Coleridge wrote that a poet should “examine nature accurately, but write from recollection, and trust more to the imagination than to memory.” Then again, Coleridge took a dim view of critics, so I can’t stand behind everything the man said, but I think he knew what he was talking about when it came to dwelling fully in an experience and then to let later recollections flower with memory and emotion. Director Matthew Cole Weiss has attempted to do such a thing with Standing Still, a modest comedy about a group of twentysomethings who knew each other in college and reunite in L.A. four years later to see two of their members get married. It’s an interesting moment at which to stage such a reunion: The characters have now been out college as long as they were in it, and there’s something about that symmetry in each of their eyes, a glimmer hinting that they’re each starting to figure out that they’re now closer to 30 than freshman year. Weiss’ comedy is far from spectacular, falling somewhere around the average competence of direct-to-video features. But what the young director might lack in experience is often compensated by his well-meaning if occasionally misplaced heart: He genuinely cares about these people, and over time, so do we.
Weiss aims squarely for his target demographic from the first frame, as the gentle bass line from Dave Matthews Band’s “Proudest Monkey” builds into a home video montage of a group of men and women hanging out in college: Some basketball, some dancing, a few shots of a party that establish a few unrequited romances, a couple on a picnic, etc. It probably looks a lot like your college experience, only with hotter women. Four years later, Rich (Aaron Stanford) and Samantha (Melissa Sagemiller) are living together, and Michael (Adam Garcia) and Elise (Amy Adams) are getting married. Rich and Samantha are reluctantly shuffling toward similar responsibility, largely prodded by Samantha, who quits smoking and tells Rich he can’t smoke inside either, then brings up marriage. Rich should really put these clues together, but he doesn’t, so you can bet we’ll be waiting till the end for Samantha to reveal her surprise. Their minor arc plays out over the course of the wedding weekend at Michael and Elise’s swank Beverly Hills mansion, along with a variety of stories that, though mildly interesting, never garner genuine compassion from the viewer; you watch the characters, and even feel for them, but they’re ultimately not that memorable.
There’s also Quentin (Colin Hanks), who’s gone from the joker of the group to a high-powered Hollywood agent, an impossible feat for a 26-year-old, though in the film it almost makes a kind of bizarre self-referential sense: Quentin’s biggest client is Simon, played by James Van Der Beek, who as Dawson Leery went on to be a producer and showrunner by around age 24, so maybe Weiss just likes in-jokes. Quentin is a fast-paced stereotype, a foul-mouthed ball of energy, and easily the most enjoyable member of the ensemble, thanks in part to Hanks’ inherited charm and easygoing manner. Then there’s Pockets (Jon Abrahams), the neurotic guy who never got over his missed connection with Lana (Mena Suvari). He’s a promoter with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, living in Thailand, but is reduced to sitcom-level histrionics when Lana shows up. Lana, though, spends the weekend dodging hanger-on and one-night-stand Donovan (Ethan Embry) while getting close with Elise’s former roommate, Jennifer (Lauren German). Oh yeah, there’s also Michael’s long-lost father, Jonathan (Xander Berkeley), who shows up the day before the wedding to try and patch things up with his son.
Once the respective bachelor and bachelorette parties start, though, it’s clear that Weiss has sex on his mind, and a lot of it. The boys take Simon’s jet to Las Vegas to hit the casinos and strip clubs, and they even bring some of the strippers back to L.A. for some hot-tub action. When Elise’s hot younger sister, Sarah (Marne Patterson), shows up, she and Quentin hook up with all the class and ease you’d expect from a screenplay written by twentysomething males; of all the various sexual escapades, theirs feels the most unnatural, as if Weiss needed Quentin to be getting laid and couldn’t think of how to do it without introducing a girl with all the depth of a character in a porno. Then again, I guess that makes her perfect for the agent.
Weiss’ problem is a common one for his age: He has a lot to say, but is still figuring out how to say it. Two characters look longingly at each other, while one mumbles, “Things change, you know?” It’s a realistic but dull moment, offering all the accuracy of real life but none of the wit or intelligence you’d expect to see in a film. The story seems to be angling to be The Big Chill for post-millennial college grads, but its attempts at seriousness are hindered by the beautiful but unremarkable cast. Adams is far and away the most talented actor of the lot, but there’s only so much she can do with the clunky dialogue and flat characterizations she’s been given. Garcia is handsome but uninvolving, the kind of nameless face that litters college recruiting brochures. Oddly enough — and you should know it hurts me a little to say this — but Van Der Beek is surprisingly watchable. He’s an outsider among the friends and sometimes seems on the verge of realizing how empty his life as a superstar has become.
In the end, Weiss is smart enough not to push for any major resolutions and, though most of the characters’ secrets come to light, they end the film in pretty much the same place they started. Despite its occasional lapses into oversentimentality, I’ll admit that the film’s final note of blind optimism was almost uplifting. Looking back on his younger life, Weiss realizes that the only way to move forward is just to do it, head up and onward through the fog.
Daniel Carlson is the L.A. critic for Pajiba and a copy editor at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his weblog, Slowly Going Bald.
Standing Still / Daniel Carlson
Film | May 15, 2006 | Comments ()