Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I Don’t Know Anything

Don’t get too excited about the confession in the subject line, hatas. I mean that in the William Goldman quote sense, wherein he famously opined in Adventures in the Screen Trade that in the movie industry, nobody knows anything. They don’t know what will sell; they don’t know what’s actually any good; they don’t know anything. It’s a business of guesses and second-guesses.

There are many reasons I could never work in he movie industry—chief among them that spending only a week per year in the near proximity of these people and their overwhelming sense of importance and entitlement makes me want to saw off my head with a spoon. But I also could not pretend to know what’s actually going to work for a wide audience, because I’m so not that audience.

Last year, Little Miss Sunshine killed at Sundance. Killed. And I didn’t get it. I saw it again before it’s wide release, just to be sure, and I still didn’t get it. It proceeded to become a surprise hit. And just got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. And that whole “getting it” thing? Still not so much happening for me.

So when people at Sundance start talking about the big crowd-pleasers, I’m not a good judge of anything beyond my own head. An Australian film called Clubland—about the insecure son of a has-been cabaret comic—got a distribution deal yesterday, presumably because it was deemed “crowd pleasing.” After about an hour, this member of the crowd wasn’t particularly pleased, and opted not to stick around for the final 48 minutes. I wasn’t as actively annoyed as I was by Little Miss Sunshine, but for my money the Less Annoying Than Little Miss Sunshine Club isn’t particularly exclusive. Clubland simply plods along in ways that makes it feel like a hundred other films about people triumphing over their dysfunctional families (at least for the hour I saw; if it suddenly turns into a musical or a dark thriller, my apologies).

More in tune with my own crowd-pleaser sensibilities is Son of Rambow, a lively, engaging comedy from the Hammer & Tongs team (including Garth Jennings). In 1982 England, a young kid from a strict, popular culture-eschewing religious community has a creative epiphany after viewing his prep-school classmate’s pirated videotape of First Blood. The unobtrusive nostalgia elements were an easy sell for me—the brick-sized cell phones, Duran Duran on the radio—and the oddball sense of humor was right up my alley. Yet while it’s friendship story arc might not go anywhere particularly surprising, the individual elements delivered along the way—including a French exchange student whose exotic qualities make him an alpha dog--kept me consistently engaged. I laughed; I cried; I was in the crowd, and I was pleased. (Scott Renshaw)

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