But it doesn’t work that way. When is self-indulgent we forgive him not because he’s candid about it, but because the self he is indulging is so fascinating. Jake, on the other hand, is more like a second generation, not-as-funny cross between and Larry David (boasting the same incomprehensible sex appeal with which these writers endow their surrogates). Elias Koteas does a reasonable job as most of the Jakes (unless we were supposed to like the character, in which case even his workmanlike job can’t overcome the script). The acting in general is a high point; landing the trio of Jason Leigh, Madsen and Seymour as potential paramours was a coup, though again, why these women would be fascinated rather than fed-up with Jake’s agonized narcissism is unclear.

Weirdness is not an issue. The opening introduces us to the primary Jake, the dashing twenty-something actor he’s hired to play Jake, and several of his earlier selves wandering around a party, and then switches to new scenes from Jake’s life (being acted by the hunky stand-in) which he views on his cell phone. For further confusion’s sake, the young actor in the cellphone scenes can also see himself in the party scenes. It gets so convoluted that fifteen minutes in, a new character comes in and explains the premise directly to the camera. The problem is that this is a romantic comedy with an unlikable protagonist, no clear love interest (besides himself), and almost no laughs. It was 45 minutes in before I registered my first chuckle, and that was at a visible boom mic (to be fair, it was visible on purpose). Jake Klein isn’t a terrible person, but we should be paid the same rate as a therapist would to listen to him go on and on about his struggles with commitment; we shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege. Given Jake’s lack of notability, raising him to an exponential power was probably not a good idea.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If only Federico Fellini had lived long enough to direct Hot Tub Time Machine, he might have made something like this self-indulgent but agreeably ambitious anti-romcom.”–Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter (festival screening)

186. MOOD INDIGO (2013)

L’écume des jours

“I like this way of seeing the world, the fact that everything is re-created and everything is possible in this world. It’s not from our time, it’s not the past or the future, it’s just sort of a science fiction of present day.”–Michel Gondry on Mood Indigo

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Roamin Duris, Audrey Tautou, Omar Sy, Gad Elmaleh, Aïssa Maïga

PLOT: Colin, an independently wealthy inventor of gadgets like a piano that mixes a cocktail based on the tune played on it, meets the enchanting Chloe at a poodle’s birthday party, and the couple soon marry. His best friend Chick, meanwhile, is pursuing a romance of his own with his cook’s sister, while simultaneously battling an addiction to the work of celebrity philosopher Jean-Sol Partre. When Chloe falls victim to an unlikely infection—a water-lily grows in her lung—her medical bills bankrupt the couple, and Colin must take a job to pay for her treatment.

Still from Mood Indigo (2013)
BACKGROUND:

  • Mood Indigo is an adaptation of polymath Boris Vian’s 1947 novel “L’Écume des jours” (translated as “Froth on the Daydream,” “The Foam of Days,” or “Foam of the Daze“). The novel was adapted for film in the 1968 French effort Spray of the Days and 2001’s Chloe (from Japan).
  • Among other talents, Vian was a musician and jazz critic, and Duke Ellington was godfather to Vian’s daughter. The movie’s English title, “Mood Indigo,” comes from a famous Ellington number. Although Duke appears on the soundtrack and his ballad “Chloe” actually plays a part in the story, the song “Mood Indigo” is never heard or referenced in the film.
  • Jean-Sol Partre, the writer to whose works Chick is addicted, is, of course, a reference to existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre was a personal friend of Vian’s. (You have to be awed by anyone who counted both Duke Ellington and Jean-Paul Sartre among their close confidants).
  • The original version of the film released in France ran 130 minutes. In the United States and Australia, the film was re-cut to run only 90 minutes.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Trying to disguise the movie’s off-putting surrealism, Mood Indigo‘s U.S. marketers favored generic romantic comedy images of Tautou and Duris making lovey-eyes at each other (including one weirdish scene of them kissing underwater) to make it look like a quirky date movie. In fact, while Mood Indigo is sentimental at the beginning, it’s far more focused on handmade oddities (including a doorbell that scurries about like a beetle) and nonsense gimmicks than it is on romance, which is an afterthought and an excuse to root around in the director’s toy box. We think the most representative image is the inhaled spore that settles inside Chloe’s lung as she sleeps, covering her handmade heart with a coat of stop-motion frost.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Whimsical but weird, set in a peculiar Paris that could exists only in the dreaming mind, Mood Indigo is like Amelie on surrealistic steroids. If had suddenly gone soft-hearted and been given millions of dollars to make a romantic comedy, he might have come up with something like this.


U.S. trailer for Mood Indigo

COMMENTS: Unless you have a high tolerance for whimsical surrealistic excess, you may find yourself overstimulated by Mood Indigo Continue reading 186. MOOD INDIGO (2013)

185. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

“‘The books walk a line where you wonder if it’s fantasy, or if it’s really happening, At some point it stops mattering,’ O’Malley said, adding that he believes Wright captured the “whimsical weirdness” of the series.”—“Scott Pilgrim” franchise creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, quoted in L.A. Times article

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Edgar Wright

FEATURING: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Jason Schwartzman

PLOT: Scott Pilgrim is a slacker and bassist in the garage band “Sex Bob-omb”; his heart was broken a year ago by a former bandmate who cheated on him and went on to musical stardom. Scott, who’s in his early twenties, has taken to Platonically dating a wide-eyed high school girl named “Knives”. He (literally) dreams of a quirky, assured girl his own age by the name of Ramona Flowers, but while wooing her he learns that he will have to defeat her seven evil exes in battle in order to win her.

Still from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
BACKGROUND:

  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was selected to go on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies in the 5th Readers Choice Poll. Actually, it ended the poll tied and was involved in a run-off vote which also ended in a tie, at which time it was declared the winner by editorial fiat.
  • The film is based on a series of six graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley. The script was optioned after the first volume was published, and filming began before the series finished its run. Since the script was completed first, O’Malley provided the screenwriters with his notes on how the story was to end. O’Malley actually asked for permission to use lines from the screenplay in later “Scott Pilgrim” books. The final “Scott Pilgrim” volume was released in 2010, the same year as the movie.
  • Scott Pilgrim cost $60 million to make and earned only $30 million in its theatrical run. It has proved to be a home-video hit, however.
  • The film’s original ending, which had Scott reuniting with Knives, was rewritten due to negative audience response.
  • Naturally, the film inspired a video game adaptation.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Split screens. Besides the “Batman”-style “ka-pow!” lettering floating past during fight scenes, the visual motif you may notice most about Scott Pilgrim is the abundant use of split screens. This is not simply a stylistic affectation; the device refers to the movie’s graphic novel inspiration, mimicking the freedom of the printed page to place each image inside the frame that best suits it, however bent. That’s why we selected the fanned out rouges gallery of the League of Evil Exes as our indelible image (some of the promotional material features the same iconic image, with the actors occupying different spots on the evil spectrum for variety’s sake).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A villain sets up a duel to the death by email, then brings his own Bollywood backup singers—who happen to be levitating “demon hipster chicks”—to the fight.  When he’s defeated, he dissolves into a shower of coins. If you don’t think that’s at least a little weird, you probably need to put down the video game controller for a few hours a day.


Original trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

COMMENTS: When Scott Pilgrim flopped at the box office, it became Continue reading 185. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010)

READER RECOMMENDATION: PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002)

Reader recommendation by “Brad”

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, , Luis Guzman

PLOT: Business owner Barry Egan (Sandler) deals with anger issues, seven abusive sisters, a sex phone con artist, and the appearance of a strange harmonium all while falling in love with a mysterious, yet sympathetic woman (Watson).

Still from Punch-drunk Love (2002)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: With its lead’s compulsive abrupt violent behavior, an uneasy sense of loneliness, abstract color schemes by Jeremy Blake, and a wonderfully weird soundtrack by Jon Brion, this film is highly off-kilter for a romantic comedy.

COMMENTS: Paul Thomas Anderson followed up his dramatic masterpiece Magnolia with this small-scale arthouse comedy/drama/character study. Adam Sandler was chosen for the role of troubled lead Barry Egan. Unlike the typical crude humor Sandler is known for, here he uses a restrained, subtle performance to capture Egan’s tantrums, loneliness, and troubled life. Egan is a unhappy business owner balancing work and his seven abusive sisters who taunt him about being gay and continuously call him at work. Barry comes across a harmonium that was sat on the side of the road by a mysterious van following an out of nowhere car crash (foreshadowing a later car crash with Sandler and Watson). Later, we explore Barry’s loneliness and his paranoia when he calls a sex phone operator who later begins to con Barry out of money, threatening and later sending out a group of brothers hired as hitmen to rough Egan up. This blackmail operation is ran by the “Mattress Man” (Philip Seymour Hofffman, in a hilarious role). Egan ends up meeting a mysterious, beautiful young woman, Lena (Watson) through his sister, the same woman earlier in the film he briefly talked to about leaving her car. He begins to fall in love over the course of the film attending a date at a restaurant that ends with them kicked out due to his uncontrollable temper. He then follows her to Hawaii, using frequent flyer miles earned from buying pudding. The hitmen are later defeated after a car crash wounds Lena, who is hospitalized. Barry confront the Mattress Man in a hilarious final showdown. The film ends with Barry running back to Lena, confessing all his problems and promising to never leave  again. Too weird to be a mainstream rom-com, too unpredictable and arthouse to please everyone, Paul Thomas Anderson retains his courage for experimenting with film and pulls an actual performance from Sandler. This is a MUST EXPERIENCE for any film fan looking to step outside the usual boundaries set by mainstream romantic comedy/dramas.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a weirdly sweet little love story… Anderson also throws in dark complications, including a sinister phone-sex scam, Barry’s strangely surreal sisters, his pudding-purchasing obsession and some very odd pillow talk.”–Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: GARDEN STATE (2004)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Zach Braff

FEATURING: Zach Braff, , Peter Sarsgaard,

PLOT: A small-time actor, doped up on heroic doses of antidepressants, returns home to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral and finds love with a quirky lady while working through his family issues.

Still from Garden State (2004)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It ‘s quirky, not weird (and, by the end, it’s barely even quirky anymore).

COMMENTS: Originality is hard. There’s a moment in Garden State where Sam, Natalie Portman’s epileptic paralegal, stands up and spazzes out while babbling randomly in an attempt to do something completely original. Andrew Largeman, our narcotized small-time actor protagonist, is skeptical, and asks “so no one’s ever done that?” Sam’s response is “no, not in this spot.” Garden State gives us a meet cute, a manic pixie dream girl, and the power of love as an instrument of personal growth; the unavoidable stuff of its genre we’ve seen many, many times before. To make up for being unoriginal, the movie also gives us Kenny Rodgers funeral covers, knights speaking Klingon, and Method Man as a peepshow-running bellhop. No one’s ever done any of that before—at least, not in that exact spot on the quirk spectrum. Garden State is really two different movies. Before it launches into the romantic comedy, the first third is a deadpan comedy of alienation a la The Graduate (it’s no accident that Simon and Garfunkel appear on the soundtrack). So deadened that he’s unable to enjoy playing spin the bottle with a beautiful, possibly underage girl during an ecstasy-fueled orgy, Braff conveys some idea of what it must be like to have your emotions submerged under an ocean of lithium. This part of the film is the most interesting. Dysfunction makes for better stories; the healthier Largeman gets, the less interesting the movie becomes. He goes from seeing the world as bizarre and threatening to bizarre and welcoming—a saner, but less dramatic stance. Still, it would have been difficult (and possibly pointless) to sustain the initial mood of aimlessness for an entire film (The Graduate also had to leave it behind). What follows is Largeman slowly waking up from his pharmaceutical coma, helped by Sam and a stoner pal played by Peter Sarsgaard, as he goes on a therapeutic journey searching for the root of his emotional dislocation (which is where the excellent but underutilized comes into the picture). It may not be completely original (except for superficial quirks), and it’s not weird, but it is a good movie. Braff and Portman are hygienic and lovable, bringing an infectious spirit of youth that captures what its like to be lost and hopeful in your twenties. Add a Grammy-winning folk-rock soundtrack, and it’s no surprise that Garden State has become minor cult film.

The Garden State DVD is a lavish affair, with over 30 minutes of deleted scenes, another half-hour “making of” featurette, and two separate commentaries (one with Braff and Portman, the other with Braff and the crew).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Stormy twentysomething emotions seethe under a deft quirkfest.”–Ed Park, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Billy” who even wrote it up as a reader recommendation. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: ARTOIS THE GOAT (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Cliff Bogart, Kyle Bogart

FEATURING: Mark Scheibmeir, Sydney Andrews, Stephen Taylor Fry

PLOT: Virgil, unhappy with his job as an assistant to a taste-tester in a flavor synthesis lab

Artois the Goat (2009)

and struggling with the pressures of a long-distance relationship with his fiancée, risks throwing everything away to dedicate himself to making a perfect goat cheese.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Despite dream sequences and comic departures from reality, “weird” is too strong a word to use for this ever so slightly exotic concoction.  “Recommended” is also too strong a word, unless you add the modifier “mildly.”

COMMENTS: Artois the Goat is a film that captures all the thrills, excitement and romance of cheesemaking: milking the goats, separating the curds from the whey, aging the final product.  You might think there’s not a lot of thrills and romance in making artisanal goat cheese, but be assured that the Bogart brothers milk the subject for all it’s worth.  (That’s the closest I’m going to come to making a cheesy pun about this movie).  Actually, since the film is about following your passion, it could have just as easily been built around beer brewing, dollhouse building, or cannabis cultivation; but none of those other crafts would produce quite the same blend of snobbishness and ridiculousness as a film about cheesemaking, or appeal as deeply to the Food Channel demographic.  Quips aside, the cheesecrafting side of the film is somewhat educational and engaging, appealing to a certain “how do they make that stuff anyway?” fascination.  The thrust of the story is Virgil’s transition from a timid young adult who can’t commit to either a career or a woman to a fully-functioning adult who gets both.  Like its bespectacled hero (who sleeps in a bed surrounded by walls of books but is never seen reading anything but cheesemaking manuals), the movie is bookish without being intellectual.  It’s set in a world of smart, responsible, confused postgraduates who are neither hipsters nor yuppies, burnouts nor successes.  They have the education and taste to recognize the good life, but not the courage to seize it.  These twee characters and their sub-existential crises are a bit cloying, but thankfully, the movie frequently sets aside reality for Continue reading CAPSULE: ARTOIS THE GOAT (2009)