Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Me, You and Everyone We Know

... Is an annoying new indie film that I saw a couple of days ago. it won an award at Sundance, and the premise sounded interesting, but in the end it was more irritating than anything else.

Actually, it was one of those films that annoyed at the time, but that I've sort of forgotten about in a couple of days. I didn't hate it; merely rued the wasted 90 minutes when I could have been elsewhere, doing more important things....

Like surfing the net.
Or drinking my tenth cup of coffee for the day.
Or considering the important question of whether, if I ever got a job in London, I'd prefer to live in Southwark or in Islington.

Okay, so perhaps I really shouldn't claim that the movie wasted my time. Though that is only if I believe that the kinds of things listed above are equally pointless. And I don't think they are.

So about the film. It's set in some sort of generic dystopic bit of American suburbia, and is (principally) about a lonely woman who is a video-artist (but all she really wants is to connect with someone); a recently-divorced (or separated) father-of-two shoe salesman with a sad face who tries to take care ofb his kids but ... ok, it's not so hard to guess, only wants to connect with someone, the kids, and some random people from the art world who the writer/director/lead actress wants to poke fun at (which is rendered somewhat redundant by the fact that while they're supposedly objects of fun because they are so pretentious and up-their-own-arses, in fact so is the film and allthe other characters in it). Of course, the two lead characters try and fail to conenct (this, of course, we didn't have to watch the movie to know) but maybe, just maybe, they do in the end (happy ending! yay!) but by that time I at least was so past caring thatI was just glad it was over.

Everything about the fim was contrived. Now I'm not someone who is averse to a bit of crafty filmic manipulation, but it needs to be done well. Instead, here was a film where every moment seemed to have been thought through by someone who was constantly saying to herself, 'this would make for a provocative moment on screen'. Unfortunately, it all seemed so premeditated that it fell totally flat.

A film on a scale as intimate as this one must, to 'work', evoke some feelings of either empathy, or recognition, or identification. I always remember the sheer exhilaration I felt when watching Krystof Kieslowski's 'A Short Film About Love', part of his Decalogue series. There's a moment in the film when the central character, a boy who has been spying on a woman who lives in his apartment complex, finally goes to her place on the pretext of delivering some milk, and asks her if she will have ice-cream with him. The next moment, the camera cuts to him, obviously totally elated, running through the grounds of the complex, dragging his milk cart, totally happy. It's totally exhilarating, and it works because although the character is quite ambivalent, you have come to care about him and his pathetic little obsession, and you want the woman to agree to go out with him. It'a quite hard to explain, but that little moment makes the film.

Cut to the Bollywood remake of the same film, the Manisha Koirala-starrer 'Ek Choti Si Love Story'. The equivalent moment is totally ruined, in that version, by being shot in candy-floss colours and punctuated with jaunty, peppy, cheesy background music that makes it seem totally fake. Trying too hard. The comparison of those two moments is a really good example of what differentiates a moment that seems somehow 'true' from one that manifestly does not.

Coming back to the film I was talking about, it suffered from trying to be way too cute. The characters were sort of vacant and unprepossessing (again, I don't believe that characters have to be likeable, but there has to be something about them that makes you care what happens to them). The situations seemed to have been thought up with an eye to either making them controversial, or somehow 'weird', but unfortunately, weirdness by itself is uninteresting, and frankly quite annoying.

Also, I think I have an ideological objection of the Hollywood-ish (and Bollywood-ish, for good measure) notion of the absolute necessity and primacy of romantic love, which this movie, for all it's supposed non-mainstream ethic, buys into fully. Somehow, you are supposed to believe that the emptiness of the life of the characters, which the movie does capture fairly well, can only be remedied by 'falling in love' or 'being in a relationship'. Why? Why not by reading something interesting, making a couple of good friends who you're not dying to have sex with but love hanging out with/talking to? This emphasis on the necessity of perennial coupledom is something that annoys me about contemporary culture in general, so it's unfair to blame this film for it; nonetheless, it does nothing to counter the idea. Wasted opportunity.

So in the end, you ended up with a film with the odd funny moment, but one that was too self-consciously 'indie' to ever let itself be honest. And that was its biggest failing. In its defence, it did manage to convey the detachedness of suburban life to some degree. But this has been done before, and better, and more entertainingly. In ostensibly eschewing the commercial gloss and gimmickry of other movies with similar themes (think American Beauty), this one just ends up being a caricature of independent movies of a certain type: good concept, a surfeit of self-conscious posing, and thus appallingly bad execution.


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