Quirky characters, dysfunctional families and Zooey Deschanel? Indie comedy follows the formula, but still feels fresh.
Directed by Matt Aselton
Cast: Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, John Goodman
There’s reason to believe that first-time writer/director Matt Aselton is a talent to watch. His first outing, the pleasingly offbeat comedy Gigantic, gives off a vibe that falls somewhere in the same general territory as Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums), Dylan Kidd (Roger Dodger) and a number of other young auteurs who read The Catcher in the Rye at a precocious age and grew up with the goal of submitting independent, coming-of-age comedies to the Sundance Film Festival.
Gigantic lingers over the character of Brian Weathersby (Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine), an inward-gazing, cherub-faced young man who works at an upscale mattress outlet in Manhattan. Brian seems unsure about a lot of things in this world: his (meaningless) job, his (nonexistent) love life and his (only mildly dysfunctional) family. But there’s one thing he knows without a shadow of a doubt: He wants to adopt a Chinese baby. It’s a plan he’s had since childhood. And at 28, with his life in a seeming holding pattern, there’s the unspoken belief that maybe fatherhood will give him the sense of purpose and responsibility he needs. Of course, twentysomething single men don’t exactly shoot to the top of the adoption list. And so Brian does what he’s good at. He waits quietly.
One day, Brian crosses paths with Al Lolly (John Goodman), a loudmouthed but interesting millionaire in search of bedding. It’s not so much the encounter with Al that shakes up Brian’s drab existence as a subsequent meeting with Al’s daughter, who shows up to collect the mattress. Harriet Lolly (played by Zooey Deschanel) is a flighty but fetching daddy’s girl with even less direction in life than Brian. Brian is instantly smitten with her carefree (careless?) attitude and direct manner. (“Are you at all interested in having sex with me?” she asks on their second meeting.) Of course, that impending overseas adoption and its concomitant adult obligations could put a crimp in this budding love connection. Throw in a few more unconventional family members (Ed Asner and Jane Alexander as Brian’s elderly parents) and a creepy homeless dude (Zach Galifianakis) bent on murdering our main character and we’re off and running.
Gigantic is filled with terrific good humor and charming characters. It’s not often explosively funny. In fact, like nearly all art-house comedies, it’s got a streak of melancholy running right through the center of it like the cream filling in a Twinkie. But the overall feeling is one of cheerful eccentricity. There are a few rookie mistakes along the way. Aselton’s script (co-written by Adam Nagata) has a tendency to wander in search of itself. The plot wraps up rather hastily and Aselton sometimes settles for meaningless symbolism when he’d be better off just examining his characters in greater depth.
On the other hand, his casting is spot-on, and the actors he’s chosen bring a very human dimension to their roles even when the script is slacking. It’s fantastic to see Goodman and Asner working again, and it makes you wonder why these guys aren’t in just about everything. There aren’t many actors who can make bland seem interesting, but Dano’s one of them. His role as the simpering, manipulative preacher Eli Sunday, crushed (um, literally) under the personality of Daniel Day-Lewis’ explosively evil oilman in There Will Be Blood still resonates. Brian Weathersby isn’t a creation of quite that magnitude, but he furthers the argument of Dano as Hollywood’s best nerd of few words. Finally, and most crucially to the story at hand, there may very well come a time when we, the American moviegoing public, grow tired of seeing Zooey Deschanel in the role of the cute and quirky girlfriend. But until such time that she is no longer so damnably cute and quirky, the lady will remain a welcome addition to any filmic outing.