Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Scenesters

From what I read about this movie, I assumed it would be something completely different. For all the name dropping (for example, one guy says of his band, "We had a residency at Spaceland..."), I found the promised L.A. hipster-skewering to be at best toothless and obvious and at worst cumbersome and unfunny. Like Kristian pointed out, it's a jumble of forms ranging from handheld-camera veritae (when is this going to peter out, by the way?) to deliberately hammy noir--that didn't bother me. What perturbed me most was why just about every joke or stinger that should have elicited a laugh or even a chuckle clumped to the ground in a humorless piles of failed punchlines.

The characters deliver these ripostes in an earnest deadpan, the sort of thing that works in a Judd Apatow movie or on The Office. Or, geez, I suppose Entourage. For all the popular precedents, the director can't quite pull it off. The acting isn't terrible, but I think the actors timing is off, like watching a video where out-of-synch sound is on that precise mark between tolerable and unwatchable. Eh, that's charitable. I caught myself heaving several sighs of annoyance.

Speaking of annoyance, I'd say the characters are patently unlikeable, even Charlie, who is supposed to be the hero. Kristian enumerated the plot well enough, so I won't bother. It's amusing that the most repellent of them (the producer character--I forget his name, but he's the one who looks like a blonde Seth Green) talks about character arcs at one point, because his remains the same throughout. I suppose this irony is intentional, the point being to tell us how many stupid, unscrupulous wannabes fill the shallow end of the indie filmmaking pool, but I thought it was too heavy-handed and irritating. I mean, most people know someone like this guy; if you're into books, it's the girl at the party who gets a little drunk and makes sure you know she's read one by someone who won a Booker prize. If you're into music, it's the guy who talks about "industry people" or says stuff like, "Oh, well my friends in The Bronx..." meaning the hardcore band rather than the borough. In this case, it's the self-described "movie geek" who mentions Truffaut or Fellini while you're speedeating chips at Chili's, who also says of any movie he enjoyed, "I think they did a good job." So these two are familiar, but if you don't like those characters in real life, you probably won't like them in this film.

And actually, the super deadpan guy (Wallace Cotten) who plays the director of the film within the film (I guess he is the actual director, though this movie's obsession with its own meta-ness made me too tired to figure out) is just as irritating, for the same reason as the producer character. And while Charlie, the hero, is a comparative saint relative to the Producer's and Cotten's amorality, he seems to be as big a douche as everyone else. There's a point, however, where he seems to become hypnotized with the fake movie's hardboiled noir so much that it spills into his life outside of the fake-movie's frames, trying to solve the actual murders that drive the plot. This would have made the movie way more interesting, a character study about a real person who turns into a character because he's surrounded by idiots who convince him to become as two-dimensional as they are. And as for why he goes along with them... who knows? There's no convincing reason why he doesn't go to the police, and he never seems as vain or unscrupulous (or even as stupid) as the two filmmakers. And actually, he doesn't even seem to be interested in becoming a player or a star like everyone he has to associate with. I never bought his resignation to go along with the plan for hiding evidence from the police in favor of unmasking the killer on his own. This guy is aimless and a little lazy, and letting someone else take care of a problem seems like his character's default setting. The only motivation that makes sense to me is that he doesn't seem to have anything better to do.

So I was disappointed in this movie, but I think the festival is even better than last year. Why The Scenesters is a centerpiece is a mystery to me, other than that two of its creators are from Keller and Grand Praire. I'm really looking forward to Ichi.--Steve Steward

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