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Toe Tactic, The
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by Mel Valentin

"Here's a short story about this film: no."
1 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Written and directed by Emily Hubley, an animation veteran making her live-action, feature-length debut, "The Toe Tactic," a drama that leans heavily on whimsical animation interludes for its charms, is a case study in how not to make a character-centered, narrative film. A chore to sit through, "The Toe Tactic" comes off as the self-indulgent, navel-gazing meanderings of a filmmaker-wannabe who has little idea about dramatic structure or character development. Given the evidence onscreen (or, to be blunt, lack thereof), "The Toe Tactic" will probably end up as Hubley’s first and last film as a feature-length filmmaker.

The Toe Tactic follows Mona Peek (Lily Rabe), an unfocused woman in her mid-twenties who’s recently learned that her mother (Mary Kay Place) has sold the family home. For Mona, the sale of the family home is nothing less than traumatic, a stark, unwelcome reminder of the premature passing of her father (Xander Berkeley) a decade earlier. Wandering on the property and actively reminiscing about her father and a long ago experience on a beach, Mona is confused for a burglar by the neighbors. An explanation to a local police officer (H. Jon Benjamin) later and Mona discovers she’s lost her wallet, probably on the train.

Actually, that’s not true: For no discernible reason, Mona has become the object of interest for magical, mystical, talking, animated animals, Ralph (voiced by Don Byron), Timmy (David Cross), Honey (Andrea Martin), Eunice (Marian Seldes), and Maestro (Eli Wallach). The animated characters serve as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on Mona’s actions and behavior and, on occasion, guiding her actions by interfering directly (which takes them into the realm of the godlike). The animated creatures give Hubley a chance to put her thirty years worth of experience in animation to work. Whether, however, they add anything to The Toe Tactic outside of cloying, saccharine whimsy, too-profound-for-thee musings, and narrative shortcuts is anyone’s guess (actually, no, they don’t add anything meaningful or worthwhile).

Mona’s wallet falls into the hands of a teenage boy, Wilson (Sean J. Moran), who, after finding a photo of Mona and her father at the beach, talks to “her.” He also finds some cash that, after some urging by the younger Mona (Hillary Hubley), he uses to buy piano lessons from Hector Freegood (Kevin Corrigan). Not coincidentally, Hector and Wilson’s mother, Lacticia (Sakina Jaffrey), have shared a “moment” (translation: they exchanged glances at a street corner waiting for a light to change). Meanwhile, Mona gets a temp job as an assistant to Victoria Hadaway (Novella Nelson), a friendly, if eccentric, recluse. Mona also strikes up a conversation with the aptly, if unimaginatively, monikered Elevator Man (Daniel London), a singer/songwriter who specializes in songs about apartment dwellers and elevator travelers.

The Toe Tactic depends heavily on a closed universe of coincidence and contrivance, all centered on Mona’s personal journey (one she should have taken long ago) from self-absorption and self-involvement to self-awareness and selflessness. As written, Mona is too shallow a character and her journey too clichéd for moviegoers to care much about where she ends up. Even shallower are the supporting characters to Mona’s personal drama. Few characters get any names and even fewer get backstories. Even those that get names are saddled with ridiculous sounding ones like “Freegood,” “Lacticia Utt,” or in the case of Mona, “Peek” (apparently a reference to her voyeuristic tendencies).

Although Hubley’s visuals are, on occasion, intriguing or inventive (when they’re not being whimsical) and the soundtrack features music by her sister’s band, Yo La Tengo, not to mention Hubley enlisting several recognizable actors in voice roles or cameos (writer/director John Sayles makes an appearance), it’s hard to believe that major film festivals have given "The Toe Tactic" screening time and space. Frankly, "The Toe Tactic" is too dull and unengaging for even diehard indie fans to appreciate. If Hubley gives feature filmmaking another try (a big if), hopefully she’ll bring on a co-writer or better yet, direct someone else’s screenplay.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17122&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/15/08 11:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival For more in the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 01-Sep-2009

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