Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men: Grade A

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (2009)

Julianne Nicholson, Timothy Hutton, Bobby Cannavale, John Krazinski; Co-writer and Director John Krazinski.

Nicholson is Sara, a graduate student doing anthropological research by interviewing on film a sample of young men (20 to 40 years old) about their attitudes toward women. We see short clips of her conducting the interviews and parts of the interviews themselves. The men are uniformly self-centered, mendacious, un-self-aware misogynists. That makes their statements humorously ironic, so we get the message that this movie is a postmodern comedy. Taken in that spirit, it is indeed funny, although not LOL hilarious. But postmodern humor never is.

Sara is played straight, not ironically, and she is horrified to discover the truth about the alien species called men. When her own boyfriend (Krazinski) cheats on her then comes back with a compelling, heartfelt apology and explanation, she is loathe to believe a word of it, since she now knows men are all lying, manipulative bastards. But could this be different?

The story line of the movie is thus slight, and there is neither deep psychological insight nor outright laughter. The entertainment value is in the subtle, postmodern, ironic rib-tickling. Acting by some of the interviewed men is outstanding, but Nicholson’s performance is unremarkable, and I can’t get past “Jim” in The Office when I see Krazinski. He is a competent actor but he never steps outside the range of expression that is so familiar from that TV series.

But what makes the film terrific is Krazinski’s directing. He has found his calling there, even though the movie is not well-integrated overall. The interview clips are starkly edited; lots of jumpy cuts make each interview a collage rather than a real soliloquy, but that’s why they are so interesting. There is not a microsecond of slack. They are 100% very good acting, even though some segments might be only a single gesture or a single phrase lasting no more than 5 seconds. That’s an innovative and very effective technique for producing outstanding scenes of superior acting, and an educated visual sensibility easily accepts the format. The director has a gifted eye for micro-acting.

There are several other directorial innovations, or at least interesting choices and embellishments, many reminiscent of Woody Allen, such as when one character tells a story of a girl stood up at the airport by her boyfriend, and the storyteller appears in the scene along with the girl. Very effective. The anthropological interviews are against a stark brick wall background. Elsewhere in the movie, one character gives a great speech to a closed door. There are experiments with color and movement and many other directorial gestures that make this movie an excellent exploitation of the medium of film. Krazinski the director is a revelation and the story line is amusing in its own right, so overall a big success for this one.

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