2 items from 2003
Toronto International Film Festival
TORONTO -- "I Love Your Work" is a movie directed and co-written by an actor, Adam Goldberg, that features many of his actor buddies. So what's it all about? It's about how awful it is to be an actor or, worse, a movie star and how an acting career can damage one's fragile psyche. Before you can even accuse the moviemaker and his pals of naval gazing, a "narcissism expert" appears on a TV talk show and turns to the movie's protagonist to lecture him about listening to other people and getting over his egocentricity. Of course, he doesn't listen to her.
However much this movie may speak to the current generation of actors, it has little to say to moviegoers. Goldberg's direction is all flash and no substance, and his story and characters offer little reason for viewers to empathize with such self-pitying characters. Because Goldberg borrows -- or believes he is borrowing -- from the stylistic flourishes of filmmakers ranging from David Lynch and John Cassavetes to Martin Scorsese and the French New Wave, the movie may stimulate cineastes who look for "references" in movies rather than originality. Otherwise, "I Love Your Work" will have little life off the festival circuit.
Giovanni Ribisi plays Gray Evans, a movie star whose life and marriage to fellow movie star Mia (Franka Potente) is falling apart. As Mia accurately points out to Gray: "You hate the business. You hate the rags. And you hate being a celebrity." No one bothers to ask why Gray pursues a career guaranteed to bring him so much grief.
Goldberg and co-writer Adrian Butchart try to establish layers of reality in order to play peekaboo with the narrative structure. So there is a movie being made within the movie. Gray's obsessions and fantasies may or may not be real. And he suffers many mental mix-ups wherein his wife turns into his ex-lover Shana (Christina Ricci) and Shana gets confused with Jane (Marisa Coughlan), the young girlfriend of one of Gray's fans, John (Joshua Jackson). But since no level of reality is given any substance or plausibility, the movie feels void of narrative purpose.
Gray, who exists on a diet of booze and tobacco, apparently goes to a premiere nearly every night. Yet every time a photographer's flash goes off, his face has the startled, horrified look of a deer caught in the headlights of an on-rushing car. Gray sees stalkers everywhere, to the amusement of his security expert (Jared Harris), who pads his bank account nicely by following up on every obsession. And every time Elvis Costello leaves a message on the answering machine for Mia, Gray goes into a jealous rage.
Meanwhile, Gray and Mia live a strange movie-star existence as they inhabit a cool, sterile loft above an aging movie theater. The only real twist to this film comes when the movie star essentially stalks his own fan. Gray's spying on John and Jane allows him to fantasize about what a "normal" life would be like. Yet he gleams no wisdom from his intrusion into their lives. Instead, his continual delusions and flawed memories offer Goldberg the opportunity to wallow in an impressionistic style, courtesy of cinematographer Mark Putnam's crisp, gloomy lighting, designer Erin Smith's antiseptic decors and editors Zack Bell and John Valerio's jumble of images culled from Gray's confused mind.
Goldberg's actors work hard, but the overwrought melodrama betrays their efforts. Ribisi, who has never looked less like a movie star, is too weird and affected from the opening scene to pull you into his character's turmoil and troubles. Potente, who does look like a movie star, comes off with dignity at least as a women struggling to cope with a failing marriage. Jackson, Coughlan and Ricci, all playing quasi-figments of Gray's imagination, can do little more than pose and react.
I LOVE YOUR WORK
Fireworks presents a Muse production in association with Cyan Pictures, Departure Entertainment, Miracle Mile Films, Rice/Walter Prods. in association with In Association With Prods.
Director: Adam Goldberg
Screenwriters: Adam Goldberg, Adrian Butchart
Director of photography: Mark Putnam
Production designer: Erin Smith
Music: Adam Goldberg, Stephen Drozd
Costume designer: Dawn Weisberg
Editors: Zack Bell, John Valerio
Gray: Giovanni Ribisi
Mia: Franka Potente
Shana: Christina Ricci
John: Joshua Jackson
Jane: Marisa Coughlan
Yehud: Jared Harris
Stalker: Jason Lee
Running time -- 111 minutes
No MPAA rating »
Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Ventriloquists and their wooden colleagues have provided some truly creepy screen moments over the years -- from the Michael Redgrave sequence in the classic British thriller "Dead of Night" to a 1962 "Twilight Zone" episode featuring Cliff Robertson -- but seldom has that relationship been played for (intentional) laughs.
Enter "Dummy", a fresh, delightful, perfectly cast romantic comedy by promising writer-director Greg Pritikin that had Santa Barbara International Film Festival audiences giggling appreciatively. It went on to take home a special jury prize from the fest.
Given that the voice-thrower in question happens to be played by Adrien Brody, the Oscar-nominated star of "The Pianist", this crowd-tickler would look to be a no-brainer for the kind of distributor who -- knock on wood -- could maximize the picture's sleeper potential.
Brody's Steven Schoichet is exactly the kind of socially backward, pushing-30 guy who would be still living at home with his controlling parents, Lou and Fern (played by real-life couple Ron Leibman and Jessica Walter), and his unlucky-in-love wedding-planner sister, Heidi (Illeana Douglas).
One day, after deciding to pursue a dream nurtured by flickering black-and-white TV imagesof ventriloquist Paul Winchell and his wisecracking sidekick, Jerry Mahoney, he acquires a dummy from a magic shop and starts going about the business of not moving his lips.
While Steven's model-ship-making dad and sandwich-making mom seem too busy to notice, he gets support from his best friend, Fangora (Milla Jovovich like you've never seen her), a tough grrrl punk rocker whose band is going nowhere.
Ultimately, Steven's growing rapport with his still-nameless dummy brings him sufficiently out of his shell to charm his unemployment counselor (the beguiling Vera Farmiga) after a very bad start that led to a restraining order.
Meanwhile, as the result of another misunderstanding, Fangora finds herself having to take a crash course in the joys of Yiddish after Heidi hires her band to play at a traditional Jewish wedding.
With all the kooky elements in place, filmmaker Pritikin, who previously collaborated on a romantic sex comedy called "Totally Confused", allows things to unfold with a crisp wit and some gently placed parody that seldom makes fun at the expense of the amiable characters.
Although some of the picture's more dramatic passages aren't handled with the same amount of dexterity, Pritikin's cast is so good that it's tough to quibble.
It's no surprise that Brody, Douglas, Walter and Leibman make for one highly entertaining, if messed up, family unit, but the big revelation here is Jovovich, who finally gets a chance to really cut loose, showing some serious comedic chops as the raging-against-the-machine, ratty-haired, camouflage-wearing Fangora.
Also pitch-perfect is Farmiga as Brody's intrigued but understandably cautious love interest, while busy indie actor Jared Harris rounds out the ensemble as Douglas' mildly psychotic ex-boyfriend -- a former accountant-turned-amateur theater actor who's determined to win her back.
The spirited camaraderie also extends behind the scenes with some particularly colorful contributions by costume designer Marie Abma, while the assembled musicians make some major advances in the relatively unknown field of punk klezmer performance.
Director-screenwriter: Greg Pritikin
Producers: Richard Temtchine & Bob Fagan
Director of photography: Horacio Marquinez
Production designer: Charlotte Bourke
Editor: Michael Palmerio
Costume designer: Marie Abma
Music: Paul Wallfisch
Songs: Mike Ruekberg
Steven: Adrien Brody
Fangora: Milla Jovovich
Heidi: Illeana Douglas
Lorena: Vera Farmiga
Michael: Jared Harris
Fern: Jessica Walter
Lou: Ron Leibman
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating
2 items from 2003
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