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Gigantic (2009)
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by Erik Childress

"Romance With Zooey. Just Go With It"
4 stars

Gigantic is a film that wears the aura of quirk right there on its sleeves like a 3-D version of Gigerís Alienís second mouthpiece. Every character is just a little left of center. Most every line is an oddity that most people wouldnít get away with in public without being labeled a loon that needs to be left to their own devices. It doesnít feel the need to settle every little idea it comes up with and has no problem taking little side trips away from Story #1 to dip our feet further in the pool of quirk. Films like these are a dime-a-dozen on the festival circuit and so many of them try so hard to be different that they just as quickly lose an audience of cynics as they are trying to get us to admire its wackness. (Artois the Goat and The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle are recent examples.) Director Matt Aselton and co-writer Adam Nagata are guilty of all of these elements. But where they succeed is not in their straightforward commitment to the materialís very end, but rather in the calmness in which its presented with a charming cast doing some career-best work.

Brian Weathersby (Paul Dano) works at a wearhouse mattress business selling high-end beds to a limited clientle. In-between awaiting patrons to come in he puts in calls to an adoption agency in the hopes of fulfilling his lifelong dream of adopting a Chinese baby. Heís only 28 and, yes, the dream is lifelong. After eccentric businessman, Al Lolly (John Goodman) finds the perfect bed for the bad back that forces him to ride in the back of his car like a hearse, he sends in his daughter to complete the transaction. She is Harriet (Zooey Deschanel), or Happy, as she likes to be called. While Brian charges it up, Happy falls asleep on one of their beds and he patiently allows her to complete her nap.

Happy is certainly cut from the same cloth as her dad, Al, and at the same time a complete opposite. Where dad says whatever is on his mind at any given moment (including the admition, shown in visual terms, that he once redirected and coughed up a tumor), Happy is a bit more guarded with her words. But when she speaks itís a doozy such as when she asks if Brian would like to have sex with her out of the blue. Brian knows heís in unchartered waters here but canít help being drawn to her. Wouldnít you if sex with someone who looked like Zooey Deschanel was that simple? Brianís psychology for female companionship may stem from the close relationship he has with his two brothers and his dad (Ed Asner), who is just as frank as Happyís pappy and takes their state of mind even further with mushroom-laden trips to the family cabin.

Gigantic works within a scene-by-scene framework that may test the patience of even those accepting the advanced quirkiness of its first act. After a half-hour of setting up the unusual courtship of Brian and Happy, it switches gears to give us 15 minutes in the woods with the Weathersbys where it appears that the homeless guy who attacked Brian on his way to work in the first scene is now taking shots at him as if he was M. Emmet Walsh in The Jerk. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention him? The presence of Zach Galifianakis as the deranged bum should be the first clue that this was going to be more than just another hobo cameo. If itís a payoff youíre looking for to this reoccurring appearance though, it may come at a pie shop afterwards as you discuss what the hell that was all about. Gigantic skirts around potential inner chemistry explanations for both Brian and Happy and thereís something welcome about the film not devolving into a third-act pity party, but its all just as likely to baffle those desperately wanting to allow this romance in.

All these thoughts were racing through my mind during the intermittent pauses between the characters, but in no way would I deny that I was enjoying them all. Dano makes an interesting romantic protagonist, knowing just when to play along with the surrounding eccentricity and when to speak out against it. This is, for certain, the best turn given by John Goodman in a non-Coens capacity and probably his funniest work (Monsters, Inc. notwithstanding) since The Big Lebowski. Itís also great to see Ed Asner given a juicy role as a warmup to his own Pixar lead in this summerís Up. Asnerís character fills in the gaps left by Goodmanís Al, who all but disappears after the first hour. Jane Alexander also has a nice scene towards the end to help ground the filmís scattershot emotions. This is the type of role that Zooey Deschanel can almost do in her sleep by now. While some studio pictures such as Yes Man, Failure To Launch and the head-scratching turn in M. Night Shyamalanís The Happening have tried to capitalize on her unique affability, its been indie pics like David Gordon Greenís All The Real Girls, The Good Girl and perhaps her best work to date in the forthcoming 500 Days of Summer that have really fit her like a glove and Gigantic is no exception. She has a way of just standing across from actors that make us realize we donít want to take our eyes off of her in fear weíll miss a line reading or a reaction that at worst makes us grin and at best has us smitten.

Gigantic doesnít quite fit into the consistent pattern of romantic elegance displayed in some of my more recent favorites from the festival circuit like Good Dick or the still unreleased Universal Signs, but its charms shine through and its laughs carry us through some of the more questionable passages. I think of all the ideas and potential calamaties that Aselton and Nagata come up with, only one of them has any sort of clear conclusion. Gigantic is a film though about that uneasy realization that the dreams of youth, whether it be true love or being a daddy, must continue on or wilt away in the face of the blunt truth of adulthoodís limbo. Or is it just another quirky indie romantic comedy desperately trying to live up to its label? For a film that only flirts with the idea of closure it may be best to just keep an open mind and enjoy the company of some fine actors playing funny characters trying to find the same answers that all of us are.

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originally posted: 04/03/09 02:03:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Gen Art Film Festival For more in the 2009 Gen Art Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/27/08 Lloyd Ziff This is a sweet, slightly surreal love story beautifully acted & directed. 5 stars
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  03-Apr-2009 (R)
  DVD: 11-Aug-2009


  DVD: 11-Aug-2009

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Matt Aselton

Written by
  Matt Aselton
  Adam Nagata

  Paul Dano
  John Goodman
  Ed Asner
  Jane Alexander
  Ian Roberts
  Robert Stanton

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