Reviewed By Thom
Posted 06/06/02 07:47:58

"An anti-romance breaks with convention and suffers for it"
3 stars (Average)

Finn Taylor is something of an auteur. Tim Blake Nelson, who stars in Taylor’s newest, Cherish, calls Taylor “perhaps one of the most brilliant directors of our time.” That’s saying a lot for a film that is brilliantly conceived, meticulously researched, but is too self-consciously subverting the action/adventure/thriller movie by taking the Hollywood™ script and turning it on its ear. This is not the way to win me over to your unique vision. Making a left turn when everyone expects you to make a right is hardly genius. The juvenile rebelliousness of the script does have a certain winking charm. Where the film excels is in its casting and interesting, watchable performances by Nelson and Robin Tunney (The Craft) and the fun Taylor has with Liz Phair and Jason Priestly.

Cherish screened at Sundance but I didn’t go see it. I did see Jason Priestly walking around trying to move his career in a new direction after the whole 90210 sheen wore off. Priestly makes his reappearance as an actor by being shamelessly abused by Taylor. Priestly no longer has any image to maintain and as if being punished for being a preening Teen Beat cover boy, he is made to look asinine.

The film has a lot of problems. Zoe (Robin Tunney) inexplicably evolves from socially awkward to powerfully self-possessed simply by being locked up in her apartment with nothing to do but think of ways to beat the ankle bracelet home lock down system. Plausibility matters a great deal to me if you are trying to illustrate the process of personal growth. I’m a scientist, I want to know how the caterpillar becomes the butterfly. Taylor brought us into the chrysalis so he can’t rely on the miraculous to make up for shoddy storytelling.

We can’t really get inside a characters head on screen and while Hamlet style monologues would have shown us her inner processes, just staring at someone doesn’t teach us anything. This has less of an impact on the overall experience though because Zoe is fun to watch. Andy Warhol would have just let the camera run for 18 hours and bore us all to distraction (but then that would be the art, right. The intense focus on the quotidian and mundane in excruciating, real time to snap us out of our own monotonous complacency). And Taylor gets arty with the editing. In one especially imaginative scene, Taylor shows the passage of time in a segment that looks like a Peter Gabriel video from the “Sledgehammer” era.

I was getting annoyed at the over use of the phone ringing as a way to move the plot forward, or keep it in one place. She continues to make dumb, easily forgiven or explained mistakes that continue to increase her level of surveillance. The number of calls she gets a day continues to increase and she has to answer the phone within a certain number rings. She invariably has to rush to the phone while trying to escape to the roof through an air vent and answers breathlessly and we, along with her, breathe a big sigh of relief.

Whew! You see, we are on her side. We know she’s innocent and what is frustrating is that the system continues to work against her. She can’t for the life of her use due process to create plausibility in a case that seems cut and dried so she has to engage in some Run Lola Run antics and find the person who is guilty so she can avoid a murder rap. The mystery guy is even more mysterious then you’d imagine and Taylor is either expecting us to just follow along without thinking or he’s intentionally pushing the envelope. Damn Irony! Damn it to hell!. I’m all about sincerity these days.

How will she prove her innocence if nobody is going to help her find the guy who’s guilty and she’s locked up? Obviously, she has to exploit a weakness in the system. Which usually means a person. And there’s usually some kind of romantic interest involved. And there is! Tim Blake Nelson plays her program monitor, Daly, who falls for her feckless charm. During the research phase of the film, Taylor learned that many monitors do develop affectionate, friendly relationships with the inmates. In this case, life is informing art, but I prefer it when it goes the other way around.

Good living takes imagination and sometimes you need a kickstart in the vision department. That is, after all, what humans do, Create reality out of their ideas. Taylor could have made up anything and it would have worked because its his sandbox that he’s inviting us to play in. I don’t think the real world really matters as much as the fictional world of the film but if Taylor wants verisimilitude that’s his business.

This film has the whole indie package – sex, college radio music, and Europeans. It feels like a by the book Hollywood film meets a by the book indie film. Like, this could have been a great thriller, like Run Lola Run or Memento or a great Indie no-holds barred dissection of a very particular slice of life through the eyes of a very particular character like Rejvakik 101. I was put off by the identity crisis of the film but liked the themes, images and the acting.

My favorite scene is Zoe rollerskating around her flat/prison as if discovering some small personal freedom. That scene, like many, wasn’t in the script. The film’s low budget let the actors and Taylor engage in more of a partnership and try things on the fly because as Tunney says, “there wasn’t a lot of pressure from studios to do things a certain way”. It doesn’t make the film feel any more “Genuine”. It must be interesting to work with Taylor on low budget projects because you get to be part of the process. Tim Blake Nelson, however, enjoyed “being part of someone else’s vision” and was happy to not have to come up with clever stuff for the director. He did sneak in a kiss scene that wasn’t supposed to happen as the innocent consummation of his characters infatuation with Zoe.

Taylor is currently writing another movie called Chaos Theory, inspired by the Darwin Awards, which sounds more interesting and less trying to be inside and outside the box at the same time. A claims adjuster and an insurance salesmen look at life from two sides of the same coin. The salesman is overly cautious, the adjuster jaded and reckless.

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