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Christian Slater is a stranger who comes to a small town. The local citizens think he's up to no good. After bothering him for a while, he blurts out in frustration, that he is there to kill himself. Written by
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"I'm not going to kill myself today, you can all go home"
"Julian Po" can be described as a darkly comedic drama with romantic undertones. Mostly, though, "Julian Po" is just strange.
The film stars Christian Slater in the title role and, in terms of a very basic plot, somewhat resembles Hal Hartley's "Henry Fool." Like Henry, Julian wanders into an unnamed town and turns its residents' lives into a frenzy. However, unlike the joyfully arrogant Mr. Fool, Julian is glum, mysterious, and basically wants to stay anonymous.
A 30-year-old bookkeeper, he apparently was on his way to the sea when his car broke down, and he decided to stop in the little town. He checks into a broken-down hotel and immediately his presence strikes up curiosity in the weirdo townspeople. Thanks to the redneck-ish hotel manager ... the town mayor, his wife, the sheriff, the priest, etc. are all soon aware of Julian. They are also very suspicious of him! Some of them think he's a drug dealer, and the mayor's wife also convinces many of them that Julian is some sort of serial killer and has come to their town to kill again. Finally, they confront Julian in a restaurant, bombarding him with questions and demanding to know why he is there. Julian blurts out his answer; he did in fact come to the town to kill somebody ... himself.
This is where the movie gets really odd. All of a sudden, the townspeople are fascinated by Julian! They start stopping by his hotel room to chat and bring gifts. They confide their darkest secrets; they also come to Julian for advice, and take what he tells them to heart. A whole bunch of the townspeople, led by a gang of young boys, literally follow him around everywhere. The hotel manager presents him with a gun to do the deed, and an old woman even starts taking bets on which day Julian will "off" himself!
Julian is baffled by this, and vaguely annoyed, but mostly he humors the townsoddballs. And when a pretty young woman named Sarah comes to his hotel room, tells Julian she has been waiting for him all her life, and starts kissing him ... he's thrilled. (*spoiler alert*)Unfortunately, Julian's relationship with Sarah leads her to take her own life, as some kind of love proclamation. The townsfolk aren't happy with this; as a result, they more or less force Julian to do what he came to do.
Quirky as that story might sound, surprisingly "Julian Po" works. I've seen the film a few times now, and it's one of those movies I like a little more with each viewing. Writer-director Alan Wade succeeds at both of his jobs, particularly with his offbeat script. And Patrick Williams' score is lovely, haunting, and effective.
However, the strongest of "Julian Po"'s assets are its characters -- and the talented cast that brings these characters to life. Christian Slater is fabulous as Julian! Tunney brings a nice intensity to her portrayal of the sweater-knitting Sarah.
Also noteworthy, in smaller roles, are: Cherry Jones as the hotel manager's mute housekeeper sister who may or may not have a crush on Julian (though her inquisitive eyes and perpetual frown might bug some at first); Allison Janney as the gossipy, busybody mayor's wife, Lilah Leech; Jeremy Jordan as Bobby, a mechanic who wants to be a movie star -- despite the fact that he says "Are you talking' to me?!" in the same tone he says everything else; Dina Spybey as Bobby's mousy blonde wife, who pledges to do anything for Julian; and Zeljko Ivanek as the men's clothing store owner -- who confesses to Julian his crush on Leon, the town sheriff. Many members of this cast are staples on Broadway, and that shows in their performances. ("Julian Po" is in fact very play-like.)
I must also give mention to young Io Tillett Wright. Miss Wright is a girl, but if I didn't happen to know that fact ... well, let's just say her portrayal of a boy named Walter makes Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry" look like the girliest icon of femininity. Wright looks like a boy, walks like a boy, talks like a boy. I guess it's a testament to Wright's acting skills, but it did make me wonder -- why not just cast a boy?
There are a few things wrong with "Julian Po" that make me unable to rate it higher than I did. One big problem I had with the movie was its portrayal of the town pastor. At first, he is just kind of overearnest. Later on, though, a talk with Julian leads to a sermon in which the pastor announces, with great zeal, that he doesn't believe in God. This is yet another similarity the film shares with "Henry Fool" ... but at least in 'Henry' the pastor was more of a doubter ... and not an out-and-out goon like the pastor in this movie. Granted, almost everybody in "Julian Po" is a goon -- but, still, I do get tired of almost all religious characters in movies being played as evil or foolish. It's so unoriginal. Religion does not always make someone a bad guy.
But my other gripes about "Julian Po" are mostly minor...e.g. the film takes awhile to get into. Overall, if you're a fan of small quirky movies, "Julian Po" is worth checking out. And if you don't like it at first, give it another chance...it just might grow on you.
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