Lovely by Surprise

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 07/08/09 14:40:16

"Escape to a fantasyland thatís less interesting that the real world."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

ĎLovely by Surpriseí is one of those little films that needs all the support it can get. It doesnít have any name actors. It was shot for a meager budget in Memphis. It has storyline that canít be explained in a single sentence. Itís brimming with whimsy. Oh, and itís not very good.

Freshman director Kirt Gunn comes up with some intriguing visuals (I love the shot of a writer at her keyboard as images from her story can be seen on the corner of the screen), but storytelling is more cutesy than charming. While Gunn does find odd ways to link the three interlocking stories, none of the stories themselves are clever or involving enough to be interesting in themselves, and they add up to an unsatisfying whole.

The primary tale involves a frustrated novelist named Marian (Carrie Preston), who canít figure out what to do with her protagonists. Her former writing instructor Jackson (Austin Pendelton, ďA Beautiful MindĒ) suggests that she should put them in some kind of danger in order to give the tale some much needed tension.

Apparently, Jacksonís relationships with his pupils have been less than platonic. This might explain why heís still listening to Marian.

The tale itself features a pair of brothers named Mopekey (Dallas Roberts) and Humpkin (Michael Chernus). What loving parent wouldnít want to give names like those to their offspring?

The two spend all their days living on a houseboat thatís stuck in the middle of an empty field. Neither sibling wears more than briefs, and both seem to subsist on cereal (which they pretend to catch like fish) and milk thatís delivered right to their stern.

While Marian, like Gunn, struggles in vain to figure out something fascinating to do with the brothers, a car salesman named Bob (Reg Rogers) canít get a single vehicle to leave the lot because heís depressed about the death of his wife and because his daughter (Lena Lamer) wonít talk to him, or anybody else. He also actively tries to dissuade potential customers by getting them to doubt their need of the car.

Despite their seemingly disconnected nature, the tales do combine, but at times the intersections seems more like wrecks than acts of synergy. There is a reason that Mopekey and Humpkin seem like overgrown children, but when the explanation arises, it feels more like a cop-out than a revelation.

While ďLovely by SurpriseĒ blurs the line between fantasy and reality, neither are that engaging in this film. As Mopekey and Humpkin go about their onboard lives, itís easy to wish that Marian had not only taken out both characters but maybe even adopted Bobís line of work.

Even in the realm of make-believe, none of these characters is terribly convincing, so itís hard to get concerned about their struggles. It also doesnít help that the willfully mute child is a hackneyed device (even ďTerminator: SalvationĒ uses it). It would be easier to tolerate thin characters if there were some genuine wit involved, but itís simply not funny to watch grown men munching on cereal as they try to catch pretend fish.

The cast is solid, but whimsical banality is still banality.

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