The Films of David Gordon Green
All the Real Girls
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Snow Angels (March 20/08)
As is generally the case with David Gordon Green's work, Snow Angels has been infused with a distinctly uneven sensibility that diminishes the effectiveness of its positive attributes - although there's little doubt that the movie, buoyed by the uniformly strong performances and inclusion of several admittedly powerful sequences, ultimately comes off as one of Green's more consistent efforts. The film, based on the novel by Stewart O'Nan, follows several characters over the course of a few particularly eventful days within their small town lives, as fractured couple Annie (Kate Beckinsale) and Glenn (Sam Rockwell) attempt to mend their relationship and kind-hearted Arthur (Michael Angarano) embarks on a tentative romance with shy Lila (Olivia Thirlby). Generally speaking, Green sticks fairly close to the source material and effectively retains many of the book's smaller, seemingly insignificant details (including the crumbling marriage of Arthur's parents). It's only when the filmmaker veers from O'Nan's template that one's interest begins to flag, as Green - particularly in the movie's third act - peppers the proceedings with a number of sequences that are either overlong or flat-out superfluous. Yet there's simply no denying the strength of Snow Angels' various performances, with Rockwell offering up some of the best work of his career as the complex and volatile Glenn (likewise, Angarano, Beckinsale, and particularly Thirlby are quite good here). The sporadic lulls within the narrative are consequently relatively easy to overlook, and the degree to which Green paints an indelible portrait of this small town is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
It goes without saying that Pineapple Express marks a clear departure for director David Gordon Green, as the movie's broadly comedic sensibilities and surprisingly violent interludes are hardly indicative of the indie filmmaker's distinctly low-key body of work. Yet Green ultimately proves to be an ideal choice for the admittedly over-the-top material; though the film has been peppered with increasingly absurd sequences and set-pieces, Green does a nice job of ensuring that the relationship between the two central characters remains grounded and believable throughout. The film - which follows process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) and pot dealer Saul Silver (James Franco) as they're forced to go on the run after Dale witnesses a mob hit - initially plays out in a manner reminiscent of producer Judd Apatow's previous efforts, with the emphasis placed primarily on the laid-back exploits of the central characters (which, given the strength of both Rogen and Franco's work here, inevitably proves to be the film's most engaging stretch). It's only as the pair embark on their tumultuous road trip that Pineapple Express' potency begins to falter, as the inherently uneven nature of Rogen and Evan Goldberg's screenplay slowly but surely becomes all-too-apparent (ie the film's midsection seems to be populated by an equal number of effective and ineffective scenes). There's little doubt, however, that the movie's positives ultimately outweigh its negatives, with the uniformly hilarious banter, thrilling action sequences, and downright brilliant opening (in which Bill Hader offers up yet another seemingly effortless scene-stealing cameo) certainly cementing Pineapple Express' place as an above-average contemporary "stoner" comedy.
Directed by David Gordon Green, Your Highness follows medieval brothers Thadeous (Danny McBride) and Fabious (James Franco) as they embark on a quest to rescue the latter's virginal bride (Zooey Deschanel's Belladonna) from an evil wizard (Justin Theroux's Leezar) - with their efforts bringing them face-to-face with a variety of larger-than-life creatures and, eventually, a hardened female warrior named Isabel (Natalie Portman). It's clear almost immediately that Green, working from a script by McBride and Ben Best, is going for the vibe of an irreverent, Monty Pythonesque comedy, as Your Highness boasts a pervasively absurd atmosphere that's heightened on an all-too-frequent basis by the almost uniformly over-the-top performances. (McBride is essentially delivering a riff on his well-established wiseguy persona here, while Franco does a nice job of stepping into the shoes of a ridiculously earnest golden boy.) It consequently goes without saying that the film's lack of actual jokes - McBride and Best's idea of comedy involves period characters spouting contemporary curse words - isn't as problematic at the outset as one might've feared, with the fast-paced, adventure-oriented vibe going a long way towards smoothing over the screenplay's less-than-cohesive nature. The episodic midsection inevitably dampens the viewer's enthusiasm, however, as the movie adopts a hit-and-miss feel that slowly-but-surely becomes more miss than hit - which does, as expected, wreak havoc on the film's momentum. By the time the rousing, admittedly entertaining finale rolls around, Your Highness has nevertheless established itself as an affable yet thoroughly uneven comedy that benefits substantially from Green's tongue-in-cheek sensibilities.
The Sitter (December 15/11)
David Gordon Green's run of semi-successful comedies, following Pineapple Express and Your Highness, comes to a palpable end with The Sitter, as the film is, for the most part, a distressingly tedious piece of work that all-too-often substitutes freneticism for laughs and leaves the viewer with little to embrace aside from Jonah Hill's ingratiating star turn. The movie follows Hill's Noah Griffith as he reluctantly agrees to babysit a trio of eccentric children (Max Records' Slater, Landry Bender's Blithe, and Kevin Hernandez's Rodrigo), with problems ensuing as Noah brings the kids along on a trip to procure drugs for his less-than-adoring girlfriend (Ari Graynor's Marisa). It's clear right from the get-go that The Sitter's most potent weapon is Hill, as the actor offers up an irresistible (yet admittedly familiar) riff on his well-established persona that generally proves impossible to resist - with the film subsequently faring especially well during Hill's comedically-charged interactions and confrontations with the various periphery characters. It's only as Noah and the kids embark on their perilous quest that the movie begins to wear out its welcome, as Green, working from a script by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, has suffused the proceedings with one broadly-conceived (yet hopelessly unfunny) set piece after another (eg Noah and his charges crash a fancy party and Rodrigo eventually pees on the floor) - with the increasingly over-the-top atmosphere ensuring that the film runs out of steam long before it hits the one-hour mark. It is, in the end, impossible to label The Sitter as anything more than a lifeless misfire, and one can't help but hope that Green has finally gotten his head-scratching interest/obsession with silly comedies out of his system.
Our Brand is Crisis
Stronger (November 12/17)
Based on true events, Stronger follows Jake Gyllenhaal's Jeff Bauman as he's severely injured during 2013's Boston Marathon bombing and his subsequent attempts at moving on with his life (sans both legs). It's perhaps not surprising to note, given the talent both in front of and behind the camera, that Stronger generally comes off as a searing and sporadically devastating drama, with the film boasting a number of low-key yet emotionally resonant sequences (eg Jeff's bandages are changed for the first time) that are heightened by Gyllenhaal's consistently engrossing turn as the tortured protagonist. Filmmaker David Gordon Green offers up a low-key, deliberately-paced narrative that proves an ideal complement for John Pollono's subdued screenplay, and it's clear, ultimately, that the director has no loftier goal than to deliver a well-acted, well-made character study (albeit one that's armed with a handful of impressively spellbinding interludes). It's equally apparent, however, that the somewhat uneventful nature of Pollono's script paves the way for an erratic, wheel-spinning midsection, as the movie, saddled with an overlong running time of 119 minutes, does contain a handful of palpably repetitive moments that could (and should) have been left on the cutting-room floor. (There are, for example, a few too many scenes of Gyllenhaal's character working through rehab and feeling sorry for himself.) There's nevertheless little doubt that Stronger, for the most part, remains a stirring, affecting piece of work that's heightened by one of Gyllenhaal's very best performances, and it ultimately does go without saying that this stands as a marked improvement over the other Boston Marathon bombing movie (2016's Patriot's Day).