Monday, March 27, 2017

The Discovery

The sensible thing to do on Tuesday was probably not seeing this movie - indeed, the sensible thing to do on Tuesday probably involved an earlier flight on Monday, rather than leaving San Diego at 10:05pm Pacific Daylight Time, only fitfully sleeping on the plane to Boston (though there was an empty seat next to me, there was one of three babies on the red-eye directly behind me), arriving at 6:30am Eastern, and then going to work before heading to the Coolidge for this. Remarkably, I did not nap during the film at all, but I think I am still jittery as a result of the two energy drinks and two 16-plus-ounce colas I sucked down to get through work that day on Friday.

But, what can you do? This thing is a Netflix exclusive and Netflix, unlike Amazon and Hulu, seems unwilling to play nice with theaters so that people have the opportunity to see their movies on the big screen. Plus, something being Netflix-exclusive means I don’t get to see it at all, as I didn’t see the point of signing up when they were a movie-rental service and I had a wall full of unwatched DVDs and Blu-rays (which has only grown in the past few years). Now that it’s basically a premium cable channel, I’m more tempted, although the DVR pegged at >80% makes that kind of hard to justify.

Still, I wanted to see this one; the high concept is neat, I’ve spent the last six months selling people on Pete’s Dragon with “Robert Redford is aware that he doesn’t have enough time left to waste any on things that don’t deserve him”, and though I somehow didn’t realize it until just a couple days before the screening, it’s the new film from the guy who made The One I Love, and that grabs my interest.

And, hey, guests on top of that!

Left to right, star Jason Segel, writer/director McDowell, and IFFBoston’s Brian Tamm. As Q&As go, it was okay. As with Segel’s previous visit supporting The End of the Tour, I get the idea that he may not be ashamed of his more comedic work (How I Met Your Mother, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets), but he’d really like to compartmentalize it, because he wants what he’s doing now to be taken more seriously. He talked about that a little - when you come up in comedy, and then get cast in a movie against Robert Redford and Rooney Mara, you feel a little inadequate, but you also have to go for it. That was a lot of his part of the Q&A, which you kind of have to expect given how The Discovery is a movie whose hook is far more its concept than its performances.

So that meant McDowell had the bulk of it, and I kind of wish I (a) came up with good questions immediately after a movie and (b) had the nerve to ask less complimentary ones. I didn’t really dislike this movie much until I thought about it a little more, and I kind of would have liked to push at this two-film pattern of sketching out just barely enough of a high-concept to get something started but valuing open-endedness too much. Also, it’s worth noting that nobody in these situations really wants to ask the questions about going straight to a streaming service, whether it feels like you’ve made something less than a real movie or if effectively shooting for TV changes how something is shot. Maybe that’s just because Netflix has been normalized for most everyone else.

Disappointing as the film wound up being, I’m glad IFFBoston and Netflix gave me a chance to see it on a big screen, even if it was that one chance and I probably would have missed it if it had been at 7pm rather than 7:30pm, just based on the ability to get to the Coolidge from work. I’ll be really disappointed if I can’t find something like that for Mute and Okja later this year.

The Discovery

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 March 2017 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (IFFBoston preview series, DCP)

Charlie McDowell's The One I Love was a nifty little indie fantasy, albeit one that hand-waved viewers past the details of its high concept with such force that the breeze could knock a person over. His follow-up occupies the same sort of space but never quite manages the same thrill of mystery as his previous film; it winds up specifying too much and too little of what’s going on, not quite marooning a hard-working cast between these poles but only seldom letting them and the ideas that their characters are wrestling with display their full potential.

Like many movies of this sort, it winds up tying its big idea to a small human-scale story: Two years ago, Dr. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) demonstrated, scientifically, that there was some sort of afterlife, an announcement that seems primarily to have been met by a sharp rise in the suicide rate as people try to “get there”. Two years and four million suicides later, Harbor’s son Will (Jason Segel) returns to the New England island where his family summered when he was young, where he meets up with brother Toby (Jesse Plemons) and finds that his father, a recluse for the past year and a half, has gathered a number of people left adrift by the discovery and continued his experiments, aiming to see just what this next phase of existence is, specifically. Isla (Rooney Mara), the only other passenger on the ferry when Will came over, winds up being a good fit for this group, obviously damaged and quickly working her way into the family’s inner circle.

I like the edge of cult-leader arrogance Robert Redford brings to the man who made the discovery; Thomas fits the part of the mad scientist consumed by his work for the past forty years and could easily become the clear villain of the piece, even if the movie is at heart a story about reconciliation and atonement. Redford is a natural fit for the intelligence and the guilt being grappled with, but it’s the moments when his ego takes charge and the viewer sees that this is a guy capable of recklessly upending the world that make the man interesting. It’s a property that doesn’t really have a complement in Jason Segel’s more principled, obviously angry son even though as a fellow scientist in the same field, Will is positioned to be Thomas’s foil; Segel aches well but does not project the charisma necessary to stand in opposition of Redford. It allows Jesse Plemons to give a more interesting performance as Toby - not brilliant but not stupid, his peacemaker has just the right sort of natural resentment as Thomas and Will talk over his head but need his feet-on-the-ground loyalty. Rooney Mara handles Isla nicely, though, making her feel a bit more well-rounded than the assistants/residents played by Riley Keough and Ron Canada when the character could easily be just a mixture of bitter and eccentric.

Full review on EFC.

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