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The Adventure of Reviewing a Film

By Seth Freilich | Film | March 18, 2010 |

By Seth Freilich | Film | March 18, 2010 |

One rainy day at the South by Southwest film festival, I was walking out of a screening of Cold Weather, smoking a cigarette in one hand, while a less-effective-than-a-trash-bag poncho, purchased just that morning at the hotel where certain Pajibans were staying, stuck out from under my arm. Walking beside me, to my non-astonishment, was Dustin Rowles. “Ah, Freilich,” said he, “this weather is plum.”

To this I but growled.

I was well aware that nothing but the business of discussing that film would be the present topic of conversation, so I waited patiently until he should come round to it.

“Well,” said he eventually, “that happened.”

“I’m confused,” I responded. “For though I wanted to like that movie, and did like it to an extent, it was not without its problems.”

Rowles chuckled to himself. “That is to be understood. To be sure, the concept of the film is to be taken as a good one. The film focuses on Doug, who has returned to Portland, Oregon (not to be confused with the infinitely superior Portland, Maine, where a certain estimable film critic doth reside) from Chicago, where he studied but did not complete a major in forensic science. Doug is now living with Gail, and though we are left to our own reasoning as to their relationship, be they lovers or siblings, we come to deduce that she is but his sister. Upon taking a job of relatively menial labor, Doug befriends Carlos, and they and Gail find themselves embroiled in a possible mystery shortly after the return of Doug’s ex-girlfriend Rachel.”

To this summary, I gently nodded along, for I agreed that the premise was one of potential. “And certain aspects of the execution are well done. Take the first third of the film, which is a relatively slow burn focusing on little moments between the characters and the silences between dialogues. Such a thing in this film should come as no surprise, as Aaron Katz’s previous outings have been of the type dubbed ‘mumblecore,’ which are generally concerned more with analyzing and unpacking character relationships than making plot advancements. Here, Katz uses this mumblecore aesthetic to slowly bring the characters and the viewers into the film’s burgeoning mystery, and it is largely effective. This is further helped by the performance of Cris Lankenau, who though you have concluded that he looks remarkably like a funhouse mirror version of Mark Ruffulo, you must also agree that his performance is touching and amusing in its low-key delivery.”

To this, I again nodded my agreement.

“And yet, at present,” said he, “I cannot doubt that you are wondering if the film actually had a script, or it if shares yet another aspect of Katz’s prior mumblecore films by being largely improvised.”

“Excellent!,” I cried.

“Elementary,” said he. “It is one of those instances where the reasoner can readily deduce that you would be thinking such thoughts, given the awkward dialogue throughout the film coupled with the increasingly unnatural, and at times distracting pacing. For while those mumblecore aspects worked early in the film, the attempt to integrate them with an ostensibly intriguing plot periodically fails, leaving things feeling a bit uneven. That the questionable dialogue was in fact scripted, rather than improvised, raises further questions about Katz’s future in the quote-unquote mainstream, particularly when coupled with the fact that the performance he was able to get from some of the actors other than Lankenau was suspect, at best.”

“Having gathered these facts, Freilich, it may seem that we have come to an overwhelmingly negative conclusion about this film. And yet, I think it would be fair to say that one’s ultimate enjoyment of and takeaway from the film is actually more positive than negative.”

“With this,” said I, “I concur. It is fair to say that it is not without its faults, and many might prefer a more substantial conclusion (though I, for one, do not necessarily mind the ambiguity that is left). But there are some clever and entertaining aspects to the film, and the notion of trying to blend the indie/mumblecore sensibilities with a more produced product is not necessarily a bad one.”

“Ah, Freilich,” he said. “And so I suppose you have concluded that all this fuss has come to nothing?”

“Well,” said I, as we walked towards the convention center where the next leg of our festival journey awaited us, “there’s one thing. If the film did not achieve that which it sought, yet it still contained things about which one could recommend to others, is it a film worth seeing?

“That, my dear Freilich, is something each person must deduce for themselves. “

(Thanks to a Mr. Doyle for allowing me to shamelessly crib many quotes and sentence fragments from “The Adventure of the Crooked Man.”)

Eloquent Eloquence 03/18/10 | Lebanon, PA Review | Now, I Cannot Forget Where It Is That I Come From

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.