Sunday, December 20, 2009

Milwaukee Film Festival Day Eight 10/1/2009

Film #16 - Shall We Kiss?
Film #17 - Big Fan

Day 8 was a difficult one, both physically and philosophically. Since I hadn't taken any time off of work during the festival, the time commitment was starting to take it's toll on me, as were the theater chairs - as comfortable as they may seem for a screening once in a while, my back was really starting to rebel against them and I was starting to walk like Quasimodo. Equally grueling was my decision making process on what films to see for the evening. Shall We Kiss? was a no-brainer because it didn't really interfere with anything, but the 7pm showing of Big Fan was going to cause a problem if I wanted to see the 9pm showing of a movie that was really high on my list, Il Divo. Because Big Fan had a lot of hype and there was an indication that the director was going to be there, I decided to choose that one. Unfortunately, the director did not appear, but the experience wasn't entirely a bad one. In fact, it gave me the idea to keep my festival book handy and see if I can Netflix the films I wanted to see but missed and do some follow up coverage in a few months.

In a funny side note, the film that I had planned to see when I was trying to see Il Divo, was Bliss, a film that looked good, but again, the lure of being able to attend a talk back with a director was too compelling. When I got out of Shall We Kiss? and saw a line of about 300 people waiting to get into a theater my heart sank because I realized that, though I was able to scoot into a theater first due to my press credentials, it was going to be a packed theater, which makes spreading out to take notes a little awkward. However, when I asked a person in line what she was waiting for (just to be sure) she said, "Bliss". I couldn't believe it. Meanwhile, there wasn't even an usher in front of the door for Big Fan, I just walked right in. Talk about making a lot of mixed decisions that evening...

Emmanuel Mouret
France - 2007 - French with English subtitles
Previous Screenings:
Cleveland International Film Festival 2009
Palm Springs International Film Festival 2009

In a chance meeting, a man and a woman are mutually attracted to one another, but are committed to other people. As the woman struggles with the temptation of sharing just one kiss, she relates the cautionary tale of a friend who had a similar thing happen, and what became of her life after succumbing to the events that spiraled out of control after just one kiss.

Shall We Kiss? is actually comprised of a couple of films within one film; there are the scenes between the newly introduced couple, the meat of the film, which is the woman's story, and then another tale told by the man. All together, the film is very interesting, with a rich story about love and fidelity (or a lack thereof). The entire film was reminiscent of a Woody Allen film, without the nebbish character(s) and high neurosis; focusing instead on adult relationships that do not always have components that can be categorized as black or white.

The acting was commendable, and truthfully, despite the nagging feeling that I needed to race out of the film as soon as it ended to make another screening on time, I was absolutely riveted from start to finish and thoroughly enjoyed the entire film. I would almost like to see it again because there are some subtle sub contexts that I may have missed the first time around due to a few distractions in the theater. Shall We Kiss? is a film that doesn't rely on bells and whistles to drive the story along; rather its strength is in its complex narrative.

4 out of 5 stars

Robert D. Siegel
USA - 2009 - English
Previous Screenings:
Sundance Film Festival 2009

Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswald) is a super fan who lives his life devoted to the New York Giants football team. Living at home with his mother and working as a parking garage attendant, he spends his nights writing manifestos about his team and how they are going to beat their opponents that week, then calls in to a local late night sports radio show to read his words and sound "off the cuff". While battling his feelings of low self-worth based on his living situation and career, his delicate psyche begins to spiral more out of control when he and his best friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) spot his hero, Giants star linebacker Quantrell Bishop at a gas station. After following him to a club in Manhattan, Bishop takes him for a stalker (and is mad that, unbeknown to Paul, he had witnessed him at a drug buy) and severely beats him. Paul's decision to not press charges get a number of people on his back and makes him the object of ridicule, especially to his on-air super fan rival, Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport), culminating in a surprising and dark ending to the film.

I have to give Patton Oswald credit for his acting in this drama, but it's not completely against type, based on some of his previous television work. He specializes in playing nerdy, affable losers, but the main difference is that rather than being affable, Oswald's Paul is obviously a guy on a constant low-boil who we know is eventually going to get pushed over the top. Oswald particularly shows some good acting chops after his beating, when he is forced to confront the need to reconcile his love for the Giants with his complete humiliation.

Big Fan is Robert D. Siegel's feature film debut, but his writing pedigree is pretty impressive; former Editor in Chief of The Onion as well as having written the screenplay for Darren Aronofsky's film The Wrestler. Big Fan has some similarities with his previous screenplay, mainly really beaten-down, low characters who exist on the fringes of society, largely under the radar. Though I didn't feel nearly as sad as I had throughout most of The Wrestler, there was definitely a sadness to Big Fan that made some of the comedic moments almost awkward to laugh at, because in truth, there is really nothing funny about Paul's situation. Though if I'm going to make all of these comparisons, I do have to say that, despite the heavy and crazy ending in Big Fan, it was nothing compared to the ending in The Wrestler, so though this isn't a feel-good movie, you're not going to want to go into a corner for a while when it's done.

Big Fan is a different kind of movie, and I have a feeling it wasn't what most of the audience I screened it with expected. There seemed to be a lot of Patton Oswald fans in the audience, and though they got plenty of him on the screen, he wasn't the guy they normally see on the small screen, and I think there was some disappointment. Conversely, I found this refreshing, and coupled with Siegel's good script, I didn't think the film was among the best I've seen, but it's definitely good.

3 out of 5

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