Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Human Connection

Dark Horse has a touch of the surreal, and yet, ultimately, it's disarmingly easy to connect with, to understand, to empathize. It slides comfortably between clever comedy and deliberate poignancy, taking the unusual route of using comedy to set up and root the characters before smoothly underlaying their situation with drama. This is the kind of film where a parade of elephants suddenly walks past the window of a cafe, or the girl in the bakery is on mushrooms, but it's never so removed from humanity that it feels like a hollow 'indie' film. It balances the silly but astute comedy with observant pieces of real life, and creates characters that it's easy to like and to spend this time with. By the time the film had ended, it was in a totally different place to where it began, and I was ready for it to take me somewhere else, provided I could stay with these people. Grade: A-

I could say much the same thing about A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, though there is a lot less fun in it, and the characters are remarkably more volatile. But the principle remains: these are human, grounded characters, easy to empathize with, and the film leaves you wanting to spend more time with them. Writer-director Dito Montiel's autobiographical film juggles a dual narrative- him as a teenager (Shia LeBeouf) in Queens, and him grown up (Robert Downey Jr.) returning back home from L.A.- adeptly, focusing on the former narrative for the most part, where Dito struggles to keep a hold on his friends (Channing Tatum, Martin Compston...) and his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz; Rosario Dawson as an adult) as danger begins to escalate around them. Montiel's script is a direct, open one, both warm and precarious, and his direction adds an unexpected buoyancy to the film, slicing up dialogue and sound within scenes to add to the reflective element of the film. Dianne Wiest (where have you been?) and Chazz Palminteri are superb as Dito's parents, Palminteri especially as he tries to keep a handle on his exact relationship with his son. Grade: B

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