Caught an early screening of this gem at the Core Club...
Lovely by Surprise (2009), the picturesque film by writer-director Kirt Gunn, is a delight for the senses that made me want to go home and tell my family I love them.
Marian (Carrie Preston) is a writer struggling with the creative process and so confides in her former professor, lover and mentor, Jackson (Austin Pendleton). Her novel begins as a post-modern version of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Marian is writing the story of two underwear-clad brothers, Humkin (Michael Chernus) and Mopekey (Dallas Roberts) who reside on a boat in no particular time or space. Mopekey is complacent in this world Marian has created, whereas Humkin eventually becomes curious about the world outside of the boat.
Jackson convinces Marian she has no choice but to kill Humkin, her beloved, inquisitive protagonist. But, chaos ensues when Humkin takes control of his own fate, escaping this chapter of her novel and writing himself into the pages of her past.
Humkin leaves his world behind and becomes a newfound companion to Bob (Reg Rogers), a philosophical car-salesman. Bob turns the superficial relationship between a car salesman and his clients, into an intimate connection on a very personal level. Unfortunately, he is unable to get through to his unresponsive young daughter Mimi, who cannot bring herself to speak.
Lovely by Surprise should be seen for its variation from other films. The film has been compared to Stranger than Fiction (2006) in the sense it is a story involving the power and the unpredictability of the creative process. However, it is more similar to its other association, Adaptation (2002) as it's evident the script hasn't been weakened in any way resulting in an original and provocative story for a smart audience with eccentricities galore.
The vague familiarity of this talented cast serves the tone, which blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Their performances are brilliant and distinct, a little more organic, a little less stylized than say, a Hal Hartley film. Carrie Preston, who plays the lead, Marian, has been featured in a myriad of popular TV shows and feature films including most recently Duplicity (2009), "True Blood" and Doubt (2008). Austin Pendleton who has been cast in everything from Catch-22 (1970) to Finding Nemo (2003)--with My Cousin Vinny (1992) somewhere in between--provides a hilarious contrast for Marian's anxieties. Michael Chernus and Dallas Roberts perfectly execute the pure, child-like sense of wonderment as the brothers on the boat. Reg Rogers steals every scene as the oxy-moron that is a charming car salesman and vulnerable father.
Lovely by Surprise is comprised of heart-warming scenes making the audience care for the characters in a way that reflects how deeply Marian feels for the personalities she has created. The peculiar behavior and interaction between these endearing characters keeps the viewer engaged until finally their stories come together in a gratifying culmination at very the end of the film.
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