Dir: Marianna Palka. US. 2008. 85mins.
Good Dick opens as an angry young woman rents pornographic films from a local video store, setting the clerk who serves her on a love-struck pursuit. The comedy takes us once again down a familiar Sundance road of neurotic losers in love, complete with a motivational payoff.
Marianne Palka's comedy, which she wrote and stars in, lacks the script, acting and the laughs to rise in the marketplace above similar Sundance-style fare, despite the sado-masochistic streak.
Fans of Jason Ritter, who plays the clerk, may give the movie a try, and Palka's woman's perspective on such a tortured relationship could give Good Dick a novelty value. The blunt title might even draw in fans of Pecker. Foreign interest will be minimal.
Obsession seizes the young video clerk (Jason Ritter) as soon as a lonely shy woman (Palka) arrives at his counter with the porno movies, and he advises her that one of the films is disgustingly un-erotic. On his advice, she pays for three, and he raids the database for her address, appearing at her apartment building to ask the gloomy girl out.
The clerk's earnest bubbliness frightens his quarry, who prefers her sex as a solitary pastime, and Good Dick stumbles into its back and forth of thrust and block, as the clerk tries everything to break down her resistance and win her affections - lying that his great aunt in the building complex just died, offering sex tips, and delivering pizza for her to eat while viewing erotic films.
The two main characters are not named, suggesting something iconic or universal in their neurotic pas de deux. As they collide, you also wonder how the damaged irascible young woman got that way. If sex is to conquer all in this story, the clerk must work at it, and it is indeed work to sit through Good Dick.
The film inertcuts his visits to her drab apartment with attempts at comic relief from video store banter among the clerk's co-workers (Eric Edelstein, Martin Starr, Mark Webber, all nerds in the Slacker central casting mode) about - what else' -- their failures at love. The clerk won't discuss his other failure, that he is homeless and lives in his car. Things get even worse when he and the car are thrown off parking lots. Cinematography by Andre Lascaris, and Andrew Trosmans's production design get the Los Angeles anonymity just right.
Pialka's self- directed script sends the clerk through charmless maneuvers to win her over, all of which she resists angrily and awkwardly, and their interplay resembles an amateurish improvisation for The Taming of the Shrew (or another classic version of Good Dick's story).
Good Dick's acting is awkward, with Ritter scrambling and whining over Pialka, and its script, under her direction, presents their encounters as a numbing repetitive drill, with none of the magical humor of a sadomasochistic ritual like Steven Shainberg's Secretary (2002).. Although Ritter is better looking than Woody Allen (a possible influence on Pialka), his character lacks Allen's charm and wit, or even the hangdog sit-com appeal of Zach Braff in Garden State, a loser film that won audiences at the box office.
Yet at least Ritter is a comic actor. Palka, playing opposite him, shows no feel for the potential humor in the film's situations, especially in a sourly earnest crescendo in which the young woman confronts a rich abusive father (the source of her anger) played by Tom Arnold. It's likely that her film about frigidity will leave you cold.
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Jared Nelson Smith