Four Dramas from IFC
As cool as I am (November 11/13)
Based on Pete Fromm's novel, As cool as I am follows wise-beyond-her-years teenager Lucy Diamond (Sarah Bolger) as she attempts to cope with a flighty mother (Claire Danes' Lainee) and an absent father (James Marsden's Chuck). It's an almost prototypical coming-of-age setup that's initially employed to watchable (if unexceptional) effect by director Max Mayer, as the filmmaker does a superb job of immediately transforming Lucy into an intriguing and wholeheartedly sympathetic protagonist - with this feeling perpetuated and heightened by Bolger's stirring (and deeply authentic) turn as the central character. (Danes and the rest of the supporting cast, which includes Jeremy Sisto, Thomas Mann, and Rhys Coiro, are just as affecting.) The familiarity of the narrative - the movie does, after all, include such coming-of-age touchstones as first love and irresponsible parents - grows more and more problematic as time progresses, however, with the less-than-fresh atmosphere compounded by an excessively deliberate pace that becomes more and more oppressive as time (slowly) passes. As cool as I am's failure is finally cemented by the inclusion of a few needlessly melodramatic interludes within its final half hour, which is too bad, really, given the mild promise of the movie's opening stretch and the effectiveness of Bolger's consistently engrossing performance.
A Case of You (February 9/14)
A winning romantic comedy, A Case of You follows struggling writer Sam Newman (Justin Long) as he falls head over heels for a coffee-shop waitress (Evan Rachel Wood's Birdie) - with the plot triggered by Sam's decision to adopt all of the characteristics favored by the object of his affections. There's little doubt that A Case of You fares best in its fast-paced and frequently hilarious opening half hour, as scripters Christian Long, Keir O'Donnell, and Long have suffused the early part of the proceedings with a number of witty, snarky little asides - which, when coupled by the thoroughly charismatic performances, ensures that the film holds a tremendous amount of promise at the outset. It's just as clear, however, that the movie takes a palpable turn for the conventional once Sam's machinations become clear, with the second half of A Case of You unfolding exactly as one might've anticipated based on the film's romcom origins (ie it often feels as though the screenwriters have employed a template for stories of this ilk). That the movie remains watchable even through its more familiar stretches is a testament to filmmaker Kat Coiro's lighthearted touch, and although the narrative hits a palpable bump with the needless-as-ever fake breakup, A Case of You's irresistibly romantic finish ultimately confirms its place as an erratic yet satisfying piece of work.
Paris (February 10/14)
As is generally the case with films revolving around multiple characters, Paris suffers from a pervasively uneven sensibility that is, to an increasingly distressing degree, compounded by an overlong running time (ie the picture does, past a certain point, run out of things for its myriad of characters to do). Filmmaker Cédric Klapisch does a nice job of initially establishing and developing the narrative's myriad of storylines, although it's clear that even in the movie's early stages some of these subplots fare much, much better than others. (What's the point, for example, of the continuing emphasis on Karin Viard's snooty bakery owner?) There is, having said that, plenty of potential contained within a handful of the movie's digressions, with the two most promising of these revolving around a young man with a life-threatening heart condition (Romain Duris' Pierre) and a student's (Mélanie Laurent's Laetitia) affair with her older professor (Fabrice Luchini's Roland). It becomes more and more obvious, however, that writer/director Klapisch doesn't have a real plan for these characters, and while it's not entirely fair to say that the film spins its wheels, there's little doubt that Paris remains pitched at a level of utter mediocrity for the duration of its 128 minutes. The final insult comes with a climactic stretch that is unable to achieve the grace note that Klapisch has clearly intended, thus confirming the film's place as a misguided endeavor that squanders an admittedly impressive roster of performers.
Swedish Auto (February 10/14)
Swedish Auto casts Lukas Haas as Carter, a lonely, antisocial mechanic who makes a romantic connection with a damaged waitress (January Jones's Darla) - with the film detailing the various obstacles standing in the way of Carter and Darla's happily ever after (including her abusive stepfather and his infatuation with a local musician). Filmmaker Derek Sieg has infused Swedish Auto with an almost extraordinarily deliberate pace that is, at the outset, not as problematic as one might've feared, with the relaxed atmosphere certainly playing a key role in transforming Haas' soft-spoken character into a figure worthy of the viewer's interest and sympathy. And while Sieg admittedly does a superb job of establishing a vibe of palpable authenticity - ie Carter and his environs feel real, for the most part - Swedish Auto grows less and less involving as time (slowly) progresses and it does, as a result, become awfully difficult to care about the increasingly melodramatic problems facing the two central characters. It doesn't help, certainly, that Sieg offers up a third-act stumbling block for Carter that feels both forced and artificial, with the ineffectiveness of this plot development essentially obliterating the good will that the movie had built up prior to that point - which, when coupled with a few ill-fated last-minute twists, cements Swedish Auto's place as a well-intentioned yet underwhelming little drama.