Glenn of Stale Popcorn fame continues his Melbourne International Film Festival odyssey. He previously spoke enthusiastically on behalf of "Holy Motors" and clapped mildly for future Oscar backlash sufferer "The Sessions".
I wasn’t sure what I thought when I left my sold out session of Ruby Sparks. I think I was initially taken aback by the fact that it was both written by and stars Zoe Kazan (not to mention co-directed by a woman, Valerie Faris, alongside Jonathan Dayton who both made a big splash several years back with Little Miss Sunshine). What exactly was Kazan trying to say about women? Are they all subconsciously wanting to be manipulated by men? What exactly was Kazan trying to say about men? Do they really only want a woman that they can mould into the perfect being? What exactly was Kazan trying to say about herself? Does she really consider herself the most desirable woman in American, the perfect fantasy that any man would conjure up if forced?
It took me a while to decide that Ruby Sparks – currently screening in America, out soon in other countries – is surely Kazan’s rebuke to the (one presumes) deluge of Manic Pixie Dream Girl characters she gets asked to audition for. She has essentially written herself in the most Deschanel-esque way possible, complete with cutesy mixy-matchy fashion ensembles and frenzied flamboyance. It would be all too diabolically la-di-da – especially given that Paul Dano’s novelist works on a retro typewriter (!!!) – if it weren't littered with moments of genuine sadness. Kazan clearly wrote the film’s second half as her own cathartic piece of performance art as she fluctuates wildly from one personality type to another, before screaming and crying about free will.
It should have come so much closer to intolerable, but somehow it comes together and works. Not as well as Little Miss Sunshine, mind you, but close enough to make its disappointing American box office all the more confusing.
Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas show up briefly and have mad fun in the process as a couple of zen hippies, while Chris Messina (filling his niche of Eternally Supportive Boyfriend) has some moments of wide-eyed wonder that really help ground the film’s fantasy plot. I will forgive the filmmakers some lapses in judgement – that ending is troublesome – as most of Ruby Sparks manages to pull off the tricky mechanics of its story with zesty aplomb. Kazan certainly has some harsh words for Hollywood, but the industry doesn’t take too well to women who object to staying in their ill-fitting assigned boxes so maybe we actressexuals should start paying some attention to her sooner rather than later. (B)
More in Melbourne
No matter what one makes of Kazan’s writer/actor effort in the above film, however, will probably be twofold when it comes to Marina Abramovic. The Serbian-born performance artist’s own manifest reads (at least in part) that an artist should never become an idol. The fact that she agreed to a documentary about herself, filmed during a Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) retrospective of her work, whilst her newest piece involves people looking directly at her makes this particularly personal rule stand out like a sore thumb in the thoroughly engaging Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present. No matter what one things of Abramovic and/or her work, this documentary by Matthew Akers should hopefully prove enlightening even if it never quite reaches the cinematically adventurous heights of its subject. And, hey, nudie bits! (B+ - full review)
If The Artist Is Present proved an insightful look at the world of performance art, then This Ain’t California does the same for East Germany in the 1980s. Sounds niche, but it’s oh so fun watching Marten Persiel sift through his friends’ early years as rebellious punks. Filled with wonderfully rich super 8 video footage, This Ain’t California shines a light on how the oppressed youth of the GDR discovered American hip-hop and skate culture despite living in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. A very literal east-meets-west deal that sees these new wave teens become intertwined with the corporate world, the Stasi police, the war in Afghanistan, and too many denim jean jackets and man-perms to count. Coupled with an incredible soundtrack plus the pure athleticism of its subjects, this is one unique spin on Americana with a German twist. (B+ - full review)
Lastly, there’s a reason why a film with as big a cast of Jayne Mansfield’s Car hasn’t amassed much in the way of buzz. It’s because it’s not particularly good. Did you know that war is hell and messes with soldier’s minds? Billy Bob Thornton sure thinks you don’t! (C+)