Picks: Disappointing Films
Art School Confidential. Dir. Terry Zwigoff. This film plodded along. I never became interested in the main character. He was boring. And the film depends upon a plot twist that in no way originates from the character’s values. He takes art classes and is obviously the best artist in the place—but never gets credit from his instructors (who are all failed artists). A film like could have worked, I think, if it a character capable of being transformed and a harder edge to the satire on the teachers. His best friend is never developed as a character either, and when the friend takes him to see a former student, now a down-and-out drunk (played by Jim Broadbent), I was not at all moved by the interactions. I needed something from this film, and I didn’t get it. It plodded. He meets the girl of his dreams—one of the models who sits for nude portraits in classes. Her father is an artist—but nothing comes of this either. Then there is the Strathmore Strangler subplot. Who cares? The naïve lover business is tiring and derivative. Everyone essentially is one-dimensional—even the warped art teacher played by John Malkovich. What we have here is an ineffectual young man pining for a woman he cannot have—and even when he goes through his dark night of the soul, nothing really happens from it. Oh, by the way, naïve boy will eventually get the girl, but only after the plot has derailed and become absurd.
Aurora Borealis. Dir. James C. E. Burke. (2005). The simple answer to this film is that I never believed in the character of the young protagonist. How convenient that the disgruntled and disaffected young man, going nowhere fast in life, decides to work as a fixer-upper guy in a high rise for the elderly—and just think, his grandparents live in that building. And if he is estranged from his mother, then guess what? He will find fulfillment through his relationship with his grandparents! Isn’t that lovely? And oh, just to help out—he will find love in the free spirit of a character played stereotypically by Juliette Lewis, who has to figure out how to reignite her career—perhaps by playing characters that do not exploit the stereotype she has created. All of this convention undermines the possibilities for real characters to play off one against the other. For instance, I get tired of actors like Donald Sutherland playing irascible old men—because that’s another stereotype. Oh, look at him feeling sorry for himself. Listen to him cuss! Listen to his wife being another stereotype: the perfect affirming life partner who never blows up herself, but always maintains an even keel because that’s her role in life. I got the feeling the writer of this screenplay was a young man, because he was in a strange way idealizing old age. He was out of touch with what old people are really like—and they are remarkably diverse! There is another convention that is hauled out for show here—and that is the loyalty of today’s young people to each other (also trotted out in The Last Kiss). What an idealized presentation of reality. But you know for sure that our main character Duncan, played without pizzazz by Joshua Jackson (of Dawson’s Creek fame), really has a sensitive heart. I know he is troubled, I know he is a pain in the butt, but eventually you will come to love him. That’s the convention, all right. Now what could it have been that made our protagonist such a passive character, someone unable to embrace the happiness right in front of him (especially the woman Juliette Lewis plays)? Don’t tell me: when his father died 10 years ago, his world ended. His father was like a god to him. Oh, that explains everything. And then there are other doubts our young man has. But to be honest with you, I couldn’t really care less about him. When our passive hero finally exploded emotionally late in the film, I was not moved by his emotions. He seemed to me a character that blamed the world for making him the way he was. I thought to myself, “Get over it and get a life. Stop complaining.” You see, this is a film about a young person’s idealized point of view about aging: the young person who desperately wants old age to be a vital time of life. But of course, it is a vital time of life—but the way that vitality is expressed is not always cute or winning or sentimental or unconventional. And when we reach the climactic scene, having to do with an old man’s desire to commit suicide (because he is tired of living with so much pain and disability), the suicide plot is derailed by the young man (our hero!), but then the old man dies of a heart attack. How convenient that he would die that way—no pain, no suffering. He gets what he wants, but has no emotional baggage attached to it that will affect his wife and family. That’s just the way young people would like it to happen to them when they get old. Let me die in my sleep. I want the age without the suffering. That’s the formula. And then comes the ending and the big climax, and you know what happens, and that’s all there is to say.
Fast Food Nation. Dir. Richard Linklater. Maybe this is nitpicking on my part, but the burger chain that was featured in the film (obviously a MacDonald’s or Burger Type of franchise) had no resemblance to the reality it was intended to portray. That one franchise restaurant looked like a Mom & Pop hamburger joint populated by slackers. I didn’t for a minute believe the place or the characters—and that undermined, to some extent, my response to the film. Another beef with this film: big stars suddenly appeared in set-piece scenes. Hey! There’s Kris Kristofferson! There’s Bruce Willis! But their star power overwhelmed their character portrayals. I didn’t believe them for a minute! I was never really brought into the world of these characters. Then there is the main character, the executive played by Greg Kinnear. He plods his way through the film and never seems able to absorb the ironies and madness he is surveying. He simply yields to forces greater than himself. He stays—rather than heading for the hills (when you would think a hero would head for the hills). He was simply too naïve a character. Furthermore, the production value of the film seemed cheesy and two-dimensional. The story of the illegal immigrants that ended up working in the meatpacking plant deserved a film all their own rather than simply being one part of the ensemble cast. I would venture even to say that the film’s settings, production values, and acting often verged on the amateurish. When the Greg Kinnear faces a moral crisis, and simply yields to the strong side, the film never recovers its footing. And the main Latino character, Alice, is an idealized character, and when she faces her greatest humiliation, working on the line pulling out cow intestines and kidneys, and she breaks down and cries, all I could think was, “This is the not the cruelest fate I could imagine.” Near that section of the film Linklater includes documentary-like footage of the killing floors. One shot shows a bin of skinned cow heads, their eyes bulging. Yes, that’s what part of this process looks like. That process, in and of itself, is not evil. I am left wondering, “What was the point of this film?” Who are the villains? Who are the heroes? Are we evil because we are meat-eaters? Where are the complexities of this story? Quite honestly, I did not find them in this film.
Disappointing Films N-Z