' ' Cinema Romantico: Gigantic

Monday, April 20, 2009


At the end of this film I felt a little like Uma Thurman in "Pulp Fiction" looking at herself in the mirror right after she's snorted some coke (except, of course, for the coke snorting part). Remember that smile on her face? For her, in that moment, life was gooooood. "Gigantic" is Matt Aselton's first feature film and it heralds colossal promise. Like the recently reviewed "Sunshine Cleaning" and "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" it debuted at Sundance and so, yes, it is quirky. We'll say, mighty quirky. But if quirky is well made? If quirky is combined with poignancy that isn't sappy? If the dialogue is mostly good? If the acting is pretty much uniformly outstanding? If you're rooting for the guy and the girl at the heart of the story to get together not because you're supposed to but because you really, really want to?

Paul Dano's meek Brian works as a salesman at a Swedish mattress store that is high-end despite its seemingly rundown nature. He is the youngest of three brothers, so much younger than them, in fact, that they are about fifteen years older and people used to confuse Brian's parents (Ed Asner and Jane Alexander) for his grandparents. Brian's sole dream in life is to, ahem (entering Sundance territory), adopt a Chinese baby. Wait! Hold on! Don't get yourself in a dither! Stay with me!

One day a blowhard but hugely successful, and just plain huge, businessman (John Goodman) thunders into the store and purchases a $14,000 bed since he has one heck of a bad back - so bad, in fact, when he rides in cars he, ahem, has to lay down in the back. He sends his youngest daughter, Harriet (Zooey Deschanel), or Happy, as she's called, to purchase the bed for him and see about the details. It's the Meet Cute, sure, but, o' blessed me, what a Meet Cute! She....no, no, no, I'm not saying. You will have to see for yourself. But it's sweet and it feels totally real despite its roots in the Meet Cute vernacular.

Everything that follows spins off from these details. Brian and Harriet, of course, draw closer. Their conversation in a doctor's waiting room is note perfect. They both read magazines. She wonders what he is reading. He says it is an article about Tibetan monks playing basketball. So he wonders what she is reading. She says, "Mostly ads." (Even better is Brian's coworker who greets people by asking "What's up" and then, without so much as a pause, answering his own question with "Not much.")

Perhaps this relationship will strain Brian's desire to adopt that baby. His family is supportive of this decision even though you sense they do not completely understand it. His brother, John (Ian Roberts, who you might fondly remember as the "very literal doctor" from "Arrested Development"), solution to Brian's desire is not only humorous but completely in character and, thus, a truly loving gesture on his behalf even if Brian disdains it.

Harriet's father does not fully grasp Brian's idea, either, and asks all sorts of bottom line questions. Yet, he also seems to admire Brian for having the resolve to pursue it so decidedly. Goodman's performance is rather wonderful. He's racist and sexist and a homophobe and so on and so forth but you can also tell he is quite loving to those closest to him, though he never overdoes it.

As Brian's father, Asner projects more warmth and even projects it in the face of a Sundance-y (no other way to say it) scene when he and his sons at their family cabin indulge in some halluciginec mushrooms and then take a walk in the woods where, in spite of the basis of the moment, some real father-son bonding occurs despite the scene's basis in absurdity.

Not executed as well, however, is the subplot involving a homeless man who seems to trail Brian everywhere he goes, moments that usually wind up in him beating the tar out of poor Brian. You can probably guess where this might end up even if you don't see the movie. I can see what Aselton was trying to convey with this storyline but he could have done it in a much more worthwhile manner. Oh well, Springsteen's debut album had some clunkers, too.

The rough patches are so much more than merely redeemed by the good stuff and the film is thankfully intelligent enough to know Brian's lifelong passion would not necessarily be outweighed by these sudden and new events. It is a film of remarkable assuredness for a first time writer and director. I'm giddy to think of the possibilites for his next feature. It might just be like Uma Thurman returning to her table from the bathroom to find her food waiting for her.

(Note: This film appeared in Chicago for only one week at the Siskel Center so you will be probably have to wait for Netflix. Not to worry, though! "Fast & Furious" is still showing on three billion screens in America to tide you over until then!)

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