Dir. Danny Leiner. US. 2005.89mins
The Great New Wonderful
Audienceprospects beyond the Tribeca Film Festival, where it premiered, are poor: thisis an entertainment for persons who have lost their critical detachment as adirect result of that great trauma. For everyone else, and given its status asone of the first US films to explore the emotional impact of that epochalevent, it's a striking example of opportunity missed. International prospectsbeyond festival curiosity are fainter still.
Setin September 2002, in the days leading up to the first anniversary of theattacks, the film weaves together a series of personal stories of New Yorkersfrom all walks of life as they cope with their problems. That Leiner has to subtitlethe opening frame with the date is an early indication of trouble.
Thereis Emme (Gyllenhaal), the proprietor of Great New Wonderful, a bespoke cakedecorator, who glides around her office and apartment, smoking cigarettes andstaring out the window; will she get to make the rich girl's birthday cake'There is Judy (Dukakis), an elderly woman with nothing in her life but themaintenance of her inert husband; will she get another chance at life' A couple(Greer and McCarthy) are in deep denial over the monstrous nature of theirchubby child. Will they accept the truth and face the consequences'
Thereare more strands and they are too many. The action jumps between them, withoutallowing scenes to breathe. The dialogue has no momentum, leaving the actors tofill the void with thespian ticks and sighs.
Theonly strand with a glimmer of wit features Shaloub as an invasivepost-traumatic stress therapist trying to convince an unwilling subject(Gaffigan) that he feels a rage that his subject denies. He keeps insisting,"What you'd really like to do is hit me with a chair" until - as the otherstrands come more or less to their own punchlines - the exasperated fellowfinally complies.
Anotherway in which the film tacks too close to home is the way it avoids directreference to the event until the conclusion: a case of confusing obscurity forsubtlety. In not making 9/11 a more central part of the story, the film cutsoff its premise in spite of its face. These lives weren't misshapen by 9/11;they did it to themselves.
Thefilm is equally undistinguished on the technical level, even for a low-budgetfilm. The lighting is flat or uneven, the production design is cursory, thesets look like sets.
Theentire production is a group-think error of judgment: supposing that, becausethe subject is epochal, the rest of the film-making process would take care ofitself, and the rest of the world would be interested.
Prod co: Serenade Films
Int'l sales: c/o UnitedTalent Agency
Prods: MattTauber, Leslie Urdang, Danny Leiner
Prod des: Laura Ballinger
Main cast: Olympia Dukakis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Naseeruddin Shah, Tony Shaloub, JudyGreer, Thomas McCarthy, Jim Gaffigan, Edie Falco