Review Roundup: May 2009

There’s a very good reason that May has been such a slow Netflix month for me, and that reason is: “Star Trek: The Original Series.”

Oh, come on — like you’re surprised? Ivy Walker could have seen this coming! I think we all know ’twas only a matter of time until my inner geek staged a coup, killed everyone else with her “Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson” and took over.

Yes, for the past month I’ve done what I do best: fallen wildly in love with something millions of people dubbed wicked pissah years ago. (That’s just how a late bloomer rolls.) My newfound love for Mr. Spock — that raised eyebrow and those pointy ears are a potent aphrodisiac, believe you me — and the Enterprise’s crack crew has taken up gobs of free time and Netflix rentals; thus, movies, I’m sad to report, have fallen to the wayside.

But then I did what any relatively sane rabid obsessive new fan would do: I blew part of my paycheck on the three-season DVD set so I could return to the land of Netflix. And so I have. Here are three of the precious few rentals that rendered me as speechless as Mudd’s women:

All the Real Girls” (Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel, Danny McBride) — If there’s such a thing as visual poetry, David Gordon Green has cornered the market. He turned “Pineapple Express” into a blow-em-up juggernaut filled with unexpectedly tender observations about the nature of male friendship. But before that there was “All the Real Girls,” and what a stunner of a gentle indie-that-could that was. Set in rural North Carolina, Green’s paen to first love tells the uneventful but gut-wrenching story of Paul (the always-flawless Schneider), a notorious rakehell who falls hard for Noel (Deschanel), his best friend’s younger sister. Sounds like the plot for, I don’t know, every Lifetime movie ever made, right? Not in Green’s hands. He has a way of zeroing in on the smallest, quietest moments and making them seem sweeping and expansive (after all, isn’t every romance epic to the people involved in it?). Green’s got an eye for casting, too, and Deschanel and Schneider seem perfectly cast. Deschanel makes Noel naive and wise in equal measure, while Schneider finds heart in a guy who’s made a habit of avoiding intimacy with anonymous sex. Danny “Mother Nature just pissed her pantsuit” McBride shows some surprising range as the unfortunately named ne’er-do-well Bust-Ass. He can do subtle and make it hurt. Green can, too, and that’s why “All the Real Girls” is so beautiful: It captures both the inanity and the depth of love.

Trees Lounge” (Steve Buscemi, Elizabeth Bracco, Anthony LaPaglia) — With few exceptions, alcoholism doesn’t tend to look the way Hollywood wants it to: sloppy, overbearing, dramatic, occasionally explosive. It’s a more quiet slide into nothingness, a kind of suicide by inches that happens gradually and then all at once. Nobody knows that better than actor/director Buscemi, himself a recovering alcoholic, and he communicates this truth beautifully in the simple but haunting “Trees Lounge.” The movie offers a tiny, perceptive glance into the life of unemployed mechanic Tommy (Buscemi), a man about halfway down the slope into alcoholic oblivion. His pregnant girlfriend (Bracco) has dumped him for his ex-boss (Anthony LaPaglia), and he responds by claiming a permanent seat at Trees Lounge, a local dive bar. It’s both accurate and inaccurate to say that’s all that happens in “Trees Lounge.” There’s not much action, to be sure, but Buscemi makes every moment count: It’s the mute desperation of a sad-eyed barfly, the contrast of neon lights against bright noon-day sunshine, Tommy’s realization that he’s drinking alone even when he’s not that hit and hit hard. “Trees Lounge” has a slow burn that can’t be ignored.

The Wackness” (Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby) — Given the unusual pairing of lead actors (the beknighted Kingsley and Peck, a relative newcomer), it’s somewhat surprising no reviewers dubbed “The Wackness” a May/December bromance. Thank goodness for small favors, because that’s a title that would have been wholly undeserved. This unusual and unusually poignant indie Sundance smash, set in 1994, contains not one but three smart performances that deserve — and reward — multiple viewings. Kingsley, of course, gets the plumb part: that of restless, confused and unhappily married psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Squires, who buys weed from his equally uneasy teen-aged patient/pot dealer Luke Shapiro (Peck). It’s an intriguing relationship, since Luke wants hope for the future, and Squires, who pops anti-anxiety meds like M&M’s, is hardly a paragon of optimism. But Luke’s summer romance with Stephanie (Thirlby, a young actress to watch) jolts him out of his inertia and forces Squires, who checked out of life years ago, to dump the self-pity. Kingsley gets the rare opportunity to cut loose, while Peck and Thirlby find the bitter and the sweet in teen relationships. “The Wackness” reminds us that dreams don’t have an expiration date.

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