Thursday, August 19, 2010

Film Review - Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (2009)

Director: John Krasinski
Starring: Julianne Nicholson, John Krasinski

Based on a series of short stories by the late author David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men features Julianne Nicholson as Sara, a doctoral candidate in Anthropology who, after her boyfriend Ryan (Krasinski) cheats on her, embarks on a research project to find out what men think of women, how they feel about relationships, and why they cheat.

Though I have never read the source material for this film, based on the limited research I did about the author before writing this, the book (of the same name) was widely thought of as not adaptable or able to be filmed. After sitting through Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, I have to agree with that assessment because the film makes no sense, and it really should be quite easy to follow since it's really nothing more than Nicholson sitting in front of or near guys who talk about women and their sexual conquests. Her character is given nothing to do but sit there with a blank expression on her face and listen, and the scenes where she does more than that, actually engages with someone, number less than five. (I would also swear that she speaks no more than 100 words in the film as well.) Nicholson is a stunning woman, with a look that is reminiscent of a really young Shirley MacLaine, but the two roles I've seen her play, the one in this film and the one she played in Law & Order: Criminal Intent are exactly the same. It works on the television show, but completely falls flat in this movie. See the expression in the photo above? Get used to it - that's pretty much all you're going to see out of her, it appears.

One of the more irritating elements of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is director Krasinski's insistence on using the overused technique of inserting the storyteller into the scene of his story, but still addressing the listener. A really good example of this technique is Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, when Tim Roth is telling the bathroom story. Cutting the character in and out of the actual scene of the story he was telling added to the tension and ultimately, the scene itself. In Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, this technique is used completely nonsensically and the end result is truly not as cool as Krasinski thought he was being; it wasn't avant garde or edgy, it was eye-rolling bad. Another thing Krasinski liked to do was to have characters randomly repeat dialogue, which was just confusing and strange. The dialogue itself was like something one would overhear between two poseurs at Starbucks; having a conversation with more than several words that contain two syllables and the substance of week 2 of a Philosophy 101 class does not convey depth or profundity. It's more akin to a drunken discussion one may have with a stranger at a party where you think you're really blowing each other minds, but the sober person nearby is just rolling their eyes. This film is saturated with moments like that, and the result is not, "Oh look how smart these people are", it is more bemusement than anything.

The climax of the absurdity occurs, ironically, when I think we are supposed to find the most depth in the film; when we find out why Sara set off on this quest we've been enduring for the past hour and a half. Krasinski's Ryan sits in front of Sara and explains how he cheated on her and why in a monologue that was completely boring and hackneyed until he hit the end of it when he says, "I'm standing here naked before you. Judge me you bitch!" It took me a few moments to stop laughing, but then I realized the sad truth - this was supposed to be a big moment in the film and I'm pretty sure I didn't provide the intended reaction. John Krasinski is good at what he normally does - play the affable, laid-back and sensitive guy. In fact, he's a natural at it. Unfortunately that doesn't make him a good director, and he made some fatal flaws in this film, namely, he really took himself too seriously and threw everything he had at his first film. I like Krasinski, and though I strongly disliked this film, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that this was just a bad freshman effort and will give him a shot the next time around.

Having said that, there is no redemption for Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and there are really not a lot of positive things I can say about the film without a codicil: The large supporting cast was really strong and full of great character actors, however, they were completely wasted on the bad material or simply underused...There was one semi-interesting vignette featuring Frankie Faison, however, it had absolutely nothing to do with the film or Sara's thesis and employed the dreaded "insert narrator into the scene" technique...I didn't look at my watch in boredom for what seemed like forever, however, it was actually a half hour into the film. You get my point. I have enough give and take in my life as it is, I'd rather not have to make concessions when looking for positives in a film I'm watching.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men tries to be mental masturbation, but it conveys anything but depth. Instead, it is tremendously boring, and despite my desperate hope that the film would end somewhat cohesively so that I didn't feel like I had wasted my time, I was completely let down.

1.5 out of 5 Stars

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