David Gordon Green has spent his last few films using members of the Apatow clan to explore the art of male bonding. In Pineapple Express, Your Highness, and several episodes of the TV show Eastbound & Down, this male-male relationship has been blown up to blatantly homoerotic proportions, for the sake of comedy. With Prince Avalanche, he returns to his humble indie roots, explores male bonding on a more intimate scale, and emerges with one of my favorite movies so far this year. In the wake of devastating forest fires, Alvin (Paul Rudd) works to paint the lines back onto roads. Alongside him is Lance (Emile Hirsch), his girlfriend’s idiot brother. Alvin enjoys isolation: the time to himself, to read, paint, and “enjoy the silence,” as he often states. Lance couldn’t be more bored and horny, desperate to run into the nearest town and get laid. Along the way, they take unexpected detours with folks they come across, butt heads, and inevitably learn the healing power of having a fellow man who understands you. The dialogue is refreshing, offbeat in an unforced manner: it wouldn’t be out of place on a stage. Rudd has never been better, and Hirsch, who seems to be slowly morphing into Jack Black, reveals a before-unseen potential as a comic actor. Laced with lovely music by David Wingo and the band Explosions in the Sky, the Malickian cinematography blends with this Beckett-esque dialogue and scenario to make a baby that lives directly in my wheelhouse. Considering David Gordon Green’s recent studio ventures, his return to indie cinema is a gentle, honest, and moving experience. It’s available on iTunes now. Take advantage.
Bad movies can be fun to watch. Desperate actors mangling terrible dialogue with a cliche-riddled story may sound like an enticing bit of schadenfreude to some. Yet occasionally, bad movies are absolute torture, where the entire film you’re seized with the impulse to reach into the screen and rescue those involved, with a reassuring hug and a “there there, I’m sorry this didn’t work out.” Lovelace falls into the latter category, an absolute chore of a film that astonishingly played at Sundance this year, despite being both terrible and mind-bogglingly unoriginal. The story of Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) and her abusive husband (Peter Saarsgard) is ripe with drama, which certainly makes it seem like biopic Oscar bait on the surface. Unfortunately, it’s written with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, hitting every biopic cliche along the way. Its one somewhat-original trick consists of showing us her rise to stardom in a more positive light, then showing us the same series of events again with the dirty truth revealed, thus forcing the viewer to live through the same overcooked scenes twice. Seyfried tries her best, but her role is written with less depth than a Lifetime Movie heroine. Saarsgard plays the abusive husband with roughly the same subtlety he gave as the villain in Green Lantern, and other actors like Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale wander aimlessly in and out of frame, looking sad that this story with potential has been reduced to such shallow treatment. James Franco plays Hugh Hefner absent of any charisma, presumably as part of some extremely meta art project. I struggle to list positives. Perhaps the soundtrack will thrill anyone who never saw Boogie Nights. Perhaps it will satiate the curiosity of those interested to see Sharon Stone look as unrecognizably frumpy as possible. Nothing can prevent Lovelace from topping my list of Worst Movies of 2013 To Date.