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Two Dramas from Image

Crashing (June 16/10)

Armed with an expectedly masterful performance from Campbell Scott, Crashing almost manages to transcend its almost distractingly low-budget sensibilities to become a watchable (if consistently underwhelming) piece of work - yet the exceedingly (and excessively) thin premise ultimately ensures that the movie feels like a short that's been ungainly expanded to feature length. The film casts Scott as Richard McMurray, a writer who has essentially squandered the success of his first novel by obsessively rewriting his followup - with his luck changing for the better after two fawning college students (Izabella Miko's Kristen and Lizzy Caplan's Jacqueline) invite him to stay with them on their couch. The unusual living arrangements prove beneficial for all involved almost immediately, as Richard helps Kristen and Jacqueline with their writing and the girls provide Richard with plenty of material for his new novel - yet problems ensue as the floundering author's relationship with his roommates inevitably becomes more than just platonic. There's little doubt that Crashing is at its best when focused on the conversations between the three central characters, as the vibe of authenticity that's been infused into their assorted discussions is only heightened by the uniformly captivating performances. It's consequently impossible to deny that the film succeeds as an actor's showcase, yet it's just as clear that Crashing's almost complete lack of dramatic energy plays a significant role in its ultimate downfall (ie beyond the performances, there's nothing here to wholeheartedly sustain the viewer's interest). Walkow's decision to pepper the proceedings with cutaways into the characters' imaginary worlds only exacerbates the movie's far-from-compelling atmosphere, and it's finally impossible to label Crashing as anything more than a sporadically watchable yet thoroughly inconsequential piece of work (and what's up with that hopelessly low-rent score?)

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The Last Word (November 8/09)

Filmmaker Geoffrey Haley's feature-length debut, The Last Word follows Evan (Wes Bentley) - a morose writer who makes his living composing suicide notes for other people - as he finds himself falling in love with the sister (Winona Ryder's Charlotte) of one of his clients. It's an unusual premise that's initially employed to surprisingly compelling effect by Haley, as the movie boasts an irresistibly low-key vibe that's perpetuated by Bentley's remarkably understated turn as the central character - thus ensuring that despite his overtly depressive attributes, Evan becomes an increasingly compelling figure that one can't help but sympathize with (and root for). There's subsequently little doubt that Evan's palpable chemistry with Charlotte proves instrumental in cementing The Last Word's mild success, with Ryder's effortlessly charismatic performance certainly proving an effective counterbalance to Bentley's almost relentlessly somber work. It's just as clear, however, that the effectiveness of their relationship is diminished by the certain realization that Charlotte is going to discover the truth about Evan's vocation (and, in turn, his connection to her dead brother), with the eye-rollingly melodramatic outcome of this particular subplot the first of several egregiously conventional elements that pepper the film's third act. The progressively underwhelming vibe is ultimately not quite as problematic as one might've assumed, as the movie's deficiencies are generally compensated by its quirky atmosphere and proliferation of diverting elements (ie Ray Romano's frequently hilarious performance as a curmudgeonly client).

out of

© David Nusair