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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gigantic


Gigantic suffers from indie-itis. A small-budget film from earlier this year, written and directed by Matt Aselton, it has some name actors who are engaging, but the film just doesn't quite hang together, instead succumbing to what many films of its type do--turning into a long string of eccentric characters doing quirky things for no apparent reason.

The film centers around Paul Dano, who plays the type of character who always seems to be having awkward moments. This might present a problem in his job, a high-end mattress salesman, but he seems to do okay at it (and do New York City hot-shots really buy $14,000 mattresses out of cavernous lofts?) His dream is to adopt a Chinese baby, even though he is unmarried. He comes from a family of eccentrics, especially his father, Ed Asner, who seems stuck in the 1950s (he's amazed that Dano does not have a doorman--"Who cleans your shoes?" he wonders).

When Dano sells a mattress to another eccentric, John Goodman, he ends up meeting the man's daughter, Zooey Deschanel, in another of her patented kooky girl parts. Goodman is filthy rich--he offers Deschanel a grand if she will drive him to his doctor's appointment--but I'm not sure we know how he earns his money. He's one of those straight-talkers, who uses expressions like "don't jew me," then says he can say it because he's half-Jewish. Deschanel and Dano click, or at least we are led to believe they are, because at one point she turns to him and says "Would you like to have sex with me?" If only that happened in real life.

Threading through the relationship drama between Dano, Deschanel, and their respective families is a bizarre bit involving a homeless man who seems to be stalking Dano (he's played by Zack Galifianakis in a silent role, an interesting casting choice considering he's a stand-up comic). These sequences are so weird and unsettling, and reminiscent of Fight Club, that they turn the film into something else entirely, and should have been left on the cutting-room floor.

I wanted to like this film. It has a nice dry comic sensibility, opening with an image of rats treading water in a tank (Dano's buddy, a scientific researcher, gives us a metaphor about some rats choosing to give up and drown while others fight to live), and ending with Asner creating a pinata that looks like Muammar Qaddafi. But good will isn't enough--these things just don't coalesce into a whole, and start to seem random, as if generated by an indie-film wheel of fortune (spin it and let it land on garrulous old man, or sex-obsessed best friend, or possibly pyschotic brother). And would a single, 28-year-old man really be given a baby girl?

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