New Jersey double-header
After too many weekends devoted to productive house-drudgery, tt was a two-movie weekend for Gwen and me.
On Friday, we saw Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. Some simplify this down to a pot-humor movie, others point out the significance of having the audience identify with Asian-American leads. Both are fair points, I suppose, but the movie mostly made me think of After Hours: a surreal overnight journey. With pot and low humor, yeah. Anyhow, it’s very funny, and falls into my “much better than it needs to be” category.
Number two on our viewing list was Garden State, also a surreal trip through New Jersey in its own way, but a story driven much more by characters than situations. And although it has plenty of funny moments, the movie isn’t a comedy. It’s more complex than that, and so is my reaction to it. While it’s worth seeing, there’s a lot about it that seems out of kilter. The lead character (played by the writer/director) moves through life with his emotional affect tamped down by pharmaceuticals; in some ways, that’s how the whole movie felt. Perhaps this was intentional, but in many cases, I suspect its the result of hack editing. Characters become important without the audience knowing whether we’re suppose to like them or not (and I don’t think this is an intentional effort to keep the audience off-balance), and characters develop strong relationships without the audience seeing how strong they are. Symbolically freighted elements–like a boat out of water at the bottom of a quarry–parade before us with no particular relevance to the rest of the picture. So the audience feels these events and tableaux pass by without really getting emotionally engaged in them, just mildly amused. But there’s still plenty to like: the dialog is good, the surreal quality is interesting, and Natalie Portman is a superstar waiting to happen.
One thing about Garden State that struck me was the soundtrack. Almost every incidental song was something I know and like; at least half are already in my music collection. “Damn, they have just nailed my demographic/psychographic makeup here!” I said to myself, and it annoyed me: as Douglas Coupland wrote, “I am not a target market.”