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Mattress Professional Dreams a Little Dream

MOVIE REVIEW
Gigantic (2009)

Gigantic_Photo_1
First Independent Pictures

"Gigantic" takes up the particularly quirky strain of family dysfunction that flowed through offbeat indie flicks "Igby Goes Down" and "The Squid and the Whale." Maladjustment foments against the backdrop of New York City, where extreme meets extreme, and eccentricity seems to be the norm. Mismatched personalities mix in every relationship, in a manner that is just far enough over-the-top to feel slightly believable. In this case, the resulting brew is heady at times but frequently misses its mark.

From first-time director Matt Aselton, who also co-wrote the screenplay, "Gigantic" is the story of 28-year-old Brian Weathersby (Paul Dano), a mattress salesman whose lifelong dream is to adopt a Chinese baby. On a day when this dream seems to be drifting just out of reach, he meets the charmingly odd Harriet Lolly (Zooey Deschanel), after she falls asleep on one of his store's mattresses for several hours. The daughter of an equally eccentric and very wealthy art collector, Al Lolly (John Goodman), Harriet's capriciousness has led her through "five careers in five years." A short series of just-improbable-enough-to-invite-suspension-of-disbelief events lead to Brian and Harriet having sex in the back of Al's car while they wait for him to finish up a doctor's appointment. Thus begins their very curious – and, of course, dysfunctional – romance.

Mr. Dano gives a great performance as Brian, a young man who ostensibly knows what he wants from life but isn't so settled in his subconscious. As Harriet, Ms. Deschanel takes the opportunity to add a little depth to her typical zany performances, proving herself quite capable of being more than just a character actor. Mr. Goodman broadens his range, as well, as deftly playing a neurotic New York psuedo-elite as a small-town boor. Ed Asner also takes a terrific turn as Brian's physically-aging-but-mentally-buoyant father who still takes his sons magic mushroom hunting on his birthday.

Too bad, then, that the script by Mr. Aselton and Adam Nagata doesn't feel as organic as the performances it engenders. The film's slight tendency toward the surreal is fine, but too often Mr. Aselton drives minor absurdity to overkill. It's clear that Harriet is a bit nutty when she is first introduced, yet a subsequent scene inexplicably involves her answering the apartment door in a short Chinese silk robe and over-exaggerated saucer eyes after her father yells at her from off screen to get dressed. Not only is the characterization redundant, it's inconsistent. She's not, as we learn, a total cokehead ditz. And we feel Mr. Aselton trying too hard to be clever with Brian's colleagues at the mattress factory: His boss, Gary Wynkoop (Sean Dugan) embodies the stereotype of the wise black man with a little bit of raunchy Harlem thrown in for good measure, while the delivery guy, Larry Arbogast (Brian Avers), offers not-so-funny comic relief as the doofus who thinks "Whatsupdudenotmuch" is a greeting in itself rather than two separate phrases.

More original than his characterizations themselves is Mr. Aselton's amalgamation of disparate types into one big medley of miscellany. We have Harriet, the poor little rich girl, and her cosmopolitanly eccentric father, Brian's two brothers – John (Ian Roberts), a manly oil man, and James (Robert Stanton), a prissy surgeon – and his parents – a cooky WWII vet and his foreign bride – among others. By the end of the film, it's clear that nothing here goes together and so, therefore, everything does. Mr. Aselton opens the movie with an extremely close shot of lab rats swimming furiously and ineptly in an aquarium, which ultimately seems like a metaphor for his film's desire to examine human personalities at their extreme. The juxtapositions of character are entertaining, but depth can't be forced from the contrivance of superficiality.

Nor does the addition of an intense psychological element to Brian's character drive the film to any significant end. Rather, it delivers us to the end of the story in puzzlement, clouding what would otherwise be a sweet – if a bit too quixotic – conclusion. But, on the other hand, the ending suits the overall nature of the film, which constantly vacillates between the real and the surreal, subtlety and heavy-handedness. There is something to be said for enjoying the consistency of its own quirky inconsistencies.

GIGANTIC

Opens on April 3 in New York and on June 26 in Britain.

Directed by Matt Aselton; written by Adam Nagata and Mr. Aselton; director of photography, Peter Donahue; edited by Beatrice Sisul; music by Roddy Bottum; production designer, Rick Butler; produced by Mindy Goldberg and Christine Vachon; released by First Independent Pictures (United States). Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Paul Dano (Brian Weathersby), Zooey Deschanel (Harriet Lolly), Ed Asner (Mr. Weathersby), Jane Alexander (Mrs. Weathersby) and John Goodman (Al Lolly).

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