RIORI Vol 3, Installment 67: Joel Coen’s “The Man Who Wasn’t There” (2001)

The Players…

Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, Tony Shalhoub, Joe Polito, (eyes roll…) Scarlett Johannson, Richard Jenkins and James Gandofini.

The Story…

Ed’s an aimless barber who’s dissatisfied with his station in life in a his tiny NoCal town. The only excitement he’s felt in a long time is discovering his wife’s possible infidelity. This presents Ed with a unique opportunity; blackmail that he thinks will turn his life around. Read: a big, fat wad of hush money.

He thinks. Ed’s not so good at thinking outside the proverbial box. Especially when greedy thoughts taint his outlook…and lead to murder.

Ed shoulda stuck to cutting hair.

The Rant…

…Pant, pant. Okay. What’d I miss?

Sorry for the long break. Bet some of you other there figured I’d finally threw up my hands, in went the towel and gave up on scouring the Web for mediocre movies to strangle. Tempting, but I remembered I’m performing a public service. Wouldn’t be doing my civil duty with all those Affleck pics still slinking around out there. RIORI exists out of concern for all of you discerning movie monkeys. Out of love.

Right. Kisses. Now it’s time for Name That Movie Subgenre! And here’s your host…


You’ve heard of film noir, right? Right? Aw, c’mon. You’re reading a movie blog. We’ve covered genres like sci-fi, action, drama, comedy, comedy-drama, dramatic comedy, comedies that weren’t funny, dramas that weren’t funny, etc. Don’t think I touched on any significant subgenres like film noir. For real, comedy-drama is a subgenre. So is horror porn come to think of it. In any event, all popular, well-worn genres have their little cliques. From crime drama we get film noir. Here’s an accelerated tutorial for the uniformed. The folks at Wikipedia define film noir as:

“…A cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly such that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations.”

Stuff was like all the superhero flicks today: all the rave, and just as virulent. I think the Golden Age of film noir was back in the mid-1940s to the mid-50s. Wartime into peace. In a world of conflict, I’ll bet it appealed to the Homefront to tune into a dark underworld of corruption as a passive response to the open crimes beating Europe over the head with a rubber hose studded with roofing nails. Rough justice. Criminals getting their due, albeit in an ambiguous fashion. Femme fatales. Private dicks with a job to do unclouded by lofty concepts of justice and duty. The mean streets. The world of then was now a bit more blurry when it came to discerning what good and evil truly was. Shades of grey all around. Hence, noir.

Like that? Give you a chill? Anyway…

Appealing to the well-heeled to distract them from recent, all too real conflicts past overseas. Trade it all in for short, direct morality tales. With sex and shooting, too. Hail Columbia and pass the popcorn.

The genre kinda petered out, I think, with the dawn of Technicolor. That and the dawn of TV. Unsure on both fronts. The genre didn’t go away though, not fully. There’s always a need for on screen murkiness against what “good” and “bad” mean to each other. What I’m wagering here is that perhaps years of blurring the lines between good and evil on screen reached a saturation point post VJ-Day. After almost a decade of war, I’ll also bet Americans wanted to breathe a sigh of relief and lighten up some. Hence, Singin’ In The Rain.

Film noir never really went away, though. I mean, c’mon, watching Gene Kelly dance is a thing to behold. But so is looking down the barrel of some tough’s gun. A lot of what I’m about to say is conjecture since I wasn’t there when it went down, so I’m a-gonna offer a perspective akin to what went down. It’s all about reinvention, mixing the colors to appeal to contemporary audiences in need of a little deviance and a few anti-heroes to anti-root for.

I’ve always been a slow learner. I never had my head in the clouds; my lofty expectations were almost always grounded. Meaning I was well-versed in the present but always curious, studious in the past. Blame my Dad’s Dylan LPs. My point was—and maybe still is—that it takes me time to fully absorb the wealth of a certain something upon exposure. Sometimes it takes time for the right time to bloom fruitful.

Long story short, I discovered Never Mind The Bollocks in college. Again, slow learner.

The same adheres to the first sorta film noir flick I caught. Was made at the dawn of the 1960s. Sure, it wasn’t as hardcase as, say, Double Indemnity (more on that later. Don’t shiver), but still bore the hallmarks of the sub-genre. Sex, infidelity, steely villian and unwitting hero. Fit the mold. Hell, it even won best pic that year. Of course it’s a fave film of mine. Always in my top ten. And only hangs on the noir schtick in a febrile sense. No matter. Follow my pretzel logic.

Not all noir flicks are about the criminal element in otherwise polite society. Sometimes the most domestic, even plebeian circumstances—well-written—can be pretty sharp, cutting even exposing the evil that men can do without firing a gun. Sometimes all it takes are morally ambivalent characters acting on questionable impulses. Or thought out schemes.

The story goes as such. Our protag is a nebbish. Nice guy, but in need of a spine. Gets bullied a lot because, well, he figures that’s his lot in life. He’s a bachelor, and probably will be the rest of his days. No real friends to speak of, just said bullies who on good word can wrangle favors out of him. Sometimes for fast cash, sometimes just to be let alone. Our wimpy hero only has his job, some vague career aspirations, flirting with that cute elevator operator and his apartment.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, chances are you didn’t molest Fandango for Guardians Of The Galaxy, vol 2 tickets. If it does, color me impressed.

Turns out our wimpy leading man has a real thing for the elevator girl, and too shy and socially ill-equipped to have any gumption to ask her out. Flirting will have to do, especially since she’s the unofficial squeeze of our man’s smarmy, married boss. It’s thanks to that boss that our man’s sanctum sanctorum, his apartment, has become a garden of earthly delights. Namely, hey bud, you got no one and we guy folk need digs to swing, follow? You’re good people. Just let us use your apartment to shack up with some legs and you’ll be…well-compensated. Your boss said you’re golden. Dig?

CC Baxter nods his head. Too often. His “hospitality” catches on with his higher-ups, recommended by the big man himself Mr Sheldrake. Favors beget favors, but as Baxter’s star begins to climb based on infidelity, his morals get squished and his fantasy girl Fran gets further out of reach. With all that jazz coming from his apartment, she assumes CC is really just a player in lamb’s clothing.

Sounds pretty noir to me. You smell what I’m stinking, Quill?

The movie was The Apartment. A fave. Won best pic back in 1960, a time where noir was though dead. It had the same moral ambiguity, grim characters you couldn’t really tell which side they set on, black humor and sex on the sly. There were no shootings, no femme fatales (young Shirley McClaine was too much of a cutie pie), no dirty criminal activities (okay, maybe blackmail and some hints of embezzlement) and no fog clouded back alleys replete with a body in a dusky Dumpster. We had Jack Lemmon at his most cringey, the polar opposite of Some Like It Hot as our “hero.” We had Fred McMurray as the unlikely heel, especially so pressed against his future role in My Three Sons. We had Shirley McClaine well before her past lives, all pert and perky. We had all three take a downward spiral spin into moral corruption and sexual dalliances. Again, sounds pretty noir to me.

And the style never really went away. It’s still around. The neighborhoods might have changed, but the coal black underbelly of human frailty still slithers. From David Lynch taking us on a ride down Mulholland Drive to Miller and Rodriguez’ highly stylized Sin City to the starkness of Brad Anderson’s The Machinist (already covered here, BTW), noir is still with us.

Heck, even the Coen brothers made their big screen debut with their cheerless, brilliant Blood Simple. Another tale of human frailty, illicit gains and a corrupt private dick after said illicit gains. All of the tawdry tale set against the background of quaint suburbia.

Kinda like this tale…

Ed Crane (Thornton) has a decent life. Nothing exciting, but maybe wanting for something more. He’s unsure.

Ed’s the local barber, a reliable fixture on Main Street. He’s good at his job, and even though it doesn’t pay much, he’s got not much to worry about there. His pretty wife Doris (McDormand) is well employed at the local, successful department store Nirdlinger’s as a bookkeeper. She knows all the ins and outs and comings and goings of all stock and what it costs. She also drinks too much and might be banging her esteemed boss, “Big Dave” Brewster (Gandolfini). Despite being rock solid and quiet, this irks Ed somewhat.

It’s funny how opportunity can rear its ugly head. One eve, close to closing time at Ed’s barber shop, some yappy traveling salesman hops in a demands a trim to better accommodate his toupee. As Ed snips, this guy Tolliver (Polito) goes on and on about his latest business venture. He calls it “dry cleaning,” getting those pesky stains out via special chemicals rather than soap and water. Way of the future, and all Tolliver needs is some mark to invest in his franchise. Clean, with chemicals.

Ed smokes a while. Sure, his life’s okay. But also he doesn’t feel that it’s really his life. Doris, after all, kinda holds all the cards, as well maybe Big Dave’s big dave. It’ll be nice to reach for a brass ring. Maybe just better to reach for…something. He meets Tolliver to lay down his part in the nascent business plan.

Ed’s not used to making a stand. He’s not used to making anything. All he knows is that it’s time for a change. A swerve in the road.

And fighting off a Lolita complex to classical piano a decade before Lolita is published…

Now I know using The Apartment as an example of late period noir was a bit of a stretch. Most installments here are. Still, there are decent parallels between one of Wilder’s greats and The Man Who Wasn’t There. Both films involve infidelity, blackmail and the sometime ugliness involved in “getting ahead.” I’m willing to wager the Coens’ took a nod to The Apartment as partial inspiration to Man. Then again, it might be my prejudice and an need to find some link. Why? I dunno. But I’m pretty certain that Man, despite its trappings, tries to examine the classic “good man who does bad things” as a means to an end. Kinda like The Apartment, except someone gets killed here, not just a ruined life. Well there’s that, too. I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Coen brothers got their start in neo-noir. Their debut, Blood Simple, had all the hallmarks of a classic noir film. Blackmail. Sex on the sly. A corrupt detective. People getting shot. Ambiguous, downbeat conclusion. All the goodies. So the bro’s knew their mark. Man is steeped even deeper in noir tropes, but it still has the same Coen ethos as Blood. In fact, Man has the Coen thumbprints all over it. Theirs is noir that cannot escape their trademark left-of-center humor. Man’s not funny much, but it’s still screwy in the Coen tradition. Namely, it’s weird.

There is less of an homage here than a winking nod. The matter with modern noir is the modern part. A great deal of what made the classics of the genre still resonate today (if only to us film geeks) is its lo-fi ethos. Imagery that’s too sharp and clean robs the style of its innate, intentional grittiness. Man is a noir throwback with a budget. Everything’s so clean and direct. Sure, we have tension, but minus the blurriness of the old school. Thornton’s Ed is too well-defined to be regarded as desperate, like our anti-heroes of the days gone by.

Still, it’s essential in a film like Man to have an average Joe thrown into—or in Ed’s case, invited into—unusual, opportunistic circumstances. Problem is with Ed he’s so darn nondescript there’s precious little to relate to. All we can glean from Ed’s life of quiet desperation in that he’s depression incarnate. We’re led to think Ed’s life sucks. Instead it looks like he’s just bored; even the screwy get-rich-quick scheme seems more like a lark than a way out of Ed’s humdrum life. You know, the one with the pretty (albeit lushy and wandering) wife and financial security. Ed’s motives for blackmail are vague at best, and derivative at worst. It’s like the Coen’s were forcing the noir aspect, not letting it be organic. This was the Coen brothers’ film I ever saw that was completely joyless, even with their trademark sly humor in check. Even Blood Simple had a sort of light touch. Not here. Man was grim. Not a lot of fun.

Still, this was the kind of film I just wanted to watch, sans commentary. There felt to be a lot to be absorbed here. Everything felt so deliberate. Wasn’t sure it was tribute or the usual Coen angular storytelling. Man was interesting to look at, but not to watch. Some shots work (like the confessional/ensuing struggle between Ed and Big Dave), some don’t (Doris’ pleas behind bars). Some seem genuine noir, some seem…too Coen. I know, I know. Established directors must have their own styles. It gets perilous, however, when said director tackles a particular genre that has well-defined parameters and spins it to their muse. What I’m driving at is that Joel’s trying to channel classic noir here, but he’s trying as well as practicing that screwy Coen storytelling logic. There’s some friggin’ in the riggin’ here, and it made my attention wander.

What did keep my attention was the acting, despite its stereotyping. We’ve already beaten up the concept that certain character ciphers are expected in a noir flick. The everyman put in a perilous sitch. The femme fatale. Greed and corruption. All lot of that in The Apartment. Here however, our leads are pretty hard-boiled, like a James Cain pulp (admittedly what the Coen’s claimed they were aiming for). Like I said, joyless. But our stereotypical characters paid tribute in the best way possible: they were familiar and welcome.

Thornton played low-key, almost stoic very well. If Ed is supposed to be the complete, unremarkable everyman plunked into a dark shadow, Billy Bob’s chain smoking protag fit the bill quite well. He’s so muted, so flat affect, the idea of being relatable goes out the window. We’re supposed to be sympathetic with Ed. It doesn’t work, since Ed has no personality. However I dug Ed’s narration. Resigned, like he was already in the Chair as he recounted how what happened happened. Low-key and guttural. All the best aspects of Thronton’s on screen persona, and far more engaging than him stalking about as Ed. Still, being in fine voice does not an engaging character make. We ride along with him as not just as avatar, but because he’s so blah we’re waiting to see if anything, anything stirs him outside of dry cleaning, unfaithfulness and having Tolliver make a pass at him. The rest of the time is an intriguing field trip with a man who has nothing to lose because he had nothing real to begin with. Guess that blah can be interesting after all, but it don’t curry any empathy with our lead.

The flipside of Thornton’s performance is the dynamic Tony Shaloub (who I wished had more scenes). Man proved to be a great platform to illustrate how versatile our often one-note Shaloub could be. One might’ve not even recognized him here as the fast-talking shyster lawyer Freddy. I didn’t at first. His spark came in at the right time in the film to mix the colors. I’d go as far to say that his brief screen time might’ve warranted an Oscar nod. Too bad those doddering, old white guys were drooling in their oatmeal. Yes, I liked Antonio that much, even without the clumsy guitar picking.

But overall, the film felt like Joel and Ethan were trying too hard. Man might be construed as fanboy wish fulfillment. They did a better job with Blood Simple; allusion rather than the straight line, which fell short of the mark here. I wanted to get into Man, but the film did its darndest to alienate me. Not unlike Ed being Ed. A shame.

Oh yeah. Remember a million miles ago when I mentioned I’d get into Double Indemnity? I lied. Go stream the thing for some noir goodness. Right now I gotta take these stained trousers to get dry cleaned.

Ain’t I clever? Kinda like straining spaghetti with a tennis racket.

Oh, go stream The Apartment already.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. There’s a reason why certain Coen films land here at RIORI. They’re lacking something. Or have too much misplaced Coen in them. Chemicals.

Stray Observations…

  • “Like I said, I’m not an expert.”
  • Never light a cigar with a Zippo.
  • “That was really something.”
  • Talk about being high on the hog. Sorry.
  • “Just keeps growing…”
  • I did like the old school “scrolling background” during the car rides. A nice touch.
  • “I do the talking.” And how.
  • “Thank you, Burns. Now get lost.” Best line in the movie. Quite noir.
  • “Sooner or later we all need a haircut.”

Blogger’s Note (A Bonus)…

Hey. I’ve been at this blog for a few years now, tackling what mediocre movies the 21st Century has thrown at me. I’ve been considering branching out (mostly at the behest of passive-aggresive suggestions from the blogosphere) to consider questionable flicks shot prior to the year 2000. I was thinking about tossing off a random review of a random film with a dubious repute to stir the soup. Granted there are tons of such films lurking around the 20th Century, so I figured to set some parameter: mediocre movies within my lifetime. From 1976 (the Bicentennial. How American) to now. I’ll Quantum Leap backwards occasionally like some Dr Sam Beckett with an AllMovie profile and dig up some possible dirt. What say you all? Post some comments. I’m approaching serious here.

Next Installment…

 Nicole Kidman suspects there’s something off with The Stepford Wives, and it’s scaring her. Matthew Broderick suspects something similar, and he loves it.

RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 10: Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are” (2008)

Where the WIld Things Are

The Players…

Max Records, Katherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara and Forest Whitaker.

The Story…

Max has had it with being a nobody in his neighborhood. His big sister dumps him in favor of playing with her friends. His mom looks as if she’d rather be with her new boyfriend. And Dad…?

Max imagines running away to a some far-off land where fantastical beasts may crown him as their king. They would play rumpus, build forts and discover secret hideaways. Sounds good, but really is that all there is to being the king of the beasts?


The Rant…

Children’s books, by design of necessity, are short. The stories within are usually quick ones and seldom, if ever, delve deep into the Graham Greene of things. Sure, kids books often have poignant messages, life lessons to learn and adorable anthropomorphic creatures coaxing the young eyes to read ever further. They’re also chockablock with amazing artwork, lets not forget, which is the usual culprit that grabs the youngin’s attention in the first place.

But one thing is an immutable truth: kids’ books are f*ckin’ short. We don’t want attention spans to be taxed or eyes to become strained. We want a five to ten minute respite from chaos and screeching that only a Shel Silverstein or a Dr. Suess could deliver to frantic parents everywhere. Kids want a quick break to let their imagination grow fallow, if only for a bit. Only daydreaming is faster. And cheaper.

Most movies are not short. Decidedly so. If they were, at least in today’s market, they’d probably not have much of a client base. Too many other mobile distractions to contend with, like kids books. It is a very precarious thing to stretch a 30-page, less than 100 words, heavily illustrated, razor-thin missive into a precise 88 minutes of celluloid glory. Standalone it hasn’t worked yet; you gotta add a lot of breadcrumbs to that meatloaf. So far there have been the bastardization of several of Dr. Seuss’ most beloved tales (How The Grinch…, Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, etc.) that have illustrated this point. His books went through the Hollywood meat grinder and out came the gristle. What the brevity and efficiency of a children’s book has on the page does not marry well to cinema. Screenwriters have to apply a lot of padding, altering the script to miles away from the original, concise plot and hire a lot of dippy-ass tunesmiths to churn out the shiny for little kid ears. The junior target audiences that were entranced by the source material in the first place, now yanking a recalcitrant mom and/or dad to the multiplex in a frothing frenzy are en route to a let down. It’s inevitable.

God, this sh*t pisses me off. Let’s face facts. Once here I claimed that Hollywood erroneously views us  moviegoers as stupid. So under this premise the average adult moviegoer adult is stupid, then according to marketing the kids must be f*cking brain-dead. They’ll watch any colorful dreck that gets smeared on the screen and has a toy and cereal tie-in. Here’s a common fallacy: kids are stupid. I was a teacher once. Kids—and it seems the younger they are, the harder it is to bullsh*t them—are a lot smarter than they let on. Most are actually a lot smarter than most adults, like George W, Donald Trump and Donald Sterling. I’ve been privy to a lot of movies aimed at kids. Being a dad, I seldom get a say in what movie to go out and see nowadays. What I watch is almost always animated, Disneyesque, hyper and pandering. Funny thing here is kids know they get short-changed pretty soon on in the movie. Here’s a common conflict in regarding, say, a Seuss adaptation: “This isn’t how it was in the book! The book was much better!” This is usually followed by a scowly pout and an eventual smattering of Twizzlers ricocheting off the other sibling’s head, which proves to be much more entertaining than the movie slipping off the sprockets. They squirm in their seats. They get bored and say so. They want to leave and start whining about it. And Mom or Dad try to hush them, knowing full well that they ain’t gonna recoup the twenty plus dollars wasted on this time spent in the dark. Mom and Dad are forcing them to watch the car wreck out of spite at this point. The kids know they got gypped. Like I said, smart.

Pillaging Maurice Sendak’s magnum opus was not particularly smart, either. And it wasn’t pillaged well to boot…

Max (Records) is your typical, nine-year-old (at least he looks nine) kid, full of unhinged energy and idful abandon. He likes to terrorize the family pet, incite snowball fights with his big sister’s friends, and be the lord of a fantasyland of his own creation, much to the exasperation of his mom. You know, standard kid stuff.

So Max is attention starved. Not surprising with his older sister Claire more interested in hanging out with her friends and mom (Keener) being a harried single parent trying to juggle both career and homestead with equal attention. Max being in the middle—or at the bottom of the totem pole, depends where you’re looking—he acts out often. He can be defiant, mouthy and even violent. Looks like a Ritalin candidate if there ever was one.

One evening, dressed in his signature wolf costume, Max is feeling particularly punchy since Mom’s male “friend” has come over for dinner, hogging his spotlight. Feeling slighted, he tears it up, howling and standing on the dinner table and actually assaulting Mom with a wolf bite to the shoulder. That’s enough. Mom is furious and Max is chased out of the house, scrabbling through the streets, tears streaming down his face. He’ll show them. He’ll run away from home and they’ll all be sorry. He’s the king of the beasts, not some beastly kid.

After hitching a ride on a sloop on the beach, Max sets sails to points afar, places where he will be appreciated and understood. Enduring an interminable transatlantic stormy passage, Max washes up on the shores of a remote island, and quickly discovers that he is not alone. The island is populated by fantastic beasts, all of whom seem out of sorts, like they need some guidance. Max knows what to do. He has found his people. Let the wild rumpus begin…!

Like I said, children’s books are short, and the movies based on those books need a lot of applesauce to fill up time. Most of the time it’s dreadful (I cite the adaptation of The Lorax as a good example), stuffed to the gunwales with bad jokes, extraneous dialogue, crappy musical montages and additional, irrelevant plot points separate form the source material added just to, well, stretch it out. To be fair, there are exceptions to this issue. For one, I thought the adaption of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was in some ways superior to the book, it being very funny, nodding an winking and even providing an actual explanation and backstory (e.g.: plot) to the hijinks in Chewandswallow. But this is an exception. Usually a lot of padding robs the original story of its power that so entranced the audience in the first place. This practice seems very shady to me, as if the powers that be added crap to just to pander to the kiddies’ imagination that absorbed more emotional stimulus in fifteen minutes by merely reading the source material. Competition for attention, as well as flammable dollars. It’s like they know, and probably full well, that by adding all the claptrap will keep the keys jingling in front of their juvenile audience.

However, unlike The Lorax, Wild does decidedly not pander to the kiddies. It does the direct opposite. It barely panders to kids at all. It does however f*ck with the source material just enough to make itself feel overblown and stodgy. Jonze went and took a universally adored book and went and put it through the existentialist Cuisinart. The final result was an intractable movie ostensibly aimed at kids and families, but ended up as a freshman year philosophy treatise on phenomenology.

Wake up.

Okay, enough babbling. Wild is a bloated attempt to simultaneously cash in on a generation’s nostalgia and wax philosophical about the ways of childhood anger and fear. That’s it. Adolescent and mopey. This film uses Sendak’s book as an excuse, not an homage, as a means to an end for Jonze’s jaundiced vision. He went and made a metaphysical kids movie. While this counts for originality (as far as adaptations of childhood literature go), it makes for lousy storytelling.

Yeah, I know. I’m being pretty awful here, trashing an honest attempt to bring the book to life. Wild misses the mark in its stilted execution, and sucks all the wonder away in a very angular fashion. It’s so goddam serious. There is not much connection to the sweet yet salty Sendak tale, and is padded with philosophical drivel with all the subtlety of a fart at a funeral. The pacing is languid, like walking through syrup. Even the wild thing beasties seem half asleep in their activities most of the movie. This wasn’t the movie to watch late at night. A cough syrup cocktail works just as well to drift off that sitting through Wild (don’t ask me how I know this).

I’ll quit masticating on the movie for a bit and talk about the good stuff. There are some notable goodies in Wild. Max’s acting was pretty good. At least he channeled storybook Max’s vital aspects to live action—the childish raving, trying to be a good boy, and the innocent regret for his actions. Our lead is not easily likeable nor immediately endearing at first glance, but he wins your over and makes for a good vehicle to serve the audience. On this level, Jonze (whose spelling I’ve always thought pretentious) at least recognized on a vestigial level that Wild was supposed to be a kids movie, so he let his lead run riot. Records’ performance was the only refreshing aspect of the whole movie.

There are also some stunning visuals. The seams separating CGI from live action is virtually untraceable here. A high note. The wild things themselves are rendered almost hair for feather with such exactitude you have to get that Jonze is truly trying to convey the message of the book. He overdoes it, but he wasn’t dressing Mike Myers up as a winking cat. Simply put, the Sendak creations look quite Sendak. At least on these grounds, Jonze remembered his muse, and didn’t swat it.

Overall, there is an inherent sweetness to the film, but it’s too bad it’s just so forced. There is a message Jonze keeps trying to hammer into the audience’s skulls, almost like cinema verite with a rather blurry concept of dealing with childhood anger. After watching Wild you kind of wish there was a dippy song-and-dance montage placed in the story just to lighten it up a bit. This flick was too heavy, both in philosophy and execution. It was the cinematic equivalent of eating a heavy meal. Too much padding, in a non-kid way.

Throughout the film I found myself asking myself, “Why is this film boring?” The answer is that it felt more like a symposium than a family film. It was dour and ponderous, and there definitely wasn’t enough rumpus. For a kid film, it sure wasn’t kid friendly. Three-quarters into the movie, I hit MENU and skipped to the end. Dissatisfied with the conclusion, I turned it off, put down my pen and decided to go to bed, tiring of feeling vicious.

When I got to my room, my dinner was still hot.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Better you go reread the book instead. To your kids. They’ll thank you.

Stray Observations…

  • “I don’t think the crazy’s been eliminated.”
  • Writing a kids book within a movie based on a kids book? Pretty clever (and cute) meta.
  • “All right tree. We’ll settle this later.”
  • Jonze got his start directing music videos (e.g.: Beastie Boys, Dinosaur Jr, etc). It shows here.
  • Did I mention the sick amount of padding in adaptations like this? I might’ve missed mentioning something.

Next Installment…

Who killed Elizabeth Short, AKA The Black Dahlia? Gonna get all true crime up in yo’ ass.