Let's see, where did I leave off? Oh yeah, so the Times totally ripped off my Harmony Korine story -- he had another one about how his two childhood friends got arrested for stealing curbs (don't ask, I don't know but Harmony used them to tap dance with in his backyard) one year and so now friendless he spent his days going to see movies at the local college theater. Anyway, Mister Lonely was enough movie to last me two days so I took Friday (Day 3) off, drank too many vodka tonics, but managed to catch two movies on Sat.
First up was the excellent and often amazing My Effortless Brilliance. If there was one movie that has your name on it in this fest, Paddy, this one is it. A largely improvised story of a writer trying to get back in touch with the best friend that basically broke up with him. The writer, Eric, is played by the front man for the band Harvey Danger (remember them?) Sean Nelson. We meet him as he tries to call up his old friend Dylan (Basil Harris) to bring over some Indian food and hang out. Dylan does bring over the food but stops cold in the doorway, calls Eric a horrible friend, an asshole and tells him that he's through with being his friend. Ouch.
Sean Nelson is surprisingly enough a superbly natural actor. I suppose it helps that the doorway break-up was plucked from his own life and that Basil Harris is a good friend of his, and that his character is a writer struggling to live up to his successful first book (much like the trajectory of his real-life band). But the why's and what-for's aren't important -- what is important is that were given these immediately rich characters with built-in backstories that you can feel exude off of the screen. The audience didn't find out these quasi-autobiographical details about the movie until the Q&A that followed but I'm positive that everyone in the audience was asking themselves the same question while they watched it, "Is this improvised? And if so, then they must be off-screen friends, right?"
A few years after the break-up, as a lonely Eric plods through another attempt at a book tour, he decides to track down Dylan at his new house -- surprisingly enough to Eric, a cabin out in the woods of the Northwest. Everything that follows from here on out is these two friends, and Dylan's neighbor Jim, trying to connect or re-connect as the case may be.
The woodland cabin setting is great. Aside from being an inherently beautiful place to photograph, nothing forces people to deal with each other quite like being cut off from the rest of the world. As Padraic may surmise from this description, I could not help but think of Old Joy from a couple year back -- a favorite of our from 2006. While I would say Brilliance is a comedy to begin with it certainly shares a similar genre as Old Joy. Some have called this genre "bromance". I won't take up more space here to argue that term.
This isn't a film about huge psychological breakthroughs or even the tender moments that Old Joy had, it end up being a story of two friends reconnecting through shared experiences old and new. The best part of the movie is Eric, Dylan and Jim finally sitting down in the cabin together and getting drunk. The gradual process that takes place is perfect, real and hilarious. Of course, the evening ends up with them agreeing to go out to shoot the possibly mythical cougar that roams the acreage that surrounds the cabin, making for a disastrously funny expedition.
I can't recommend this movie enough. It's surely more relateable and accessible than Mister Lonely yet will probably see half of that movie's distribution (if any at all). I hope I'm wrong.
My girlfriend and Specialfellow caught the feature Frownland as I went home for a couple hours recuperation. I came back to wildly diversive responses. GF saying it was almost unwatchable and SF saying it was brilliant. Maybe I'll get them to agree to do a dual review on it.
Somewhat quickly, in film fest time, following Frownland was the highly anticipated, by me anyway, Beaver Trilogy. In the early 80's Trent Harris was working for a TV news magazine and bumped into Grovin' Gary. A 21 year old kid taking pictures of the outside of the TV station and it's helicopter. They strike up a conversation that Harris films and it's something that is immediately awkward and captivating. Gary is odd to be sure, with a goofy nervous laugh, uncontrollable exuberance and weird mood swings. Gary tries to show off his impersonations at first and then his car, with etchings of Farah Fawcett on one side and Olivia Newton John on the other, which has to be started with a screwdriver. While he rides off you might ask yourself, if he sent you letter asking you to film his hometown's talent show, one that he'll of course be a part of, wouldn't you be curious?
Trent Harris did film that talent show and it is indeed jaw dropping. But before the show even starts we witness Larry getting make-up put on him by an employee of the local funeral home so that he can take that stage to do his impersonation of Olivia Newton John -- or as he calls the act, Olivia Newton Don (in the third act it's called Olivia Neutron Bomb, much better). I'm not sure if this part, him being interviewed while getting make-up applied and repeating over and over how he is all man, or the actual performance is the most mesmerizing part of the movie.
The talent show itself is a ramshackle mix of your typical small town acts. There's the two sisters singing their way through a standard, the cheerleader act, someone with a baton... and a girl who kind of looks like she's doing a ventriloquist act without any dummies (but this might simply be due to the way it's shot, hard to tell but either way it's extremely bizarre). When Larry finally takes the stage with his band it is something of an improvement over what has come before but that's not saying much. His impersonation of Newton John is not much more than a high-pitched male voice with an Australian accent. There is some conviction, you believe him when he says how much he admires her, but the main reaction to his (and his band's) performance of "Please Don't Keep Me Waiting" is that of unbelievable dumbfounded shock. There is of course a coda where he and the band come back on, not in drag, and brutalize a Neil Diamond song.
So... after watching the first "real" portion, I'm immediately questioning my own reactions and thinking about those first weeks of every season of American Idol. Every year you get to watch people with these fiery passions about their favorite singers and their own talents crash and burn in front of you eyes. Except here you don't have a judge immediately (try to) extinguish the flame. How is one supposed to react to Groovin' Larry? Trent Harris gives us two more chances to figure it out. The second part of the trilogy is Sean Penn circa 1981 reenacting everything from the initial meeting, the make-up and the performance captured in an errie looking black and white home video camera format. Penn is equally mesmerizing in his performance. The guy was simply brilliant from the get go. This portion allows you to admire the metaness of Penn impersonating an impersonator. Man, this should have been shown right after Mister Lonley... jesus.
The last portion is an honest to god attempt at creating a short movie out of Groovin' Larry (now Groovin' Gary) and the talent show. This time a very young Crispin Glover is in the role and we are given attempts at getting behind the scenes of the show and how the other performers ended up on the stage. It's certainly not as interesting as the first two and it comes close to After School Special territory except for the fact that it stars Crispin Glover. But in a weird way it puts a sympathetic light on Larry/Garry where the first two spotlight him in a way that has you laughing at him more than with him.
The Beaver Trilogy is certainly a movie worth watching if you get a chance. And if you can manage not to have "Please Don't Keep Me Waiting" constantly running through your head for the next couple days you're a stronger man than me Gunga Din.
Here's the original Groovin' Gary doing his Barry Manilow. New Yawk!
I'll wrap up the festivities tomorrow (god willin' and the creek don't rise) with a look at a Bruce McDonald and Ellen Page experimental collaboration and the newest from another of Canada's prized exports, Guy Maddin.