Sunday, September 27, 2009


500 Days of Summer began with a disclaimer saying that the story you’re about to see has nothing to do with anybody in real life, then named the woman who inspired it, followed by the word “Bitch.” The Informant! opens with a disclaimer saying that what you’re about to see is based on a true story, followed by the words “So there.” Thirty seconds later you’re watching a credit sequence in 70’s Made-For-TV typeface and listening to jaunty Marvin Hamlisch music. And as the story begins, and the main character's wife urges him to tell the truth, just tell the truth, you know you're going to be seeing a mildly comic version of that painfully earnest Al Pacino Russell Crowe cigarette company guy film, the one you can get for 7.99 at Wal Mart. You can relax, because you know exactly where you are, right?


"Open Channel D."

This is a movie that takes the Unreliable Narrator premise, flavors it with chemicals, and feeds it to you like it's a piece of natural-grown fruit. There is Austin Powers spy music that has nothing to do with what we’re seeing, there are weird internal monologues that get cumulatively weirder and more disturbing, and there’s a very straight line from the beginning of the movie, when you’re saying to yourself, “This is really weird,” to the middle of the movie, where you are suddenly saying to yourself, “This is REALLY weird.” And that straight line? It’s not horizontal, it’s vertical, because the bottom keeps dropping out from under you. And after a while you realize that this technique, this disconnect between what the main character does and what he’s thinking, isn’t just a way to tell the story -- it IS the story.

Is the movie funny? Yeah. But the laughs are nervous ones, and they all have a WTF edge to them. At no point is anything deliberately played for laughs, which is why the trailer does the movie a disservice by stringing all the goofy moments together -- it makes the film look like a Coen brothers farce, instead of the troubling weirdismo mindfuck that it really is. And it totally could be a Coen Brothers farce -- if there was somebody doing a John Goodman over-the-top scenery chomp, you could safely sit back and relax into it because you'd know what you were being fed. But not this movie. You not only have to keep testing what you're chewing to see what flavor it is, you have to chew over stuff you swallowed five minutes ago because what you just ate changed the entire meal. And that's a lot of work to ask of an audience. Which is why, by the end of the film, you will realize that the reason nobody from the director on down let you in on the joke is because there is no joke.

You can't even sit back and enjoy the great acting. Me, I happen to like Matt Damon, and in this movie he's likable as hell. Which makes it really awkward when you start to get to know the character he's playing, and realize what's really going on (I'm using the word "realize a lot in this review for a reason; it's what I found myself doing during half the movie -- saying to myself either "Oh, wait," "Oh, no," or "Oh, wow.") So if you do try to sit back and enjoy Damon, you'll get so totally suckered in by his likableness that when the fit starts hitting the shan, you're going to be scratching your head and saying "YeahBuWhaNow?" And I can tell you exactly where it'll happen -- it'll be during the jaw-dropping scene, where the lawyers and the Justice Department people lay it all out on the table and a character in the film just sits there with her jaw dropping for about a minute and a half. Like, y'know the entire audience. (That scene relates to an interesting issue in the movie that's glanced at, but never given prominence. If a man lies about one thing, does that mean he’s completely untrustworthy about everything? If a murder witness, say, could be proven to believe that the earth is flat, would that disallow his testimony that Defendant X shot Victim Y in cold blood? In our current legal system? Yup. Lie about anything and you’re branded as a liar. Steal once and you’re always a thief. Blow the whistle on the crimes of your company, and commit a crime yourself? God help you.)

So don't go to this expecting a laugh riot or even a fun fest. Go to it expecting to walk out with a headache. Why? Because the movie constantly requires to you to (a) figure out what you’re really seeing with (b) little or no guidance as to what you’re supposed to think. For that reason alone this is a great little movie. But it’s still more little than great.

So there.

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