And by 4, I had given up on the film and moved on to something else, a film from New Zealand called “Shopping.”
It was a long day of travel, so I called it good after one more film – a dark British comedy called “Sightseers” – to rest up for what should be a full day today, Sunday.
Since the festival started on Thursday night, my Facebook page and Twitter feed were full of messages from people about different films and, as to be expected, they were all over the place. One post, on the Hollywood Elsewhere website, proclaimed that, as of Saturday, there had yet to be a breakout hit – even as others were proclaiming things like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s “Don Jon’s Addiction” or the documentary “Twenty Feet from Stardom” as the big winners so far.
I sat down and went through various lists last weekend to put my schedule together – then promptly forgot about it. I figure: When I’m here, I’m here and I’ll see what I see. Even as I was choosing films, I tried not to read too much about them. I wrote down the salient information on my legal-pad schedule – time, venue, running time – and then put it out of my mind.
So, yes, I want to see “Lovelace” and a couple of others. But when people said, “What are you looking forward to?”, my response is a dull, “I don’t know.”
Still, I’ll admit I was kind of anticipating “Austenland,” based on the brief plot description in the online listings: a comedy about a woman totally enamored of Jane Austen, who spends her life savings on a trip to England to visit Austenland, a week-long immersive experience living in Jane Austen’s world.
Just one problem: The film was written and directed by Jerusha Hess who, yes, wrote “Napoleon Dynamite,” which was directed by her husband, Jared Hess. The couple then went on to write and direct the virtually unwatchable “Nacho Libre” and “Gentleman Broncos.”
“Austenland” certainly has a funny idea: The eager Austenite played by Keri Russell discovers, once she reaches Austenland, that she has to play the poor relation, Miss Erstwhile, because she paid less than those who bought the “platinum package.” But she also finds her Darcy, as well as the cad who nearly causes her to choose the wrong man.
It’s a funny idea, struggling and choking on bland, unfunny writing. Russell isn’t a natural comic actress and Hess doesn’t know what to do with her – but then, she doesn’t know what to do with the hilarious Jennifer Coolidge, either, as one of Russell’s crass compatriots, or Jane Seymour, as Austenland’s snooty grande dame.
It was flat and going nowhere fast so, having read an article recently about sunk-cost and knowing when to cut one’s losses – and based on the fact that I hadn’t chuckled in the whole opening 30 minutes – I fled and, thankfully, walked into “Shopping” in the theater next door just as it was starting.
Part of the World Dramatic Competition, “Shopping” is a coming-of-age tale with not much new to say about being a teen, or even about being a teen in New Zealand. But it still makes strong points dramatically, in its story about a mixed-race adolescent named Willie, dealing with an abusive, alcoholic Anglo father, an abused and cowed Samoan mother and a new group of friends – criminals, as it turns out – who seem more inviting than his own family.
Set in 1981, when racial tension in the country was high (though the movie tells us this without really incorporating it into the story), the film does feature a live-wire performance by an actor named Jacek Koman, as Benny, the Fagin-like semi-gangster who co-opts Willie and pulls him into his world. But, of course, Willie is seeing what he wants to about his new friends, filtered through the prism of his experience with his father. Anything is better than drunk Dad – even a killer, or so it seems. The film doesn’t have much new to say about race or dysfunction, but it has moments of deep feeling and arbitrary explosions of temper.
I ended the day with “Sightseers,” a low-key but often very funny tale of a couple of 30-something British sad sacks, Chris and Tina – played by comic Steve Oram and actress Alice Lowe – who have been dating three months. Despite her disapproving mother, they decide to take a vacation together, towing a camper – or caravan, in their parlance – behind them while visiting a series of minor British sights, such as a pencil museum.
Oh, yes, and they start killing people along the way – not for thrills but because the people deserve it. One is a litterbug who gives Chris the finger when he asks the guy to pick up a wrapper he threw on the ground; another is a snooty type who yells at them for not picking up after their dog. Chris start killing first, then grows resentful when Tina joins in, because she lacks the justification he believes he has for his own acts of mayhem. It’s gruesomely bloody at times – and surprisingly funny.
Well, it’s almost dawn. Time to head for town and a day of movies. What am I seeing? Sorry, I’ll know when I get there.Print This Post