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Lovely by Surprise (2007)

 -  Comedy | Drama  -  14 June 2007 (USA)
6.4
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Ratings: 6.4/10 from 155 users  
Reviews: 7 user | 19 critic

A truly unique and visually stunning take on meta-fiction, Lovely By Surprise follows the journey of novelist Marian Walker as she attempts to finish her first novel.

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Title: Lovely by Surprise (2007)

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Cast

Credited cast:
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Marian
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Humkin
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Jackson
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Mopekey
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Bob
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Helen
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Dave
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jimmy Crothswait ...
Milkman
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Customer #2
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Customer #1
Ron Gephart ...
Car Salesman
Angel Gunn ...
Mimi's Teacher
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Car Salesman
Lena Lamer ...
Mimi
Donald Meyers ...
Customer in Car
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A truly unique and visually stunning take on meta-fiction, Lovely By Surprise follows the journey of novelist Marian Walker as she attempts to finish her first novel.

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Comedy | Drama

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14 June 2007 (USA)  »

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$1,000,000 (estimated)
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Austin Pendleton was offered the role of Bob but asked to audition for Jackson after Frank Langella turned it down. See more »

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User Reviews

 
Lovely, dark, and deep
7 June 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

In this stunning, offbeat film, an aspiring novelist tries to kill off her protagonist - on the advice of her ex-lover/professor - with real-world repercussions. Meanwhile, an unstable car salesman tries to cope with the death of his wife and the subsequent silent treatment of his young daughter. The two story lines dovetail in and out of each other’s orbit nicely, with the result a movie that’s at turns joyous and devastating.

Marian (Carrie Preston) has written a book that has little plot and no conflict, so her mentor (Auston Pendleton) suggests she create some by killing off a main character. But doing this triggers a whole mess of complications, not the least of which is that the character somehow cheats death and winds up in the same world as Marian, albeit wandering around in his tighty whities. Bob the car salesman (Reg Rogers) is gamely trying to keep his act together, as well as his job, while also trying to connect with his daughter Mimi (Lena Lamer), who has not spoken since her mother died.

Going into the plot in any more detail might give away key points that are best savored as they occur, so I’ll stop right there. Let’s talk about the cast. Preston is outstanding as the novice writer, desperately trying to write herself out of a corner. She wants very badly to succeed, but she’s hesitant about such an extreme solution. I thought Preston showed just the right combination of spunk, cleverness, and vulnerability. Her equal is Rogers as the not-all-there Bob. Rogers is so good, you’re not sure if he’s intentionally trying to be strange or is simply overacting. It’s the former - Bob’s own vulnerability is masked by a veneer of unfounded optimism, and his boss (Richard Masur), who’s given Bob many chances to succeed, is nearing the end of his rope. Bob’s problem is that he’s just not a conventional salesman; instead of selling cars, Bob tells his customers to go home and spend time with their families. He’s sort of an existential salesman, if anything, and Rogers is commanding and believable in a difficult role.

Oh, but that ain’t all. The supposed-to-be-killed-off protagonist, Humkin (Michael Chernus) is a man-child who has lived (in the unfinished book) with his arrested-development brother for years on a landlocked boat, subsisting on milk and cereal and speaking in curiously appealing, innocent speech. Humkin somehow makes it to the real world, where his affable personality serves him quite well. Again, just what Humkin does in the so-called real world isn’t something that should be revealed here. But the point is that Chernus is a sheer, buoyant delight in what’s an award-caliber performance.

Lovely by Surprise is really a sweet film, but it can be tough to watch at time. It can’t really be pigeonholed as a comedy or a drama, although there are some laugh-out-loud moments. The brilliant characterizations (by writer-director Kirt Gunn), fully realized by a capable cast, elevate this from a mere slice-of-life art-house film to a solid, heart-breaking masterpiece.


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