By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
There are many things wrong with this film.
It attempts too much. It glides around some of the issues that it seems to want to confront. And it sets up many interesting ideas that it never finds the time to dig into.
But I kinda liked it walking out of the theater… and i have liked it more in retrospect as the weeks have passed.
Ang Lee is, obviously, a quality filmmaker. He’s got skillz. And he has put together an often compelling and unexpected cast.
The stand-out is Imelda Staunton, though she is also the actor most vulnerable to attacks for overacting. I am on the pro-Staunton train on this. Her performance as an immigrant Jew who didn’t go to the camps, but did get chased out of Europe with that threat on her heels, and then settled in rural upstate New York, is muscular. She is the bull, whether in the field or the china shop. And the reason it’s not overacting is that it all feels like it is coming right from the soul of that woman. The problem, unfortunately, is that her story is one of those that gets many interesting angles, but doesn’t get fulfilled by the overloaded blintz of a movie. Her use as a comic character would have been fine… had they given her the full expanse of her storyline.
Demetri Martin is good as the Mary Richards of the film.. though to be fair, he is a somewhat more proactive character than just being the soft center around which the crazies dance. But what is driving him? Again, this is a hole in the storytelling. The movie gives us all the touchstones of what is going on with him, but isn’t coy so much as so overwhelmed by everything else that it fails to allow the time for his issues to solidify.
Even the idea that this young man brought Woodstock: 3 Days Of Love, Peace & Music to Woodstock: The Town (or really, the town next door) but never gets to enjoy his accomplishment is given a central line through the movie… but doesn’t quite congeal into what it clearly seemed to be going for.
Still… as unset a pudding as it is… as prone as it is to want to recreate the experience on the ground there and then become a drawing room comedy and then turn into Meatballs and then become a 70s coming out movie… the warm spots stay with me. Emile Hirsch seeming like he is about to go off the rails and then bringing it all back again… Eugene Levy giving a solid performance without resorting to schtick… Paul Dano looking handsome and Kelli Garner feeling completely real as a girl you’d get into the VW bus with just in case the drugs have loosened her belt as much as her memory… Liev Schreiber set up to fail horribly, but pulling it out regally… the folks who make up the town… Carmel Amit and Jennifer Merrill as the girls you can’t take your eyes off of in the Earthlight players… Henry Goodman, best known in the US for failing to replace Nathan Lane in The Producers, delivering a relaxed turn as a so-familiar aging man who just wants to get along… Jonathan Groff, who played Claude in Hair in Central Park last year and gets to play a wealthy spin on Berger – he’s still a little young – in this film… Mamie Gummer looking more like her mom here, but seeming more of her own actress than in other roles…
The number of little gems – and that is just a partial list – is why this film overcomes its weaknesses for me. It’s a tapas movie when I was expecting a full meal. But the tapas are tasty. And that lingers with me.