It's All About Love
*** GM
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes, Douglas Henshall, Harry Ditson, Alun Armstrong, Sean Penn, Margo Martindale, Geoffrey Hutchings


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SUNDANCE REVIEW (which means I'm doing a lot of reviews in a hurry, so they might be shorter and less fantastical):

When exactly does ambition become pretention?

It's such a fine line. It's hard to fault people for having grandiose ideas that they want to convey on film - it's like faulting Fritz Keebler of Saginaw, MI for trying to win both showcases in the Showcase Showdown on "The Price Is Right." If you're an artist, you want to occasionally get extravagant and avant-garde in the name of art. If you're a contestant on a game show, you want to occasionally get extravagant and avant-garde in the name of getting your grubby mits on some shit you ain't paid for.

I'm guessing the line is drawn somewhere in the territory of what methods one chooses to achieve one's ambition. Acclaimed Dogme director Thomas Vinterberg decided to go balls-out in the other direction, creating an anti-Dogme film with fantastical effects, intensely beautiful imagery, strange science-fiction influences and a weird dream-like film about the state of the world in the near-future, where people are spontaneously dying in the streets due to intense isolation and loneliness. John (Phoenix) is trying to get a divorce from his ice-skating star wife Elena (Danes), who keeps putting off signing the papers while her extended family and entourage warmly welcome John whenever he comes around. They're still on great terms, it seems, and it's just the pressures of their careers that drove them apart. When he realizes that Strange Things Are Afoot At The Circle K, though, the two of them attempt to escape from their lives and into their love for each other. Oh, and Sean Penn occasionally phones in with encouraging messages from an airplane. And everybody is apparently Eastern European, but only Claire Danes really bothers to have an accent, and that's pretty intermittent, and nobody bothers to speak anything other than English... but hey, it's a 'dream' movie.

Despite the overarching grandiosity of the settings and poetic nature of the story, what works most effectively are the very simple, touching moments shared between John and Elena that keep things grounded in as much of a sense of reality as a film like this can be. This is the sort of bold artistic risk-taking that can easily be perceived as utter pretention and annoying melodramatic attempts at poignancy, and to be fair, it certainly seemed to be that kinda thing from time to time. I don't know if it's the whole Sundance vibe or me just being in a benefit-o-ze-doubt sorta mood, but I'm easing up on calling a pretentious spade a pretentious spade for this film and trying to attempt to appreciate the intent behind it. It helps when the director is answering questions and hanging out after the film and not seeming like a snooty fuck, too.

The main message of the film is "Love each other, you bastards, and give a shit about the world around you, or else you'll freakin' freeze over and die and people in Uganda will be suddenly devoid of gravity." That last bit actually happens, but no real attention is paid to it in order to point out that it doesn't matter what crazy shit happens in other countries - as long as it's in another country, you won't care about it.


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