Friday, March 21, 2008

A gloomy indie and another failed comedy

Summary: "Snow Angels" comes off as another gloomy American indie. "Drillbit Taylor" doesn't come off as much of anything.

I admit it, although in some critical circles my confession may sound like heresy. I'm not particularly fond of the work of David Gordon Green ("George Washington," "Undertow" and "All the Real Girls"). I'm willing to call it a taste thing and readily acknowledge that others have hailed Green as an important voice in American movies. But when I saw "Snow Angels" at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, I wondered whether Green hadn't lost the dreamy, poetic groove that made him so appealing to his devotees. In adapting a novel by Stewart O'Nan, Green puts his finger on the monotonously downbeat pulse that throbs across the current indie scene.

"Snow Angels" opens with gunshots, and then flashes backward. We know we're going to spend the rest of the film learning what led to those shots, fired during a high school band practice. As this retrospective process of discovery unfolds, the movie recites a litany of woes. Decaying marriages, alcoholism, religious fanaticism and adolescent angst ripple through "Snow Angels" like currents of despair.

Green centers his story on Arthur, a teen-ager played by Michael Angarano. When he's not in school, Arthur works at a local Chinese restaurant. One of his co-workers (Kate Beckinsale) was once his babysitter. He has a bit of a crush on her. Arthur's also involved in a budding relationship with Lila (Olivia Thirlby), a fellow student.

The adult world that surrounds Arthur orbits his coming-of-age story like so many gloom-struck moons. Beckinsale's Annie is being pursued by her relentless husband (Sam Rockwell), an alcoholic who zealously has turned to religion. She's having an affair with the husband of a co-worker (Amy Sedaris). Arthur's parents (Griffin Dunne and Jeannetta Arnette) are separating. Dunne's character teaches science at Arthur's school.

Most of this has the feeling of mandatory malaise that defines the kind of fiction that seems designed to give us the lowdown on American suffering. There's nothing much for us to do but ride the emotional waves that engulf the movie's small-town setting: Jealousy, ambition and boredom, the creeping fog of too much domestic failure.

I've seen Green's film compared to "The Sweet Hereafter," but I don't buy it. Both films have an icy reserve about them, but Green doesn't display --- at least not here -- Atom Egoyan's ability to take us deep inside a profound and irrevocable sadness.


All those who genuflect at the comedy altar of Judd Apatow, the bright comedy light who has been associated in various capacities with movies such as "Superbad," "Knocked Up" and "The 40 Year Old Virgin," may be forced to tone down their enthusiasm when they see "Drillbit Taylor," a mostly unfunny comedy about three dorks (Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile and David Dorfman) who hire the homeless Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson) to serve as their bodyguard. The kids think Drillbit's a lethal human weapon who was quietly discharged from the Army.

The movie, which hails from Apatow's production company with Steven Brill ("Mr. Deeds" and "Little Nicky") handling the directing chores, tells us that its three nerdy heroes need protection from the school bully (Alex Frost), a teen psycho who seems a little too sadistic for a goofy comedy.

The script by Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen misses more than it hits, and "Drillbit" proves that bullying -- one of the most serious of school problems -- might not be the best place to look for laughs.

1 comment:

Peter Nellhaus said...

What I want to know is: how does the 100 minute theatrical cut of Woman on the Beach compare with the original 127 minute version?