Wednesday, May 5, 2010 7:31 PM By Simon

Starring: Adrien Brody, Milla Jovovich, Illeana Douglas, Vera Farmiga
Directed by: Greg Pritikin

Steven Schoichet is a recently unemployed ne'er-do-well who has difficulty expressing himself. Steven finds he has a knack for ventriloquism. Steven's best friend is Fangora "Fanny" Gurkel, an aspiring punk rock singer who, along with Steven, is just looking for her niche. Eventually, Fanny takes a shine to klezmer music when she learns of an opportunity to get an actual gig. Through his newfound talent, Steven discovers that he is able to overcome his social problems through his dummy and decides to try impressing and winning the heart of Lorena Fanchetti.

Adrien Brody, you'll notice, tends more towards the role of rogue/misfit/outcast/rebel. Summer of Sam, The Pianist (to a stretch), The Jacket, King Kong, The Brothers Bloom, The Darjeeling Limited, what looks to be the upcoming Splice and Predator. And, come on; who the fuck buys it? That is why I love this movie. Adrien Brody, a spindly, knobby Jewish dude with a lisp, like he always has a cold. He's a nerd, we all know it. In this movie, he embraces that dorkiness, goddammit!

He plays Steven Schoichet, a hapless loser who lives with his parents and also-adult sister. He finds that he enjoys ventriloquism, and buys a dummy, who soon becomes his inseparable companion, alongside his lady best friend (I know!) Fannie, played delightfully by Milla Jovovich. He also meets Lorena, a single mother, played by Vera Farmiga.

The performances are very good, as I said. Adrien Brody is a fidgety guy who generally seems uncomfortable in his own skin, as opposed to casting someone like Chris Pine (or something) in a similar role. Milla Jovovich is better than anything else she's been in, energetically jumping into her punk rock/klezmer lead singer role, committing to her Brooklyn-ish accent, jumping around like a twelve-year-old tomboy, wearing baggy clothes and knit hats and, what I really love, this doesn't turn into a love story between her, Fannie, and him, Steven. They are purely platonic (all the better, because I think if either tried anything, she'd break him in half), and it's just hilarious, watching her dance about, rabid-fire rants, as juxtaposed with his shy nods and mumbles.

Otherwise, there's Ileana Douglas as sister Heidi, she and Steven still play the antagonistic sibling rivalry well into their thirties (slash late twenties). She, too, still lives with their parents, working on a home business, but with deserted aspirations of being a singer. It's kind of bittersweet--one minute, she's disparaging her brother, next, she's screaming at her mother over her lack of support or something. It, like all the other performances, is slightly mournful as well, as she knows she is just one in many slackers, that she can tease her brother all she wants, but she knows they are both in the same depressing boat.

Vera Farmiga isn't given much to do, the thankless role of love interest, but when she is given something, she works wonders with it (because she's Vera Farmiga). Also excellent, if undercredited, are Jessica Walter and Ron Leibman as lovingly stereotypical Jewish parents.

This was made in 2002, released in the same breath as The Pianist, and, to me, represents Brody's last film as a genuine 'nobody', before he became prime property for every big-budget thriller, remake, and biopic. He might be going back to more comedies, with a role in stoner epic High School (see epic voiceover in trailer), but this might be his last truly self-deprecating movie.

Oh, right. Movie. In itself, it manages to not irritate with it's overt cuteness, but it can be uneven, and the pace dawdles, as there's no real plot, more of an outline, a scenerio, until the very end, when you realize all these tiny, throwaway gags and struggles emerge fruitful in a quietly awesome climax.

Overall, an adorable, well-acted, entertaining little flick. Okay?


Alex said...

Okay! I saw this movie years ago when I was just getting into Adrien Brody as an actor (I had probably just seen King Kong) and I thought it was super cute, but meandering. You make a good point about the kinds of roles Brody often goes for- he does well enough as the rebel hero, but he is also really suited to this type of geeky comic role. Loved Jovovich in this as well, and it's always great to have platonic boy/girl best friends (as a victim of everyone constantly thinking I am dating my guy best friend, I really appreciate it).

May 5, 2010 at 9:16 PM
Chris said...

I liked the humour in 'Dummy',the parents are hilarious! 6.8/10 on IMDB is so inaccurate, this is better than average, I think.

The cuteness in 'Dummy' you mention reminded me of another underrated gem 'Year of the dog', I thought it felt similar in tone, the way the soft colours in the background looked on screen.

Dead of Night (1945) is also interesting, a horror film of sorts, I like the ending, which makes you want to see it again. A section of it is about a ventriloquist. You can find it on youtube.

May 6, 2010 at 5:48 AM
Angie said...

This looks interesting! Hadn't heard of it before, but I'll have to see it! I love all the actors involved. Especially Illeana Douglas... so underrated. Have you seen Grace of my Heart? oooh love it.

May 6, 2010 at 6:02 AM
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May 6, 2010 at 7:42 AM
Robert said...

I think I saw this in the 5 dollar bin at Blockbuster once and ignored it, but now I'll definitely have to check it out! I mean, Vera Farmiga for goodness sake.

May 6, 2010 at 8:53 AM