Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Last International Playboy (aka Frost)

I didn't connect this movie's co-star Lucy Gordon to the story a month ago about a promising young actress who committed suicide a month ago until I checked her IMDB entry toward the end of the process of writing the review. I guess it seems kind of creepy, now, considering that there are threads in this movie about characters potentially harming themselves and a mother who had killed herself. I wonder if this was something the releasing company worked for, since promoting a movie about self-destruction would inevitably bring questions about the cast member who hanged herself.

It almost certainly must have thrown the brakes on, because the company (Black Note Films, I believe) seems to have been advertising it relatively aggressively. I've seen ads for it on the sides of buses for months, which struck me as fairly strange because independent films from small companies don't tend to get that sort of exposure, and the bus ads were eye catching, making good use of their horizontal orientation. The poster and cardboard standees that showed up at Kendall Square as the movie came out is another good one, looking more like the cover to a glossy hardcover book than a movie poster; it's stylish.

The movie itself is a mess, though - boring characters, indifferent performances, a soundtrack that seems to consist entirely of bands that will likely stay undiscovered. The credits seem to indicate reshoots - both because there's a copyright date of 2009 despite the film having played festivals last year and because there's a section marked "Re-Shoot" - and I wonder whether they improved the film or maybe softened it up.

Speaking of the end credits, they looked very hasty and cheap (perhaps indicating they were redone), and had some of the oddest footage playing under them. I'm not complaining, mind you - we are talking about a topless, slow-motion pillow fight - but that seems like a really odd choice for the end of a movie where a large chunk of the characters are women urging the main character to be a better man, and the generic model types mostly disappear in the second half.

The Last International Playboy

* * (out of four)
Seen 2 June 2009 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

The Last International Playboy was known as Frost during its time on the festival circuit, and I wholeheartedly support the name change, both because the longer title is a lot more interesting and because it downplays the fact that the filmmakers actually named a main character "Jack Frost". This was likely done by the marketing department - even though the title appears in the film, it's not interesting there; it sounds just as generic as everything else.

The title character (Jason Behr) is Jack Frost; he's the thirty-ish remnant of a wealthy family who wrote a well-received novel seven years ago and hasn't done much since. He's still carrying a torch for his editor, Carolina (Monet Mazur), who has been his best friend since they were kids; that's awkward because she's just told him that she's marrying Russell (Rob Bogue) in six months. Of course, it's not like that torch has prevented him from seeing other women; he's able to round up a bunch of cutely-named blonde models when his friend Scotch (Mike Landry) asks, so that he can better look the part for a writer doing an article on "the last international playboy". The writer, Kate Hardwick (Lucy Gordon), winds up more interested in Frost, and she's not alone: Beautiful trainwreck Ozzy (Krysten Ritter) insists he's going to marry her, and 11-year-old Sophie (India Ennenga) latches onto him because he's always around their apartment building when her parents are working.

There is not a single character in this movie that you have not seen before, likely in a more interesting variation. Jack is wealthy but still basically a decent guy, Scotch is kind of a loser (is there any doubt that he was the boorish legacy member of his fraternity in college?), Carolina is nice but impatient, Ozzy is loud, Sophie has a precocious understanding of adult psychology. Their issues aren't particularly timely or ingeniously creative. They don't even talk in an interesting way, either in terms of unlikely wit or musical vulgarity (Ozzy and Scotch try, but it's just kind of sad). Even songs that flat out tell the audience what to think are a step up from the plainness on display; this movie is about as whitebread as dramas about the idle rich get, and that is pretty darn vapid.

Part of the trouble may be casting Jason Behr in the title role. He still looks like he should be playing teenagers, even with the permanent five o'clock shadow he's been sporting since at least Dragon Wars and claims he's getting too old for this. To be fair, there's not a whole lot he can do; the screenplay seems to be very careful to make sure that we like Jack from the start. He's too nice and obviously good-intentioned, even though there really should be something creepy about how he hangs around with an 11-year-old (non-related) girl and won't accept reality when it comes to his ex. And somewhere between Behr and co-writer/director Steve Clark, the audience is getting pounded on the head with his drinking - look, he's on the same path as Ozzy, just not as fast!

Speaking of Ozzy, I'd like to see Krysten Ritter in a larger role sometime. She's specialized in parts like Ozzy - unconventionally pretty (for the movies, at least), overeager girls who don't fit in with the more practiced beauties around them - and initially, this doesn't look like one of her best: As wooden as much of the cast is, she's overdoing it, though I appreciated the energy. She shows us that there's more to her during a "girls getting ready to go out" montage, though, and darn if she didn't actually make me feel something later on, when no-one else was managing it. India Ennenga does actually come close, though her character is too obviously the tiny adult to Frost's overgrown teenager; Mike Landry's got a character who is supposed to be a loser, and he does that well enough that it's kind of hard to look past the boorishness. Neither Monet Mazur or Lucy Gordon really sparks with Behr, though, and it feels like one of them really should have.

To give credit where credit's due, Clark seems to be OK until it comes time to have people speak - wordless scenes are generally fairly nice, but the dialog is almost aggressively banal, and he doesn't seem to be able to coax a good delivery from his actors. He also gives us no hook into this privileged world, just seeming to assume that wealthy people in exclusive circles are interesting, especially if they're writers. He also saddles the film with a very soft conclusion. I can get not wanting to be overdramatic, but give us something!

It's not to be, unfortunately. Maybe that title change wasn't such a great idea after all; it holds out hope that the audience will get something juicy when if fact it's all too low-key.

Also at HBS.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I too would like to see Krysten Ritter in bigger roles. I saw this movie and thought she was the best thing about it. When is she going to get amazing parts?