A note to all indie filmmakers (one that will be too late for Matt Aselton, writer (with Adam Nagata) and director of Gigantic): quirky is a tone, not a plot.
Somewhere, nestled deep inside the quirky bowels of quirk that makes up Gigantic, is a story. It might even be a good one – a love story between two people who are coming at life from different places. But the movie slathers quirk after quirkiness upon this story, smothering it in a series of events and characters that no one will identify with, understand or care about. In the end, when people begin displaying genuine emotions it’s almost a shock. How did real a character moment slip into this mess of quirks anyway?
Paul Dano works at a quirky mattress store (while they sell 14,000 dollar mattresses the store appears to be set up in an abandoned filthy loft more suited to a printing company), and he quirkily wants to adopt a Chinese baby, a quirk he’s had his whole life. John Goodman makes a quirky entrance to this store, bellowing about homosexuals and Jews, and, while engaging in maximum quirkiness, orders a new mattress (he has a back problem, which he has developed quirkily, as his back doctor tells him with exasperation). Later Goodman’s daughter, played by the ever quirky Zooey Deschanel, comes to the quirky store to pay for the mattress, upon which she quirkily falls asleep for a couple of hours. When Dano and his quirky co-worker (who says things like ‘What’s up dude; nothing’) deliver the mattress Deschanel quirkily asks our hero to drive her dad to his back specialist. Goodman has a quirky bed set up in his car and, in a character quirk, won’t ride in taxis. While waiting for Goodman, Deschanel and Dano have sex in that quirky bed (she initiates the sex in the quirkiest way possible). Later Dano goes with his dad – Ed Asner, in a quirky role – and his two brothers to take magic mushrooms and wander the forest. Do you see where this is going? If you said nowhere in a quirky handbasket, you’d be right.
There’s more quirky shit: Zack Galifinakis plays a homeless guy who keeps silently assaulting Dano; for most of the movie I thought that this would be left quirkily unexplained, but I was wrong. It’s psychopathically explained, and it’s a completely bizarre and disturbing moment that feels so out of place in the film. I liked it, but only because it was a whole new kind of bad, completely different from the bad with which Gigantic had been punishing me for the previous hour and a half.
It’s not that Gigantic is poorly made. It looks very nice. There’s a scene where Deschanel and Dano go swimming in a pool late at night that has some absolutely beautiful compositions. Aselton has an eye, and if he were to direct a movie where he had absolutely no say in the script I might go see it. But if he wrote so much as a word, I would boycott the fucking thing like Cesar Chavez out of the grave.
There’s a pretty impressive cast here. Many of them even give good performances, which is a miracle since none of them have characters with which to work. For example, Ed Asner’s character traits are: takes mushrooms with his sons; thinks office life should be like an episode of Mad Men; makes pinatas based on dictators. Not only do none of these traits feel like they’d belong to the same person, they don’t leave room for anything else. At one point I thought that Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon from The Wire!) might be playing the one character in the film who is a regular human being, but then there’s an extraneous scene of him trying to sell a mattress to a couple while quirkily referring to the Swedish as ‘motherfuckers’ who sleep a lot and ‘niggers’ who get really depressed because of the short days.
Meanwhile, Zooey Deschanel continues her impressive losing streak; excluding her small role in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Deschanel hasn’t been in anything I can whole heartedly recommend since Elf in 2003. And even when she’s in movies that are okay she’s a vacuum of charisma and energy. Only by having her opposite the mumbly, no-key Paul Dano is Aselton able to give her the semblence of life. I think Deschanel is beautiful, and I really like her singing voice, but if she never made another movie I don’t know that I’d be all that upset.
I kept hoping Gigantic would come together at some point. It tries to do that in the end, but by the time the romance between Dano and Deschanel reaches Third Act Crisis Mode, the quirky world that Aselton and Nagata have created has worn us down so much that we don’t care. And it’s hard to imagine caring about these people, especially Dano’s bizarrely empty character who just wanders through the movie, seemingly dazed. Next time these guys should try writing some characters that feel like they have lived on planet Earth for a couple of weeks at least.