Monday, May 21, 2012

Sound of My Voice

If nothing else, Brit Marling and her collaborators are good at manipulating expectations.

I don't completely believe that anybody who really liked Another Earth last year was tricked into it, but I really did feel that the people who made and marketed that movie found a canny way to use genre as a smokescreen. While a lot of genre films will use a fanbase that feels persecuted to try and "critic-proof" their movies ("it's just a fun sci-fi/horror/action movie so don't worry about all that quality stuff"), Another Earth had just enough science fiction in it to make it stand out among a sea of other movies about people suffering exquisitely, but the details were far enough from being integral that people (like myself) who pointed out their flaws would be told that they were missing the point, even if they also mentioned that the plot would collapse if the characters ever once did something reasonable and that the central relationship rang false.

Sound of My Voice goes for something similar - the possibility of time travel is dropped early, but once that's piqued the audience's interest, it's made into a sort of quiet buzz in the back. Which is fine, if you're Lars Trier and have something as great as Melancholia up your sleeve, but neither Sound of My Voice nor Another Earth has a main event nearly as good as their hooks.

Still, I found myself wanting to like Sound of My Voice quite a bit. I found myself slamming Another Earth more than I wanted to last year in response to over-praise and being ticked off that what I felt were legitimate criticisms were being dismissed because... well, see above. And I liked Brit Marling - an good actress writing roles she wanted to play, that are also science-fictional? That's great. So it took a while for it to sink in that it just wasn't very good.

And I still wasn't angry at the end, which is the reaction that sort of finale tends to give me. Just disappointed. Still, it's interesting that director Zal Batmanglij and Marling are finishing up another movie together - The East - that also involves inflitrating an extremist group. Maybe the second time will be the charm.


Unrelated, but come on, you're thinking it too - either Zal Batmanglij's family dodged a bullet by not shortening/anglicizing their name at Ellis island, or missed a great opportunity. /ImBatman

Sound of My Voice

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 May 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run, 35mm)

There were two films at Sundance last year that featured Brit Marling as both an actress and co-writer, and despite being quite different, both fit the pattern of using a fantastical premise to get noticed but ultimately focusing on more blandly conventional things. Another Earth was stronger throughout, but Sound of My Voice has better moments, even if both add up to less than their potential.

Somewhere in southern California, a small cult meets in a basement. The group takes careful precautions so that only the inner circle knows where they meet, but tonight four new members - Peter (Christopher Denham), his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius), Christine (Constance Wu), and her husband Lam (Alvin Lam) are brought in to meet Maggie (Brit Marling), their leader, who claims to be from the future. Peter and Lorna aim to infiltrate and expose it, with Peter especially motivated, although there's also a mystery at the school where he teaches - 8-year-old Abigail Pritchett (Avery Pohl) has bizarre spells and obsessively builds Lego towers when she gets home.

Sound of My Voice opens compellingly, with a sequence demonstrating the mechanics of secrecy and efficient introductions of the main characters, but once the scenario is in place, co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij and Marling don't really seem to know what to do with it. Maggie spouts simple pop psychology and vague stories that could do with being a lot more compelling for the effect they seem to have on her followers, and a scene that should be full of tension winds up slack, leading to a fair amount of predictable wheel-spinning. The movie does have a climax as opposed to just stopping, but it's the sort of ending whose ambiguities aren't nearly as clever as the filmmakers are trying to make them, while other mysteries are left dangling carelessly.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

Sadie Heldberg said...

I hardly would call “Another Earth” a sci-fi flick, it’s unfortunate that it was marketed that way, a drama sounds more accurate. I assume that individuals, who would normally turn their noses up at sci I fi/horror, missed a fantastic movie. I have seen the movie "Another Earth"; it's a fantastic movie that is completely different from what I expected, on title alone. It's a hypnotizing drama that explores multiple aspects of existence all at once, which is why I found it so intriguing. I have a movie blog myself due to my passion for movies; rare beauties like “Another Earth” are welcome company on my frequent business trips for Dish. Since I write movie reviews as a hobby, I subscribe to Blockbuster @Home to have access to all the movies I need, regardless if they are new or old. I need relaxing way to spend my time, when I’m not working. In my opinion if we are the only intelligent life that exists, than I would be arrogant for even preparing the idea of such a thought.