' ' Cinema Romantico: Diminished Capacity

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Diminished Capacity

This film was directed by Terry Kinney, who you might, or, more likely, might not remember as one John Cameron, and who you might also know as a co-founder of the noted Steppenwolf Theater here in Chicago, Illinois. The latter is key, and it is key because "Diminished Capacity" (2008) is soooooooo Chicago. First of all, it stars Matthew Broderick, the guy who long ago starred in a movie as a character who Time Magazine recently said is the one film character most deserving of a statue here in the Windy City. It features a Mr. Cub (i.e. Ernie Banks) cameo. It features stock footage of Buckingham Fountain (real original). It knows of the long simmering feud between St. Louisans and Chicagoans. Its most crucial plot point involves a rare baseball card featuring the likeness of Frank Schulte, a right fielder for the Cubs in 1908. ("From now on I'm rooting for the 1908 Cubs. At least I know they can win.")

Broderick is Cooper Kennedy, a cartoon editor in Chi-town, and recent victim of a Grade 3 Concussion, getting better but not fully recovered, who one day gets a call from his mom (Lois Smith) down Missouri way who explains his Uncle Rollie (Alan Alda), in the midst of tying fishing line to his typewriter set at the end of a dock so the fish in the lake can, ahem, type poetry for him, might be in the need of a permanent stay at a mental health facility. So Cooper drives in to see what's up. Rollie, it seems, is also suffering from memory loss and suffering from unpaid bills but has an ace in the hole - that aforementioned Schulte baseball card, mint condition, that may be the last of its kind. Fetch the right price and all his material ills are cured.

Of course, there's also the town drunk who's aiming to steal that very baseball card and there's the sister of the town drunk, Charlotte (Virginia Madsen), who has divorced her husband and once, long ago, was Cooper's flame and who happens to be in the town grocery store at the same time Cooper turns up there and explains she will soon be trekking northward to Chicago where she hopes to sell a painting of hers to a restaurant.

So....Cooper, Rollie, Charlotte, and Charlotte's son all light out for The City Of Big Shoulders and a baseball card convention where Mad Dog McClure (Dylan Baker, so perfectly cast because he is so not a Mad Dog) and Lee Vivyan (Bobby Cannavale), dueling baseball card luminaries, the former kind and generous, the latter cold as Lake Michigan in late January, will both maneuver to purchase this all-important card.

Curiously, though, for being so Chicago, a city that doesn't do anything half-assed, a city that picked itself up after a Great Fire, a city that was burning Jay Cutler's jersey before the recent NFC Championship Game even ended, "Diminished Capacity" is so lightweight. It starts as, sort of, a dramedy and then morphs into, maybe, a grown up "Garden State" and then the third act is....well, God only knows. It's sweet and sad and slap-sticky and convenient and even for just a brief minute or two digresses into Heist territory and the way it kind of summarizes everything in a blip, without feeling like the resolutions have been truly earned - like Cooper's Grade 3 Concussion - is extremely sitcom-y. Yuck.

Consider this world of the baseball card convention. It is not often glimpsed in the cinema. It could have been different, maybe even unusually exhilarating. Occassionally, it is, such as in the moment when Mad Dog McClure, an epic Cubs fan, has an epic Cubs Fan Breakdown over a blown game and his wife - clearly having been through this dozens of times before - treats him so gently in its aftermath. This is quality stuff. But then consider Lee Vivyan's diatribe on Joe DiMaggio's shoelaces and their eventual payoff. That's it? Is this supposed to be wacky or quirky? The screenplay doesn't know and never figures it out.

None of the actors are sleepwalking, all seem willing to do their best, but what can you do when you aren't given much? How about poor Virginia Madsen who ever since being nominated for an Oscar for "Sideways" (2004) has fallen victim to a syndrome I have officially named after her - Virginia Madsen Syndrome - wherein the only parts she gets are those of The Supportive Spouse? Granted, she's not a spouse here but she is, essentially, The Supportive Significant Other. Even after we learn she has sold her painting to that Chicago restaurant the movie doesn't let her or us be happy about it. Instead it just hurries instantly right back to Cooper and Rollie's problems. C'mon, man, the woman who gave the transcendent Why I Like Wine monologue in "Sideways" deserves better.

The movie is diverting but forgettable. It's a game being watched from the Wrigley Field Bleachers on Friday Afternoon. Friends. Sun. Old Style. What's the score again?

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