26 February 2011

Cold Weather *

It seems to me that the goal (conscious or otherwise) of Cold Weather is to make a "mumblecore mystery" film, playing with the mumblecore toolbox and telling a sort of sideways crime story, another in-over-our-heads watched-too-many-movies amateur-detective story (which, to be fair, I generally enjoy quite a bit, at least in theory). I didn't stick around for the director's Q&A because it was obvious it would be an endless round of silver-hairs asking what street such-and-such a scene was shot on, or how they got permission to use the Montage, or whatever. (Sadly, random-audience Q&As are rarely any good, full of silly production questions and local-filmmaker-makes-good stories are even less likely to be.) So I can't say for sure that the intent was to go down that road, but at best I'd say that's what he accidentally did, if he didn't do it knowingly.

Anyway, you can more or less get away with writing a low-key pseudo-observational "real" (messy/sluggish/quirky/unstructured) interpersonal drama or relationship comedy, but when you inject an overly-familiar high-concept plotline into that same story, the amorphous storytelling gets in the way because there really is action to follow, stuff really is happening, and your characters are going to have to act or react as needed to keep the story moving. My hope was that the filmmakers would play with the expectations of the genre in some clever and perhaps unexpected ways, as they told their mumblecore-y story of listless middle class dudes taking jobs beneath them and put off growing up for as long as possible. Instead it just kind of lurched awkwardly in and out of some familiar scenes with no sense for action or thriller pacing. Moments dragged on without being humorous or exciting (I admit there's something "real" about the boredom of a stakeout, but if you can't develop your characters or advance your story with this scene, why are you showing it to me at all?) and key elements to drive the story just kept plopping into our heroes' laps (the missing girl just up and calls them on the phone; the briefcase was a breeze to steal; all peril seemed entirely imaginary in this story).

Further, too much of the story was driven by the side characters, which totally undermine any idea that our hero Doug is anything but a lazy slacker who's all talk. He insists he loves Sherlock Holmes and "wants to be a detective" (of the non-CSI/Sherlock Holmes variety no less) but refuses to take action and is the wet blanket when they begin their adventures. And on a side note, as a guy who's probably even geekier than he lets on (and I hardly hide it), I was irked by the idea that some Conan Doyle fanboy wouldn't be at least amenable to Star Trek fandom, and would have heard the names of the characters (Counselor Troi, anyway; maybe not Gul Dukat). His bro-ish resistance to acknowledge that it might be fun, even for the fans, struck me as the weirdest beat for that character, and only served to help me like him less. Basically, in the end, Doug is a wiener who wanted to be Sherlock Holmes but gave it up because the schooling was too hard, still talks about the big dreams, doesn't even understand nerd culture or how to talk to nerds of a different color, and won't even step up to be the story's protagonist without the constant propping up of his sister and his cool DJ/Star Trek geek/ice worker friend.

Everything's too easy, moves too slow (the missing girl mystery doesn't happen until about forty-five minutes in; that means half of this movie is act one), and we begin and end the movie with Doug and his sister in roughly the exact same place: more or less happily cohabitating, getting along, passing the time without actually doing anything. Honestly, the film is almost a clever portrait of spinning plates instead of actually living, and except for the anxiety-inducing glacialness of the story's midsection and a story with no stakes (or momentum, really), I could almost say it works as such. Only that renders all of the characters unlikeable, unsympathetic, and uninteresting.

It's not like I hated this or anything. I just felt like it was a disappointment, a misstep. But the audience ate it up, and I clearly wanted something from Cold Weather that the director didn't feel it was necessary to deliver. So chalk it up to difference of taste.

Oh, but I did hate the pointlessly shaky handheld camera work. Made it feel a lot cheaper than it probably was.

Seen at Cinema 21 as part of the Portland International Film Festival.

No comments: