Monday, September 20, 2004

King of the Corner

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2004 at Loews Boston Common #15 (Boston Film Festival)

I hate to bag on Peter Riegart and his film, since unlike many festival guests, he introduced and did Q&A for all four screenings and even seemed somewhat familiar with the area, discussing which theaters his film might get a chance to play in. But let's face it; movies like this are among the main reasons people say they hate independant film.

I'm all for building a movie primarily based on characters, but I've also got a preference for stories that aren't quite so grounded in everyday experience that I stand a good chance of hearing a version with different names by simply asking my next-door neighbors what was going on with their lives. I can get that for free, any time.

What makes it more irritating is that the protagonist (Riegert) is a complete ingrate. The problems his Leo Spivak has probably sound pretty appealling to the audience. Like his obnoxious father Sol (Eli Wallach) in an Arizona retirement community; sure, it's far away, but it's where papa chose to be and, hey, you can afford to fly cross-country from New York and visit him every other weekend. Or his "out of control" only child Elena (Ashley Johnson), who is pretty, unpiereced, doing homework practically every time we see her and on the one time she and her boyfriend are out past curfew, suggests grounding her for two weeks as a reasonable response. Oh, and he's married to Isabella Rosselini. Any woes he may have, he brings upon himself, generally in ways that really defy logical explanation.

And I realize that that's sort of the point, that like most of the audience for this film, Leo has a pretty good life but allows his daily aggravations to skew his perspective, and it takes blah blah blah. What it takes is ninety minutes of watching Leo bitch and moan and generally act like a jerk, and then there's the anecdote from which the title is drawn, and then I guess we're supposed to mist up.

Most descriptions I've seen for this movie involve the word "comedy" somewhere, and I can see where it makes an earnest attempt or two, but it just doesn't happen. Characters who are supposed to be idiosyncratic just come off as strange. There's also one intensely annoying scene in the nursing home about two-thirds of the way through the movie, which I think is going for "darkly comic" but fails in part because the back-and-forth banter mores at too slow a pace and in part because I have real trouble imagining the scene the two characters describe visually. I'm not sure how much of this falls on writer/director/star Riegert and how much comes from the source material (a collection of short stories by Gerald Shapiro), but does it matter?

Pretty much every minute of King of the Corner feels banal or unlikely, and the "unlikely" is seldom entertainingly unlikely.

No comments: