March 17, 2010

Great New Wonderful - 2005

Director: Danny Leiner
Writer: Sam Catlin
Starring: Olympia Dukakis, Jim Gaffigan, Judy Greer, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tony Shaloub, Steven Colbert, Will Arnett, Edie Falco

Danny Leiner (Dude, Where's My Car; Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) directs Catlin's writing debut, a character-driven piece taking place in the weeks leading up to the one year anniversary of a recent New York City tragedy (although that has surprisingly little to do with the "plot").

I use quotation marks because the film would probably work better with each of the five sections made as separate films, as they don't really connect in the manner of Crash or Babel.

  • An accountant (Gaffigan) undergoing a therapy session in the office of a passive-aggressive psychologist (Shalhoub).
  • Two immigrants from India on security detail for a visiting dignitary.
  • An ambitious pastry chef (Gyllenhaal) preparing a professional pitch that she hopes will make her the reigning doyenne of New York's competitive cake scene.
  • A Brooklyn housewife (Dukakis) fixes her husband's dinner and then sits at the kitchen table making collages out of old magazines while her husband sits on the balcony, smoking a cigarette.
  • Allison & David Burbage (Greer, Tom McCarthy) struggle to keep their marriage together while coping with their increasingly difficult and strangely self-possessed 10-year-old son.

Some of the characters share a brief elevator ride, but that's the extent of it. Despite the lack of a traditional plot, however, I mostly enjoyed the film. Definitely recommend a watch if you can find it. Two caveats: Shaloub's character ends on a very ambiguous note, and Gyllenhaal's one which leaves the viewer wondering her motivation. Maybe when I get around to watching it with the commentary track, I'll be contented with the answers I seek.

Oh, and this film is obviously the total opposite to the director's other film work--not only a drama, but an extremely subtle one at that. Also, I got the feeling early on that this movie was either over my head, or just trying very hard to be incredibly pretentious. Thankfully, it turned out to be neither.

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