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Strange Love 

Despite some annoying clichés, 'Gigantic' isn't half bad

I enjoyed Gigantic in spite of it containing seven elements that I hate. So I guess I was either in a good mood when I saw it, or, I don't know, perhaps I drink too much.

This is one of those indie movies about a strange and affectless young man (Paul Dano) who meets a zany girl who's beautiful and full of life (Zooey Deschanel), and then love ensues in its kooky way. So, basically, it's a Zach Braff film. Which is not a compliment. Further, the love thing happens so oddly that it's hard to believe it's love that they're feeling: When Brian (Dano) meets Happy (Zooey), she asks for his help driving her father (John Goodman) to the doctor's office. While they sit in the waiting room reading magazines, Happy asks, "Would you be interested in having sex with me?"

Brian responds in the affirmative, and they go out to her dad's station wagon and perform the act. Now, this sounds like fun, and Deschanel is attractive enough that, if she asked for it politely, she would no doubt receive groin-to-groin attention from pretty much anyone. But two scenes later, they're at dinner with her father, and they seem to be boyfriend and girlfriend, even though their only encounter was a single car-fuck in a dirty parking lot.

Whatever. Kids today, right? But the relationship is never developed onscreen; there's no scene of them getting more than 6 inches deep with each other, so when the inevitable boy-girl difficulties arise, it's a little unbelievable that they take it so hard, or start talking about love, or do anything besides place their mouths on each other's genitals.

So that's three of the elements I hate (affectless young man, magic pixie-dust girlfriend who pretty much falls out of a cloud and lands on his erection, and major unmotivated plot point).

But then Gigantic has some really good stuff, too. Like, Dano and Deschanel are both interesting character actors. I don't buy them as real people, but that's not the point; they put on entertaining performances. Dano was amazing in There Will Be Blood, and supplied the titular blood. He plays a very similar part in Gigantic, with the same stiffly pausing speech—but with the film set in modern-day New York, he seems especially weird, which is an engaging choice.

Deschanel turns up in the magic-girlfriend part that Natalie Portman plays in Garden State (and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown and Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary and etc.), but actually has some story points of her own. Though the character is surreal, the script treats her as a whole being, and that's at least mildly refreshing. She even gets to make decisions that run contrary to the wishes of the male lead, which is also unusual. Still, she's mostly there as wish-fulfillment. I mean, she starts off by propositioning Dano, and on the prettiness scale, she has him beat by exactly three orders of magnitude. So that's the fourth annoying element.

Further, writers Matt Aselton and Adam Nagata thought they had to weird up Dano some more, so they have him trying to adopt a Chinese baby, which wouldn't be so odd except that he's a single man, and he's wanted to adopt a Chinese baby since he was 10. Dano's performance is already so mannered that adding in the Chinese-baby quirk is like dressing him up in a Joker costume. So I guess that's thing I hate no. 5: writing in an artificial quirk to make a quirky character stereotypically quirky instead of naturally quirky.

But all of that gets ameliorated to some extent by an odd subplot: Every few weeks, a homeless man (Zach Galifianakis) shows up to assault Dano, who crumples and submits. Then, unfortunately, there's a sequence where Dano's friend, a neuroscientist, talks about how certain rats just surrender more quickly than others, lacking the will to struggle on. Obvious metaphor would be the sixth thing I hated about this film.

The final element of awful occurs at the end, and I don't want to give anything away, but, basically, there's no ending. Things wrap up, but not in any satisfying way. And not in an unsatisfying-and-that's-the-point sort of way, either. Stuff just basically works out.

Still, nonetheless, and however, I didn't hate it. It's weirdly shot; the script doesn't always fail; and it's almost summer, so what else are you gonna do?

Gigantic
Rated NR · 99 minutes · 2009
Official Site: www.thegiganticmovie.com
Director: Matt Aselton
Producer: Mindy Goldberg, Christine Vachon and Scott Ferguson
Cast: Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, John Goodman, Edward Asner, Jane Alexander, Robert Stanton, Ian Roberts, Clarke Peters, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Zach Galifianakis, Frank Harts, Susan Misner, Louis Changchien, Kenji Nakano and Tatsuo Ichikawa

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What others are saying (3)

Colorado Springs Independent Opening this week Dance Flick; Gigantic; Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and more. 05/21/2009
Colorado Springs Independent Strange love There's plenty of obnoxious elements, but even more to enjoy, somehow. by James DiGiovanna 05/21/2009
Portland Mercury Sizing up Gigantic Gigantic has small laughs and big problems. by Ned Lannamann 04/23/2009

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