Alison Pill

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e08 – Broken Pieces

Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon is writing solo again this episode and, I mean, there are some bad scenes but the cringe factor is gone. Of course “Picard” is going to have poorly written and acted scenes, what else would it have; there’s no surprise in them anymore.

This episode has Picard (Patrick Stewart) running back to Starfleet for help with the gigantic intergalactic conspiracy, knowing Tamlyn Tomita is running things from the inside. So basically he’s a trusting dope. Great protagonist. But he’s not because the show’s so drug out most of the episode is the supporting cast, which isn’t great.

Alison Pill and Isa Briones bond this episode, even as Pill’s processing being a double agent and everyone knows about her. Meanwhile Briones has full access to her genes’ memories, including knowing Data loved Picard, which should be a touching moment but barely elicits even an eye-roll. Chabon’s not capable of writing honest moments, so why bother getting worked up when the show can’t deliver them.

Also terrible this episode is Michelle Hurd trying to figure out what’s wrong with captain Santiago Cabrera. He freaks out when he sees Briones beam aboard and instead of it just being him explaining why he’s freaking out, he goes and hides for the entire episode, leaving Hurd to talk to all of his holograms. So if you’re a fan of Cabrera doing caricatures… this episode’s for you.

Hurd’s not good either.

Tomita’s bad, Briones’s bad, Evan Evagora’s not as bad, oh, yeah, the pointless inclusion of Jeri Ryan to drag out the Romulans chasing Picard… Ryan’s not as bad as she could be.

Some terrible, terrible scenes throughout with an ending straight out of Empire Strikes Back for the second time (the same Boba Fett action beat too). It’s like Stewart and Cabrera are just inept at captaining. It’d be concerning if it weren’t all so bad.

There’s a lot of exposition on the Romulan fear of androids and basically… Chabon watched a bunch of new “Battlestar” and puked it into the mix for this show. Or there are only so many stories you can do about secret societies and androids.

“Picard”’s fairly awful. It’s just about who’s getting through it and who’s not. So far, none of the regular cast are getting through. Pill’s gone from being welcome to terrible, Briones has had a similar arc. Stewart’s badness has gone from being a surprise to being the standard.

You’d really think he’d ask not to be written like such an absolute moron though. Chabon, quite obviously, can’t write him as anything else.

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e06 – The Impossible Box

This episode… really doesn’t impress. It ought to impress because it finally gets things moving—Picard (Patrick Stewart) heads to the Borg Cube to rescue Soji (Isa Briones). Briones is an android but doesn’t know it. Her lover, Harry Treadaway, knows she’s an android and wants to kill her for being an android because he’s a Romulan anti-android extremist and he’s basically nudging her towards realizing it. Will Stewart get there in time to save Briones from her self-discovery and whatever Treadaway’s got planned once she has it?

Initially, I liked Briones and Treadaway’s adventures on the Borg Cube because “Picard” was at least the fanfic takes on the Borg were interesting. Not lately. And definitely not this episode, which has Stewart hanging out with old Borg pal Jonathan Del Arco while suffering from PTSD while he walks through the Borg Cube. Incidentally, the empty Borg Cube looks like if someone built a TRON set instead of rendering it in CG. Doesn’t look good.

There’s a whole bunch of bad with Stewart and the Borg. Despite them using footage from Star Trek: First Contact, it turns out Picard hasn’t gotten much better about his time in the Borg Collective and he yells a lot about it at Alison Pill, who’s managed to become the show’s biggest liability at this point just because she’s pointless. I mean, Michelle Hurd’s pretty pointless too, but you’re at least supposed to feel sympathy for Hurd. She’s really bad during her big scene. It’s a chore. “Picard”’s a chore in general.

But Pill’s pointless. Her part’s crap. And her impromptu shagging of Santiago Cabrera is even more pointless.

There’s a big scene where Briones finds out she’s a Cylon but not done well. It leads to Treadaway taking her to a forbidden mediation chamber to psychologically damage her… but Briones’s such a slight character it doesn’t even matter. You can’t suspend the disbelief enough for Treadaway to actually be being a villain at the moment.

The show then fumbles a “Come with me if you want to live” scene, which shouldn’t even be possible.

Also, for fans of Star Trek: The Kelvin Timeline, it turns out the Borg made a trans warp drive. Hell yeah.

There’s another surprise at the cliffhanger, which I’m saving for next episode because I’m really hoping the show didn’t just spin its wheels with a character for three episodes for no damn point. But it really seems like there’s no point in hoping for “Picard” not to do something bad.

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e05 – Stardust City Rag

I wonder if the “Picard” producers tried to track down Brian Brophy to appear on this episode. He originated the Bruce Maddox role on “Next Generation” Season Two, in 1989. I don’t have particularly good memories of his performance but whatever. Did they at least ask? Though he doesn’t have a credit since 2011; he was on “Southland.” “Southland” was a great show.

“Picard,” five episodes in, is not a great show. It is not a good show, it is not a middling show. It is a bad one. Five episodes is enough for the series to find its footing and its footing is poor. Jonathan Frakes directs once again and, once again, it’s not well-directed. It doesn’t quite look like a “TNG” episode shot on CG-enhanced locations like the last one. It doesn’t have anywhere near that amount of personality.

It looks like they tried ripping off a Star Wars location for the episode’s Las Vegas planet location—what happens in Freecloud stays in Freecloud—only with the giant holograms from Blade Runner 2. There are also hologram advertisements beamed into visiting starships, which seems to imply the planet hacks all the arriving ships. Guess they don’t worry about Cambridge Analytica in 2399.

On the planet is the new Bruce Maddox, played by John Ales. Doesn’t matter because he’s barely in the episode. He’s a red herring. Once he tells Patrick Stewart about how Isa Briones is on the Borg cube, he’s expendable. We also find out he and Alison Pill weren’t just colleagues, they were lovers. He was, of course, her boss and sixteen years her senior.

Because let’s not forget men are still men in 2399?

The Pill romance thing is just to get her some added burden throughout. Doesn’t matter. Might matter later, doesn’t matter now. Actually, it doesn’t seem like Pill’s going to matter at all on “Picard.” She too appears to be a red herring, which I wasn’t expecting. Silly me, I thought they wanted someone who could act. But based on the writing, it’s clear it doesn’t matter.

As such, when Jeri Ryan comes back to do a Seven of Nine appearance—the episode is “The Seven of Nine Show with Special Guest Star Patrick Stewart” (in a flipping eye patch at one point because in the future arms dealers are flamboyant like they’re all Peter Allen)—it’s not like Ryan’s good. She’s actually quite bad, but still leagues ahead of reptile bad guy alien Dominic Burgess, who’s so bad I might remember his name to avoid him.

Necar Zadegan isn’t bad as Ryan’s nemesis, but her part’s still poorly written and the episode’s still bad.

No Briones in this episode, incidentally. I hadn’t realized how much the questionable Borg fanfic was keeping the show afloat.

Michelle Hurd has her big scene—she’s going to Space Vegas to see her son, Mason Gooding, who feels like she abandoned him because she’s a drug addicted conspiracy theorist. The show tries to tug the heart strings as Hurd—in a startlingly bad monologue—tells Gooding how she’s clean now and wants to be a mom. Except… she was getting high in the first or second episode, so… how long she been clean? And was she addicted to something without withdrawals? And isn’t addiction treatment better in 2399? Gooding rejects her, which puts Hurd back on Stewart’s ship, which is good because Ryan’s not sticking around. They just really wanted a bad guest star spot.

Interestingly enough—not really because Kirsten Beyer’s writing isn’t good—Stewart and Ryan talk about being ex-Borg and how it’s a struggle to be human every day, which kind of seems like addict recovery talk only they weren’t addicts, they were Borg.

Stewart’s got some really bad moments this episode. Like… really bad. Maybe the show never had any charm to it, just the potential for it; the charm’s all gone now. It’s almost anti-charm.

Maybe the whole thing is just intended to prove resetting the timeline with J.J. Abrams was the best idea.

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e04 – Absolute Candor

Let’s get the elephant out of the way: show co-creator, episode single credited writer, and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Chabon. He’s really, really, really bad at writing dialogue. At some point in this episode, I realized Akiva Goldsman—the profoundly hacky screenwriter of Batman & Robin, iRobot, and I Am Legend who is also a “Picard” co-creator and co-wrote Chabon’s previous episodes… helped Chabon’s writing. Left alone, Chabon’s truly atrocious.

I thought the dysfunctional crew banter—between Patrick Stewart, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, and Alison Pill—would be the terrible low point, but Chabon keeps finding new depths. The banter’s bad—and reveals Hurd might end up being one of the show’s biggest liabilities unless someone gets her performance under control—but nothing compared to the big romantic dance sequence between Isa Briones and Harry Treadaway on the Borg cube. It’s not even Treadaway’s worst scene, which comes later and implies a sadomasochistic (no kink-shaming) incestual (okay, kink-shaming here) relationship between Treadaway and sister Peyton List, but the dancing on the Borg cube scene? Real bad. Real, real bad.

But actually nothing compared to where Chabon’s taking it with Stewart this episode. The title, Absolute Candor, refers to the guiding principle of this convent of Romulan warrior nuns. They’ve got a name straight out of a Dune book, which is fine since apparently Briones’ synthetic android has a hidden home world as well as a Plan. Really hope the home of the fabled Thirteenth Tribe ends up being a place called Earth. Could they seriously not come up with anything original. Like, there’s a Terminator 2 rip in here where Stewart has to tell his newest Musketeer (Evan Evagora) he can’t just go around killing people. It’s a lot.

And it comes right after Stewart has a meltdown on the failed Romulan rescue planet—where the Federation stopped transporting the Romulans so they could all die out instead—about how the Romulans there don’t appreciate him as their great White savior.

Chabon writes Picard as an egomaniacal dilettante (who didn’t even keep up with interstellar political news in the last decade and a half); it’s actually surprising Stewart came back for this series given the writing.

Picard’s obnoxious and kind of playing a parody of himself but if William Shatner were doing it on “SNL.” Again, real bad.

Also bad—Jonathan Frakes’s direction. Frakes directs the Stewart stuff like it’s an episode of “TNG,” only with the wrong music—Jeff Russo does some lousy work here—and the wrong kind of sets. “Picard”’s not cheap enough for how Frakes is directing it. Then there’s the action, which is poorly edited to the point the battle music starts not just before the battle but before the enemy ship even shows up. It’s incompetent, which it really shouldn’t be.

What’s good? Amirah Vann as the only warrior nun with any lines.

Really not sure about all the holographic clones of Han Solo-wannabe Cabrera on the ship, especially since they’re used for laughs and rather broad caricatures.

This episode does move better than the previous two… is moving better through worse material a good thing?

The White savior stuff needs to be seen to be believed, but shouldn’t be.

Also the end special guest star reveal is badly executed.

Yuck.

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e03 – The End is the Beginning

This episode ends where the second episode should’ve ended, with the Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme (i.e. “The Next Generation” theme) and a starship going into a very boring warp. It took Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his band of sidekicks all episode to get into space; apparently you can teleport everywhere in the future but not get a starship into gear for an entire episode.

It opens with a flashback. Picard and introduced last episode sidekick Michelle Hurd in some questionable Starfleet uniforms arguing after Picard’s meeting at Starfleet after they tell him they’re letting billions of aliens die because, well, the Federation’s racist, so what. Kind of sucks not getting to see Stewart yell at Starfleet. Shatner always got to yell at Starfleet. Instead, he just gets to recap to Hurd, who can’t stop calling him “J.L.,” because it’s unthinkable she’d call him Jean-Luc, Admiral, or whatever. If they turn out to have been sleeping together, moany “J.L.”s are going to haunt the imagination. It’s a silly move, like they’re trying to make Hurd seem like the cool Black sidekick to the old White man in a 1990s movie. She’s basically in the 1991 LL Cool J role. There’s optics to Stewart selling her out, but they’re never addressed. He just happens to push the Black woman on her sword.

In the present we find out Hurd’s a genius who can wave her hand meaningfully at the future computers and figure things out. But she’s also a pothead. They call it something else—like snake-leaf—but she’s a pothead. Again, there are optics. “Star Trek: Picard” manages to be less woke in 2020 than First Contact in 1996, though—even though she’s okay—Hurd is no Alfre Woodard. Not even Woodard doing a Star Trek.

She and Stewart bicker a bit, but she immediately agrees to help him, setting up eye-candy, roguish pilot Santiago Cabrera. Cabrera’s supposed to be Han Solo but he’s actually got a big ol’ man-crush on the Starfleet principles in general and, we find out, Stewart specifically. It’s an eye-roll at the forced earnestness but fine; Cabrera’s amusing enough.

Hugh the Borg (Jonathan Del Arco) shows up in the Isa Briones Borg subplot, which still manages to be a lot more interesting than the Picard getting a crew together one—even if Briones is starting to grate. Neither she or Harry Treadaway are particularly good, acting-wise, and it seems like her subplot’s going to be some kind of future-present thing because the show creators have seen Arrival but also the new “Battlestar Galactica” but… Borg anthropology—Borgopology—is engaging enough.

Really not here for the Alison Pill and Michelle Hurd bickering for no reason other than being the only two women thing though. Also Tamlyn Tomita’s quite bad as it turns out. Oh, and Picard knew about the secret Romulan android hating secret society going back to when the Romulan mission failed, which you think he’d have mentioned last episode.

But whatever. It’s a short episode (less than forty-five) and passes well enough. Though the constant fades to commercial in a streaming series are annoying.

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e02 – Maps and Legends

I was expecting a lot of fan service this episode and it definitely did not provide. But instead of doing fan service—outside confirming Riker, Work, and LaForge are all still alive—this episode just kills forty-five minutes or so until the next one. “Picard” has a ten episode season and Maps and Legends is utterly disposable. Unless it really matters seeing a sadly underutilized Ann Magnuson as a Starfleet admiral telling Patrick Stewart she’s sick of his liberal mansplaining and no one has to listen to him anymore, which doesn’t work because Stewart’s right. He might be mansplaining but he’s not wrong. The whole “Starfleet decides to let billions of Romulans die because they’re basically space racists” thing? They’re the bad guys now. They had to decide whether or not they were going to step up and they did not.

Because the post-Roddenberry “Star Trek” humanity is humanity, not the aspirational stuff. “Picard”’s future humanity never would’ve made it through the twentieth-first century… just like we won’t. Anyway, I wish Magnuson was better in it. There’s no real stunt-casting but some familiar guest stars—David Paymer plays Stewart’s Bones McCoy from the Stargazer, which was Picard’s first command and a big recurring thing on “Next Generation.”

Paymer’s not great. He’s not even good Paymer annoying. He’s just there to give Picard his Search for Spock arc. At one point, Stewart’s even talking about how even if there’s a chance of Data’s soul existing, he’s got to go find the daughter (Isa Briones, who has a somewhat interesting arc fooling around with Romulan emo stud Harry Treadaway as they excavate an old Borg cube) as surely if she were his very own.

Yeah, so… this episode is like if they did a Star Trek III homage but forgot to be intentional and fun about it.

But then there’s also the cross-species conspiracy against… hang on… got to drag this reveal out because they really drag it out in the show, with Orla Brady acting like anyone is going to care the Romulan secret secret police hates androids. And, guess what, they’re not the only ones. There’s a secret society in the Federation who helps the Romulan secret secret police’s quest to destroy androids.

Somebody’s seen Star Trek VI too!

And why do they hate androids? Who knows. But they’ve hated them for hundreds of years, probably because the Romulan equivalent of a Roomba hit some ruler’s toe and he went ape-shit. Actually, no, because that idea is too fun and “Picard”’s unnecessarily morose. Especially since second-billed but in the episode for a scene Alison Pill has fun, even when she’s in high drama. Ditto Stewart. He’s trying to bring some charm to the project, even as the project resists.

Tamlyn Tomita plays the evil Starfleet mole. Peyton List is her sidekick. Fourth-billed Michelle Hurd shows up for a scene at the end. Not the cliffhanger scene because Stewart doesn’t get the cliffhangers (yet, hopefully), because he’s not important this episode. He’s not going to get important until he gets out into space and engages and whatnot. This stuff is just episode commitment time killing.

Though the Borg excavation stuff is at least interesting. Co-writers Akiva (Batman & Robin) Goldsman and Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon are a lot better with the Borg fanfic than the actual writing for Patrick Stewart stuff.

Star Trek: Picard (2020) s01e01 – Remembrance

The most peculiar thing about “Picard” is how much it plays like a sequel to Star Trek: Nemesis. Not because Tom Hardy guests as Patrick Stewart’s unlikely Romulan clone or… wait, what else happened in that movie? Oh, yeah, Troi got mind raped… again. No Troi (Marina Sirtis) in this episode, thank goodness. Not thank goodness because Sirtis wouldn’t be a welcome guest star but more because… can they manage to have her guest star and not mind-rape her. It was basically her only subplot on the show. Anyway, Data (Brent Spiner) also died in Nemesis and “Picard” is all about Data. See, it turns out Data might have successfully made a daughter—Isa Briones—or something. Even though Spiner shows up in Stewart’s dream sequences, it’s not like a ghost Data, just a memory, so dream Data can’t exactly tell Stewart about the daughter.

But also the Romulan thing; “Picard” is set after the Romulan homeworld blew up in Star Trek (2009) and Eric Bana went to the past to kill Kirk’s dad and so we got the (now failed?) reboot series. “Picard”’s all about how Stewart tried to help the Romulans but then a bunch of androids blew up Mars and the Federation decided they were too busy with that to help the Romulans and let a bunch of them die. By bunch, we’re talking hundreds of millions or billions. In order not to feel the immeasurable guilt, the Federation apparently now demonizes Romulans, even though Stewart’s got Romulan… servants. I mean, they’re staff, but it’s staff like… servants. They cook for him. Jamie McShane and Orla Brady. They’re good. Okay Romulan makeup… but it does look a lot like Nemesis. Points for continuity?

The episode also refers to the Borg in a big way—the reference is the cliffhanger—and there’s trouble in store for an unsuspecting Briones, so good thing Stewart’s got his mojo back and is going to save her. See, he’s spent the last twenty years moping because the Federation decided to let the Romulans die. Stewart thought it was shitty. So he went back to Earth and ran his family vineyard (though the robots do all the work) and moped. Wrote history books but Federation civilians don’t care about history. They don’t even know what Dunkirk means (guess Christopher Nolan doesn’t survive 300 years).

The first episode’s poorly plotted in that streaming series way—no idea what the series is going to be like based on this episode, it doesn’t even introduce all the regular cast and (apparent) costar Alison Pill only shows up for the last few minutes. Pill’s good though. She’s got enough energy to play off Stewart.

As for Stewart… “Picard” is an okay part for him. No great heavy lifting so far because he’s done all this moping stuff before, in various times through both the TV series and the movies. It’s kind of cool to see “based upon ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ by Gene Roddenberry” in the opening titles though. Like, it’s something different. Even if the show’s not really anything different or new.

In fact, “Picard” is probably about ten years late. “Star Trek,” as a franchise, is all about extended delay sequelizing.

Okay, maybe not ten years… eight years. Nemesis was 2002. “Next Generation” was due for its revisit in 2012. Eight years late.

Will it be good? Eh. Maybe. It’ll at least be… engaging, if they can keep it going with all the references to catch.

To Rome with Love (2012, Woody Allen)

To Rome with Love is sort of hostile to its viewer. Allen sets up three (or four, depending on how you want to count) plots and plays them all concurrently. However, these three (or four) plots don’t necessarily coexist in the same Rome, certainly not at the same time they linearly play out in the run time. He’s also a little dishonest in how he introduces them–Alec Baldwin’s plot gets a big introduction but it immediately shifts gears.

Wait, there are four plots. I keep losing count….

There’s Alison Pill as a young American tourist. Allen and Judy Davis play her parents. Allen and Davis are great together, in case I forget to mention later. Davis just sits and watches him, with real laughs at his deliveries.

Then there’s Alec Baldwin, who gets entangled in Jesse Eisenberg’s love triangle with Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page.

Alessandra Mastronardi and Alessandro Tiberi are honeymooners. Penelope Cruz figures in at some point.

And then Roberto Benigni is the example of the middle class Roman.

Okay, there are four plots. There are sort of five.

Anyway… the best ones are the Tiberi and Mastronardi one and the Benigni one. Or, as one might say, the Roman ones.

Pill’s not in her story enough, though it’s fairly charming.

The one with Eisenberg misfires. He’s ineffectual, Page’s woefully miscast and Gerwig’s great but underutilized.

Allen experiments with narrative here… and doesn’t seem to like the results.

Rome… and gorgeous Darius Khondji photography help a lot.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Anne Seibel; produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Giampaolo Letta and Faruk Alatan; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Woody Allen (Jerry), Alec Baldwin (John), Roberto Benigni (Leopoldo), Penélope Cruz (Anna), Judy Davis (Phyllis), Jesse Eisenberg (Jack), Greta Gerwig (Sally), Ellen Page (Monica), Antonio Albanese (Luca Salta), Fabio Armiliato (Giancarlo), Alessandra Mastronardi (Milly), Ornella Muti (Pia Fusari), Flavio Parenti (Michelangelo), Alison Pill (Hayley), Riccardo Scamarcio (Rapinatore hotel) and Alessandro Tiberi (Antonio).


Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant)

As Milk‘s opening titles ran, it occurred to me Danny Elfman scored it. It doesn’t sound anything like Elfman’s norm–you know, the modified Batman music–but it sounded like the kind of score Danny Elfman should be doing (and should have been doing for years). Milk‘s a biopic–and always feels like one, thanks in great part to Van Sant’s reliance on contemporary news footage for storytelling. It’s a solid move, but it makes me think of Good Night, and Good Luck–which isn’t a bad thing, since Milk‘s an entry in that same genre. The dramatic, filmic biography… but not quite biography, since none of Harvey Milk’s life before the present action begins gets covered. Milk‘s Harvey Milk spends the eight years of the film’s present action becoming someone the man in the opening couldn’t have imagined. Where Milk succeeds so greatly is in the surprise–even knowing the story (or some of it, or just paying attention to the news footage at the beginning of the film), it’s impossible to forecast how the film’s Milk is going to develop.

It’s not Sean Penn’s best performance, but it’s got to be the only one of his best performances where he’s likable. He creates an almost magical character–the scenes with him giving speeches for unions or handing out a bouquet of flowers in a black barbershop–these should be unbelievable scenes (even if the real Milk did exactly the same things), but Penn makes them work. But the character is far from perfect–Van Sant could have easily approached Milk with some kind of destiny angle, but he doesn’t. Penn’s character is a human being, full of mistakes, full of regret, even if he does have a positive disposition. Penn’s played lots of protagonists–he hasn’t done anything in a long time–but in Milk, he plays a hero (his first?). No shock, he’s great at it.

Van Sant’s got an amazing supporting cast. Milk‘s got a huge cast, but the principal supporting actors–Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna–all standout. Hirsch and Brolin probably have an easier time (though both of them have a couple fantastic scenes), but only when I list them next to Luna, who’s got the film’s most difficult role. He plays an annoying, clingy drama queen (sorry, is there a PC term for drama queen); he’s got to irritate the viewer, cause some eye-rolling, but still be a sympathetic person. It’s a very difficult performance and, at the beginning, it doesn’t seem like Luna’s going to pull it off… but then he does.

Actually, a lot of Milk is in a similar situation. It’s always a solid motion picture, but it doesn’t skyrocket until after the halfway mark. The quiet introduction of Brolin, the deepening of Penn’s character, it all takes off. Before, Van Sant feels like he’s experimenting, trying to get the tone right. As it turns out, he is getting the tone right (presumably, it’s not an experiment, but a procedure to get the film to the right place). It’s easily Van Sant’s best film, but Dustin Lance Black’s script doesn’t hurt at all–the script’s mostly passive, but Black has a couple great approaches. Brolin’s place in the plot, for example, is great.

I haven’t mentioned James Franco yet. He deserves a better paragraph than this one will be. He’s astounding–it’s hard to imagine eight years ago I dreaded the very sight of his name–he keeps getting better as an actor. At its most successful, he and Penn make Milk.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gus Van Sant; written by Dustin Lance Black; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Elliot Graham; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Bill Groom; produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen; released by Focus Features.

Starring Sean Penn (Harvey Milk), Emile Hirsch (Cleve Jones), Josh Brolin (Dan White), Diego Luna (Jack Lira), Alison Pill (Anne Kronenberg), Victor Garber (Mayor George Moscone), Denis O’Hare (John Briggs), Joseph Cross (Dick Pabich), Stephen Spinella (Rick Stokes), Lucas Grabeel (Danny Nicoletta), Brandon Boyce (Jim Rivaldo), Zvi Howard Rosenman (David Goodstein), Kelvin Yu (Michael Wong) and James Franco (Scott Smith).


Dan in Real Life (2007, Peter Hedges)

Is there a dearth of WASP family dramas right now? I guess there must be. Dan in Real Life certainly fills the void–and is probably the only time I’ve ever thought about a movie in terms of it being a WASP affair (that accusation against Wes Anderson is, for example, one I find unfounded).

It’s a bunch of shiny happy people–shiny happy family–who get together once a year to play charades, do crossword compositions, do a talent show, on and on. No television in sight. John Mahoney’s the wise and all knowing father, Dianne Wiest is the wise and all knowing mother. There’s the good son, the good daughter, the wild but good other son and then there’s the titular Dan. I think that character’s position in the film is the most interesting thing about Dan in Real Life–he’s suffering and no one’s helping him. There’s the silly suffering of the present action, but it’s a long-term thing and it’s never implied he gets any support. Dan in Real Life only makes sense in its present action, anything before and anything after… it’s too complex.

Watching the movie, it occurred to me the French could do the story well (people off in a relative isolation–Rules of the Game for a multiplex) but Hedges just can’t handle it. Everything’s too perfect, but Hedges doesn’t seem aware he’s not giving the film any texture. It’s like one of the Meyers/Shyer Disney movies without the tacit agreement of a Utopian setting.

As a director, however, Hedges is fantastic. Technically, down to the music by the Norwegian pop star, it’s perfect. Sarah Flack’s editing is incredible. It’s just fantastic.

Lots of the acting is good. Dane Cook (who everyone hates for some reason) is decent as the wild but good brother, Juliette Binoche is fine. Wiest and Mahoney, though neither of them are doing much different from what they’ve both done countless times before. Amy Ryan is criminally underused. Matthew Morrison is memorable in a small role.

I was going to save a whole paragraph for Steve Carell, but it’s probably impossible to describe how good a performance he gives here. Even when he’s spouting the ludicrous dialogue (he’s going to consign himself to misery for his kids–it’s like Superman II!), he’s great.

Unfortunately, Hedges hired the three actors playing his daughters on their cuteness and precociousness instead of their acting. Brittany Robertson gives the worst performance, though Alison Pill is the most annoying.

The movie never has a high potential–the mediocre plotting kicks in before the opening titles I think–and it’s impossible to think of it working on a higher level, so it’s not really a disappointment. It’s a watchable WASP comedy-drama with some outstanding particulars.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Hedges; written by Pierce Gardner and Hedges; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Sarah Flack; music by Sondre Lerche; production designer, Sarah Knowles; produced by Jon Shestack and Brad Epstein; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Steve Carell (Dan Burns), Juliette Binoche (Marie), Dane Cook (Mitch Burns), Alison Pill (Jane Burns), Brittany Robertson (Cara Burns), Marlene Lawston (Lilly Burns), Dianne Wiest (Nana), John Mahoney (Poppy), Norbert Leo Butz (Clay), Amy Ryan (Eileen), Jessica Hecht (Amy) and Frank Wood (Howard).


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