Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Day One – “What the hell are we all doing? Why are none of us setting ourselves on fire?”

The Hottest State

Ethan Hawke’s second feature as a director, based on his own novel about a New York-based slacker (Mark Webber) getting his heart broken.

I didn’t mind this at all at the time, but then I saw "In Search of a Midnight Kiss" (see below) straight afterwards and it blew this out of the water. Mark Webber plays William, a Texas-born slacker trying to make it as an actor in New York. When he meets aspiring singer Sara (Catalina Sandeno Moreno) in a bar, he thinks he’s found the girl of his dreams but he’s destined for heartbreak. The main thing I learned from The Hottest State is that Ethan Hawke must be a very neurotic chap indeed, given to over-analysing every tiny aspect of a past relationship failure in a haze of nostalgia-induced misery. And who amongst us hasn’t done that? Webber’s actually pretty good, even if you occasionally want to slap him. Moreno is good too, but she suddenly becomes an utter bitch for no reason and we never find out why. This is, admittedly, sort of the point, but it’s still frustrating and it turns you against her character, which doesn’t feel right. There’s also good support from Michelle Williams (as one of William’s ex-girlfriends who still likes him) and especially from both Laura Linney (as his no-nonsense mother) and Hawke himself as William’s Texas-based father, whose absence from William’s life may go some way to explaining his issues. To be fair, there are some good scenes. I liked the brief, well-edited “time passing” montage, illustrated by changing movie marquees (Splendour in the Grass, The Last Picture Show and Paris, Texas, which tells you pretty much everything). Other highlights include: Sara singing (the film could have used more of this), prompting William to proudly exclaim, “That’s my jacket!”; an excruciating scene that perfectly captures the agony of multiple unanswered phonecalls (when you just know they’re listening but not picking up); and the understated porch scene where William finally meets up with his father (“Seeing you here today says a hell of a lot about you”). There are some great lines of dialogue too. Having said that, the film has more than its fair share of angsty and pretentious moments and it’s not quite as profound as it thinks it is. Oh, and if anyone does end up seeing it, could they please explain the first sex scene to me? Did they have sex then or not? The dialogue was muffled but he later tells his friend they didn’t have sex (it becomes kind of a plot point later on) and it sure looked like they were having sex to me. Basically, the sweetest part of the whole film is when he thanks Dead Poets co-stars Robert Sean Leonard and Josh Charles in the closing credits. Three stars, but that’s being generous.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss

Indie relationship drama about an L.A.-based slacker (Scoot McNairy) who places an online personal ad on New Year’s Eve.

This was absolutely wonderful and if I see another film even half as good as this I’ll be very happy indeed. As it is, this has shot straight into my Best of the Festival list. Shot entirely in crisp black and white, the film opens on the morning of New Year’s Eve, with lonely, L.A.-based slacker Wilson (the delightfully named Scoot McNairy, who looks a little like Casey Affleck) photo-shopping his roommate’s girlfriend and then getting caught while…er…using the picture. Luckily his roommate Jacob (Brian McGuire) and his girlfriend Min (Katy Luong) see the funny side and persuade Wilson to place an online personal ad. Wilson’s still depressed about breaking up with his ex-girlfriend in order to come out to L.A. so he decides to give it a go and places an ad which reads “Misanthrope seeks Misanthrope”. He winds up on a date with Vivian (Sara Simmonds), a beautiful, bossy and decidedly full of herself wannabe actress, who warns him that if he doesn’t come up to scratch she’ll call someone else at 6 o’clock because there’s no way she’s spending New Year’s Eve with some loser. The rest of the film basically follows them on an extended ramble around Los Angeles as they bicker, flirt and get to know each other. The two leads are wonderful and it just goes to show you that all you really need for a romcom are two talented, likeable actors and a great script. It’s hard to convey just why this is so great, but what I liked about it was the entirely believable evolution of their relationship, particularly the way in which Vivian gradually lets her guard down. (Wilson himself is also a lot sweeter than the opening scene suggests). The film is packed with lovely little scenes, several great lines and a genuinely heart-breaking moment towards the end that comes out of nowehere (answering machines play a part here too). On top of everything else, it’s very funny, the supporting cast are great, the black and white photography looks gorgeous and it’s a real novelty to see a film set in L.A that involves so much walking (although, admittedly, they do take the subway a couple of times). As an aside, I had an argument afterwards about whether or not In Search of a Midnight Kiss could be said to belong to the emerging “mumblecore” movement. I argued that it could and I invite Mumblecore Experts to persuade me otherwise. Five stars and the first genuinely unmissable film of the festival so far.

Extra bit

So, only two films today. It would have been three, but a last-minute rescheduling meant that In Search of a Midnight Kiss clashed with the third film I’d lined up (Solitary Fragments). It turned out for the best because, unusually for me, I really didn’t want to see anything else after In Search of a Midnight Kiss, because it was so good and I wanted to let it sink in.

Festival films I’ve already seen in London

I’m planning to review as many of these as possible as and when their screenings come up.

Hallam Foe (opening night film)
And When Did You Last See Your Father?
The Legacy
The Serpent
Death Proof
Knocked Up
Year of the Dog
Rocket Science
Two Days In Paris (closing night film)


Anonymous said...

If Ethan Hawke had given Josh Charles a role in the movie it would have been more to the point. Charles is a wonderful, underrated and criminally underused actor.

Indy Datta said...

Re the mumblecore debate. If you wanted to use the term as a taxonomical aid, you'd probably have to restrict its application to the group of film makers centred around the SXSW festival, and who tend to pop up in each other's films: Bujalski, the Duplass Bros, Joe Swanberg, Aaron Katz. From what I've seen they don't actually have much in common as a group beyond a DIY ethic and aesthetic, and a commitment to exploring the substance of their own lives.

Andrew O'Hehir in Salon today proposes that, as a movement, mumblecore (jokingly dubbed thus by Bujalski's long-suffering soundman) is probably already over, with the Duplass Brothers working in network TV and Bujalski developing a film (of Benjamin Kunkel's celebrated/scorned "Indecision" for Scott Rudin and Paramount, but that festival programmers would over the next couple of years start to see a lot of films that affect the tropes of these films - the lo-fi, the lack of affectation, and so-on; so you'd get an erstaz Sundance Mumblecore hybrid or something.

Notwithstanding - looking forward to Midnight Kiss on your recommendation and Hannah McGill's...