The Films of Paul Weitz
In Good Company
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (November 15/09)
It hardly comes as a surprise to learn that Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is based on the first three books of Darren Shan's ongoing vampire series, as the movie - though consistently entertaining - suffers from a cluttered, overstuffed sensibility that wreaks havoc on the narrative's momentum and ultimately results in an almost egregiously disjointed atmosphere. The film - which follows affable teen Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) as he becomes, through a series of inexplicable twists, an assistant to centuries-old vampire Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) - has been infused with a brisk pace that proves instrumental in initially drawing the viewer into the convoluted storyline, with the agreeable vibe effectively perpetuated by the efforts of an eclectic supporting cast that includes, among others, Ken Watanabe, Orlando Jones, and Willem Dafoe (yet there's little doubt that Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant's MVP is Reilly, whose magnetic, understated performance consistently compensates for the movie's failings). And although screenwriters Paul Weitz and Brian Helgeland pepper the proceedings with impressively clever chunks of dialogue (ie in preparing Darren for his undead existence, Larten remarks, "it's a lonely life, but there's lots of it"), the film's curiously uninvolving nature grows increasingly problematic as time progresses - with the less-than-enthralling finale ensuring that the whole thing concludes on a disappointingly anticlimactic note. It's nevertheless impossible to deny the effectiveness of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant's pervasively likeable atmosphere, with the palpable chemistry between Darren and Larten - as well as the uniformly strong periphery performances - cementing the film's place as a watchable (yet undeniably forgettable) endeavor.
Being Flynn (March 15/12)
Based on a non-fiction book by Nick Flynn, Being Flynn follows Paul Dano's Nick as he begins working at a local homeless shelter and is subsequently stunned to discover his estranged father (Robert De Niro's Jonathan) among the patrons - with the film primarily detailing the rocky relationship that inevitably ensues between the two characters. Filmmaker Paul Weitz has infused Being Flynn with an agreeably low-key vibe that's perpetuated by the actors' strong performances, as Dano does an impressive job of transforming his outwardly shady character into a consistently likable and compelling figure. It is, as such, not surprising to note that the movie works as both a father/son drama and as a behind the scenes peek into a homeless shelter's operations, with Weitz's emphasis on the narrative's two vastly different aspects proving effective at sustaining the viewer's interest from start to finish. (This is despite the continuing emphasis on elements of a decidedly questionable nature, with the most obvious example of this the dream sequences that pop up every now and again.) And although the movie does fizzle out to a somewhat disappointing degree towards the end, Being Flynn nevertheless manages to come off, on the whole, as a perfectly watchable adaptation of Flynn's true-life memoir.
Admission casts Tina Fey as Portia Nathan, a Princeton admissions officer whose orderly life is thrown into turmoil after she meets a prospective student (Nat Wolff's Jeremiah) - with Portia's efforts at coping with the news compounded by a burgeoning romance with Paul Rudd's personable John Pressman. It's a well-worn premise that's initially employed to better-than-anticipated effect by filmmaker Paul Weitz, as the director, working from Karen Croner's script, does a superb job of establishing the affable central character and the insular academic world in which she resides (ie in addition to her job, Portia cohabitates with Michael Sheen's stuffy Mark). The growing emphasis on fairly traditional romcom elements - eg Portia's softening world view, Portia's growing affection for Rudd's character - is allayed somewhat by both Weitz's light hand and the film's uniformly charismatic performances, and yet it's clear that Admission's increasingly tedious midsection, which seems to revolve entirely around Portia and John's efforts at getting Jeremiah into Princeton, drains the viewer of their enthusiasm and paves the way for a third act that's rife with contrived, predictable plot developments and twists. It's perhaps not surprising to note, then, that Admission fizzles out to an almost aggressive extent and finally does conclude on as anticlimactic a note as one could envision, which is a shame, certainly, given the fairly promising nature of the movie's lighthearted and breezy first half.