Monday, June 23, 2014

One masterpiece and two pieces of shit

It's an exaggeration to call American Splendor a masterpiece ... but not when compared to the two pieces of shit Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have made since then.

The most recent piece of shit being the Kristen Wiig vehicle Girl Most Likely, which I saw on Saturday night. 

The directing team may have made other pieces of shit since American Splendor came out in 2003, but I haven't seen their documentary Wanderlust, their feature The Extra Man or their HBO movie Cinema Verite. The middle of those three, at least, was reviewed unfavorably.

I can, however, vouch for the shittiness of both Girl Most Likely and their 2007 Scarlett Johansson vehicle The Nanny Diaries.

What I find profound about their filmography is not the disparity in quality between their best film and everything else, nor the quite obvious reality that people who are capable of making good films are also capable of making bad ones. It's the disparity in the ambitions of their movies that strikes me as particularly odd.

How different in purpose is a movie like American Splendor, a quirky indie dramedy that uses a great performance from Paul Giamatti to get inside the head of a unique American personality, and the tween-focused Nanny Diaries, in which a pre-selectivity Johansson awkwardly navigates icky sitcom-style scenarios related to her employment?

And then you've got Girl Most Likely, a dime-a-dozen indie comedy about the most common protagonist we seem to have at the movies these days: the late twentysomething woman who loses her job and her man in the opening ten minutes, causing her to spiral downward in comically dysfunctional ways. Even with the best efforts of Wiig, this is a particularly egregious entry in that genre.

Of course, to blame Berman and Pulcini for the direction of their careers entirely misses the point. One assumes they wanted to make other movies in the vein of American Splendor, but were limited to a smaller selection of movies studios actually deemed them suitable to make. Perhaps The Nanny Diaries and Girl Most Likely were the best of what was left over when other directors with more heat were all squared away on projects.

In considering the larger "one masterpiece and two pieces of shit" model, it's much more useful to blame a guy like Richard Kelly, who has been given free rein on a number of projects with similar ambitions to his original masterpiece, Donnie Darko. It's just that he's majorly screwed up those opportunities. Southland Tales and The Box were incredible misfires that were entirely of Kelly's own doing, though Southland Tales is just odd enough to be worth watching. 

Maybe the real ticket for Berman and Pulcini is to return to the world of documentaries from whence they came. I don't know what it is about documentaries, but they are almost never pieces of shit.

I'll tell you one reason I was glad to see Girl Most Likely, though: It had been since January 12th (Black Rock) that I'd given a movie I'd seen under 2 stars on Letterboxd, and since way back on November 22nd (Only God Forgives) that I'd handed out only a single star. I may prefer masterpieces, but I like my ratio of masterpieces to shit to be a little less lopsided.

This piece of shit was overdue. 

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