|Index||7 reviews in total|
We saw this film at the Seattle Film Festival, and attended the awards banquet Sunday where it won The Special Jury Prize in New American Cinema. After seeing 22 films at the festival, this was by far my favorite. (I also loved SEx and Death 101 and Walk The Talk). The story structure of Lovely By Surprise was wholly unique and the script was beautifully written. While the film could be categorized as surreal or non-linear, it was very engaging. I was invested in each of the three stories, and riveted when they came together. ( I refuse to give it away, but rest assured you will be moved.) Having read another review on this site that referred to the film as borrowing from Wes Anderson or Charlie Kaufman- I would strongly disagree. Whoever wrote this hasn't lived long enough to see the real influences in this film. It captures the absurdism of Fellini, Godard's purposeful use of color and space, and the poetic language of Sam Shepard- while living in a space wholly its own. I admire both Wes Anderson and Charlie Kaufman, this owes nothing to either of them. The film lives in its own world. On Sunday, Nancy Bishop (juror and publisher of Venice magazine) announced the jury prize for the film. She mentioned the strength of the performances, and the originality of the film as the reasons for its selection. She specifically mentioned the performance of Reg Rogers. I couldn't agree more. You have to see what he does in this film- as it cannot be described adequately. He absolutely broke my heart. I laughed at him, wondered about him, yearned for him to be back on screen and cried when he went away. Writer Director Kurt Gunn got amazing performances from all of these actors. They were truly committed to him and his script, and it showed. I would specifically point to Austin Pendleton, Michael Chernus, and Lena Lamer all whom gave stellar performances. The cinematography was wonderful. The film was shot on a shoe string but the creative use of the camera was strong and clear. I liked the editing, sound design and must reserve some words for the music which was also really fantastic. I am a film fanatic, and this film goes up there with some of my favorites. If you get a chance to see this movie- see it.
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.
This film drew me in with its quirky, interesting characters and kept me engaged wondering what was going to happen to them and how the stories would fit together. The ending is a bit tricky for some but I promise it makes sense if you think about it. It feels like a true indie to me - and I've made several. After the showing I talked to the editor and again felt the "indieness" of the film and that their hearts are in the right place. No shameless attempt at commercial exploitation by trying to fake an indie feel. I do hope they refine the ending a bit to make it more accessible to people as its sad that many people won't "get it" and will go away not understanding what happened in the end. But definitely worth seeing and thinking about.
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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
MARCH 29, 2006: I'm in the PR biz, and I can't wait to see how this
production and "The Neverything" will sell cars, but it's a great ride.
Currently, only the first 8 films are online. The greatest surprise for
me is the VERY strong sexual and emotional chemistry portrayed between
Marian (Carrie Preston) and Jackson (Austin Pendleton). I have always
enjoyed Pendleton and admired him as an actor, but let's face it: he's
rarely a romantic lead. I have never seen Preston in a lead and am
puzzled as to why; she's mesmerizing. It's a tribute to great writing,
great casting, and great acting that these two characters CLEARLY have
a long, complicated history that hasn't yet been revealed to us. Their
gentle "dance" -- approach, circle, retreat -- is elegant and
excruciating (for them and for us) as they sit across the booth from
each other pretending to talk about fiction. Will it sell Lincoln
Zephyrs? That'll be interesting, too.
APRIL 20, 2006: Okay, the final part of the five-week project was released a week or two ago. It's important for reviewers to remember that what we've seen is just part of what will be a feature film in the fall. As a public relations director I'm aware of all kinds of really amazing, groundbreaking things that writer/director Kirt Gunn has done here, but this is not the place to discuss them. The meaningful questions are: Was the project entertaining? Did the story and characters intrigue us? Does it hold together on its own and not just as a "teaser" for the future film? My votes are yes, yes, and yes, in that order. I have watched the 13 short filmlets over and over -- sound on, sound off, earphones on -- and each time been rewarded with some added richness. Austin Pendleton with Carrie Preston? Believe it or not, it works brilliantly. Their chemistry is funny, messy, painful, and maybe mysterious but impossible to miss. Kate Burton is a comic genius and had me rolling on the floor. There are dozens of fleeting visual and auditory hints and puzzles in the production, and while I believe I may have a clue to what seems to be a horrible secret as yet unrevealed, the director did not yank my chain as he kept the secret for now. This is art.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an incredibly intriguing story of a story within a story. It is
like a musician's bit of music, written by musicians for musicians.
Everything about this story holds the audience captive until the "end"
and sadly, that is where it leaves off, with a multitude of loose ends
for the audience to ponder and ask, "What happened?". Even the end was
great - it just wasn't yet the best time in the story for an ending, if
the final clip was really "The End".
I kept searching for the non-existent continuation for months because there was nothing in the clip that indicated that the story was over. How embarrassing for me to think there was more!
I think the music was well selected for this little show and culminated in an amusing spirit of reflection. My favorite song is at the end of the Lovlier by Surprise (final clip #13). I'm searching for the names of the musicians that did that bit at the end because I really love the song and the lyrics. I wish I knew the name of it.
Great story and good acting. Too bad it ends so abruptly leaving the audience to only guess about all the other aspects the story that were left unfinished. Perhaps there will be a sequel that would fill in the blanks. Crossing my fingers and hoping.
Saw this at the Seattle Film Festival last night.
This film had all the appearance of something I would like, and it seemed like the director/producers had made a great effort to get me to like it (with some pretty blatant references to Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson etc.). But, unfortunately, it just fell flat. There was never any actual product placement in the film, it still felt somehow hollow and soulless; the result of an advertising campaign and not a genuine creative endeavor. It was a very calculated sorted of indie-ness, quirky for the sake of being quirky.
Though I didn't happen to see the original webisodes this is based on I did watch Meet The Lucky Ones which I liked a lot more. I think that may have been a much better format for this material. There just wasn't enough here for a whole film, and at feature length the theatricality of the thing - the stilted dialog, broad acting - just became grating. I felt very removed from it all and never connected with any of the characters.
The story has some strong similarities to Stranger Than Fiction, and I had expected to enjoy this "indie" take on the same premise a lot more, but found it far inferior.
At least the soundtrack by Stephin Merrit/The Magnetic Fields was excellent.
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