Less Talk, More Movie

Patient: The Independent

Profile: Sweet and funny movie about an obsessed filmmaker that goes awry only when it tries to be a sharp and spiffy show-biz mockumentary. Think Ed Woodmeets This Is Spinal Tap meets NBC's Dateline: The Movie.

Symptoms: Blame Christopher Guest. The talented writer/director/actor responsible for such great work as Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and mockumentary archetype Spinal Tap is so good at making the absurdist-journalism form look easy that we see it increasingly used, usually horribly—most recently in Ed Burns' Sidewalks of New York—though sometimes hilariously—any interview involving Diane Sawyer. This structure of splicing documentary-style interviews between narrative action works only if there's a reason to do it and if the interviewees are talented actors—such as Michael McKean, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara—adept at ad-libbing. The Independent has Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich and Karen Black, all of them doing their best Levy and O'Hara imitations, which aren't very good at all, which, instead of adding to the pace of the movie, slams it into neutral. This is a shame since, unlike the Sidewalks of New York, which used interviews to hide its lack of a plot—or point—The Independent is a very good movie with a solid narrative built on a compelling relationship between a daughter and her independent-filmmaker father—the issue of a Roger Corman/Russ Meyer one-nighter—who has made more than 400 exploitation films such as The Man With Two Things. What need do we have of a stammering Bogdanovich when we can hear and see the main characters talking about Heil Titler? Diagnosis: Less talk, more movie.
Jerry paints! Prescription: Cut the interviews. What did interviews ever do for anyone? Feed the hungry? Make Dateline Spokescyborg Stone "Now pause and look at the ground thoughtfully to make it appear you have human feeling" Phillips into a real boy? Interviews are, many times, a sign of lazy and/or tentative filmmaking. If they serve a purpose, use 'em. But in this film, they don't. Dump Ron, Peter, et al., and their fruitless attempts at pith. Add another 10 minutes to your very funny movie that features not only great bad film clips—such as "I thought the torture of love had driven me insane; now I find it was herpes" from The Simplex Complex—but also such great moments as when the 60-ish filmmaker takes a young date to Bob's Big Boy and asks, "How's your Lobster Slam?" Gold!
 
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