Do Androids Dream of Electric Poetry Slams?

In reviews of crappy romantic comedies, reviewers will often point out that one of the supporting players—the kooky best friend with all the wigs, let's say, or the wacky aunt with the pet lemur—is actually much more interesting than the movie's star, and they'll suggest it would be a far better movie if we did away with Julia or Meg and the whole movie focused on Zelda's adventures instead. The Trouble With Dee Dee, a new comedy screening this week as part of the 2006 SoCal Independent Film Festival, is exactly the movie we reviewers have been pining for all those years that we spent suffering through dozens of wannabe When Harry Met Sallys: the willowy, generically lovely, dull-as-a-dishrag heroine never shows up, and so the nutsy best friend steps forward to take center stage.

Dee Dee (Lisa Ann Walter) is a bossy, brassy, bosomy broad; she can't be more than 5-foot-2, but she easily fills any room. As the film opens, she's charming/bullying a cop out of giving her a ticket, even though she was speeding in a residential zone and hasn't had a license for (she guesses) about two years. Her teenage son and Polish butler are also in the car, and from their weary manner it is clear that they've spent most of their lives cringing while Dee Dee was cheerfully hollering her way into and out of trouble.

Dee Dee comes from money, and even now, in her early 40s, her father is still doling out big checks with little idea of what his wayward daughter spends them on. But Dee Dee's noisy, spectacularly irresponsible ways are a source of constant embarrassment to her stiff-upper-lipped dad, and he's been making dire threats for long enough that when he does finally cut her off, it takes a while before the grim reality of her situation sets in. Now, when many women are firmly settling into the compromises and complacency of middle age, Dee Dee finds herself facing some hard lessons about growing up.

Early on, Dee Dee almost seems like a caricature out of a drag queen's act, swearing a blue streak and crashing around in a strapless dress that makes her boobs look like WMDs. She's an uncomfortable reminder of all those Bette Midler motormouths we suffered through in the '80s. But Walters is a wonder in the part, and as we stick with her, we come to appreciate what a force of nature Dee Dee truly is. It's not for nothing that Dee Dee's diet consists largely of Oreos and Coke; this is a woman with worlds to conquer, and that works up a mighty appetite. Dee Dee is scatterbrained and silly, but she has a good heart, and, as she puts it, she doesn't know how to be anybody but who she is. By the film's end, who she is seems like a fine person to be. Yes, The Trouble With Dee Dee is a little sitcom-y and sentimental, but still, this feel-good movie accomplishes something that feel-good movies almost never do: it actually makes you feel good.

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The other films in the fest (and goodness, there are great, heaping gobs of the things) are a mixed lot, generally good if rarely inspired. Unrest is intriguing chiefly because it's the very last thing you expect to see in an indie film fest: a slick teen horror show of the Final Destination school. It scared the dickens out of me, but I run screaming into the night whenever a car backfires, so I'm perhaps not the best judge of these things. The documentary Rural Rock N Roll is something else again, examining the bands of Humboldt County. Unfortunately, I'm not sure who this is supposed to interest outside of people who are actually in bands in Humboldt County.

There are some neat shorts sprinkled into various programs, like the CGI fantasy Moongirl, from Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmasdirector Henry Selick (Burton got his name above the title, but Selick was the mensch who did all the hard work), and Why Don't You Dance?, an effective adaptation of one of those moody Raymond Carver stories that offer an enigmatic snapshot of some strangers' melancholy lives. Finally, there's the darkly comic Robots Are Blue, set in the near future when androids who look just like humans work alongside us in a gray Office Space-land. Unfortunately the robots, who seem like a harmless but dim bunch, are developing a taste for poetry, something the humans find deeply unsettling. We can sympathize with the oppressed robots and their yearning for an inner life, but . . . well, robots writing poetry is creepy. They'll be singing folk songs next, and God knows we can't have that.


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