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LETTERS FROM LARRY
Heading up at some ungodly hour to Sundance, tomorrow morning.
Have noticed that there are three films playing at the festival this year that I’ve seen already, and I thought all three of them happen to be utterly worth seeing.
Sympathy for Delicious is the directorial debut of Mark Ruffalo from a script by the film’s star Christopher Thornton. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked with Mark and think he’s a terrific guy but that is emphatically NOT why I like this film as much as I do.)
Starting off with a convincing depiction of the homeless community in downtown LA and focusing on one particularly bitter guy (Thornton) whose poverty is compounded by his being confined to a wheelchair. We’re also introduced to a compassionate priest (played by Ruffalo) who tries to make sure the community gets fed. The story seems to be a pretty worthwhile, if familiar, piece of social realism for awhile. Then it makes a dangerous and difficult swerve you don’t see coming:
‘Delicious’ Dean O’Dwyer displays healing powers. He fixes people, but not himself. The priest tries to get him to channel this gift in constructive ways, but O’Dwyer harbors a passion to make rock-and-roll music—and he’s not above using this new power in manipulative ways to advance his career.
SPOILER ALERT OVER
One of the many complicated ideas this film gets at is that having a gift doesn’t necessarily make it easier for you to be a better person.
The film makes a dizzying and largely successful turn toward social commentary and religious allegory, always done with a mixture of realism and dark humor worthy of some of the most interesting movies written by Paddy Chayefsky, like Networkand Altered States.
What’s mainly amazing is how skillfully Ruffalo is able to represent rise to glory and fall from grace of this character on a tiny budget.
What’s not amazing perhaps, given Ruffalo’s background, is the uniform excellence of the cast. Thornton is restrained and persuasive in what is clearly the role of his life…Juliette Lewis is spunky and sad as the rock chick who reaches out to help him,…. Laura Linney, Ruffalo’s acting partner from the much-loved You Can Count on Me, is both funny and scary as a rapacious showbiz attorney…
But the real revelation is Orlando Bloom as a rock-and-roller with the ego to be Mick Jagger but not quite the talent. Bloom is so utterly into this part that for a long time I couldn’t recognize him. The talent that seemed exclusively limited to and defined by the Pirates of the Caribbean andLord of the Rings movies flourishes again here in this completely fresh and unexpected setting and Ruffalo deserves great credit for seeing and believing that Bloom could do this.
The first step in Mark Ruffalo’s career as a movie director, and the artistic rebirth of Orlando Bloom’s acting career could make Sympathy for Delicious one of Sundance 2010’s upbeat stories.
The other two movies that I want to very much recommend are French films I saw last year at Cannes, A Prophet and Enter the Void. (New chief Cooper’s decision to show stuff from other festivals is worth some discussion… personally, I’m for it.) More on them a bit later. We have to pack.
Larry Gross is a 25 year screenwriting veteran and Winner of Sundance’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for his most recent release, We Don’t Live Here Anymore.