Explore the world of original plots and unique storytelling with Sylvy, a film major and chronic indie fan. She will steer you toward the best that independent cinema has to offer at home and abroad, past and present.
Now go get the popcorn ready…
By Sylvana Fernandez
Benny and Joon
Director: Jeremiah Chechik
Release Year: 993
We’ve all heard the phrase: “There’s a lid for every pot”. Director Jeremiah Chechik took that adage and ran with it inBenny & Joon. Juniper “Joon” Pearl (Mary-Ann Masterson) is schizophrenic and has led a pretty quiet life under the care of her older brother, Benny (Aidan Quinn), an auto mechanic. She paints huge, colorful paintings (trivia: Masterson herself did the majority of the pieces in the film) and occasionally sets the house on fire, but other than that, things go by smoothly. In his free time, Benny likes to play poker and when he leaves Joon with his friends one night, she plays a game herself and wins. The “prize” was one of the poker players’ visiting cousin, Sam (Johnny Depp),whose eccentricities-he makes toast with a clothes iron in one scene- tend to be frustrating to the normal person. Honoring the mess his sister got him into, Benny takes his “prize” in, and it becomes apparent that in some strange way, Sam and Joon are compatible. The film Offers a fascinating look into what love can be like to someone with a mental illness (and the distinction between having problems and being stupid, which Joon is not), Benny & Joon will also have you laughing. Whether you’ve seen classic early Hollywood films before or not, Depp’s use of physical comedy – Sam is obsessed with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and performs several of their famous routines throughout the film- is highly amusing and the observations he makes with Joon (watch out for the raisin conversation!)are hilarious.
Le Science Des Reves (The Science of Sleep)
Director: Michel Gondry
Release Year: 2006
If you’ve ever seen The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and asked yourself what would happen if innovative French director Michel Gondry did away with Charlie Kaufman’s screenwriting for one of his feature films, The Science of Sleepwould be the answer. In the film, Gael Garcia Bernal plays Stéphane Miroux, an insecure, painfully shy young man that is returning to his childhood home of Paris to reunite with his mother after his father, who raised him in Mexico, dies with cancer. He meets his neighbor Stéphanie and immediately falls in love, but fearing rejection, lies to her about being her neighbor. She, in turn, lies to him about what she does for a living (she isn’t a creative executive, but a pharmaceutical clerk). Upset about his lies and the boring job he’s stuck with as a typesetter for a calendar company, Stéphane, whom his mother mentions has “always had trouble inverting dreams and reality”, retreats more and more into his fantasy world until it reaches a point where apparently no one-not Stéphane, not Stéphanie, and certainly not us, the viewers- know what’s real and what’s fake anymore. There is an awkward and highly endearing quality to most of the characters that populate Gondry’s films (Bernal gives Jim Carey’s Joel in The Eternal Sunshine a run for his money), and the cringe worthy childish hesitation Stéphane so accurately conveys onscreen should seem familiar to all of us: this is what love is, doubting and stumbling and not knowing if it’s a dream. Overall The Science of Sleep is excellent, but even more so than in the Eternal Sunshine, you need to be able to watch it with a very open mind, and save the “wait, what?” for the end. With stop-motion animationsequences (Gondry doesn’t work with CGI) that can be described as no less than trippy, performances drenched in emotion by the well-chosen cast, and dialogue that will make you laugh but never understand, it applies the famous Oscar Wilde quote (“Women are meant to be loved, not understood.”) to the cinema.
Lars and the Real Girl
Director: Craig Gillespie
Release Year: 2007
Despite The Science of Sleep being odd, Lars and the Real Girl takes home the prize. Released in 2007 to critical acclaim but not much general recognition, it tells the story of Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling), a 27-year-old man whose loneliness and repressed traumas have troubled him and concerned his sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer). One night Lars shows up next door, where his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and Karin live, announcing that he has met someone named Bianca on the internet and that he’d like to bring her over for dinner. Thrilled to see Lars suddenly enthusiastic, Karin and Gus are in for a total shock when their guest shows up on their couch half an hour later: Bianca is not a woman, but an anatomically correct, life-sized doll. The film touts itself as a comedy, and although hilarity does ensue, you won’t be laughing out loud, just chuckling and otherwise squirming in your seat, curious to see what’ll happen. The family doctor diagnoses the problem as a delusion, and for Gus especially waiting for Lars to let go of Bianca “when he’s ready” is a difficult process. Lucky for the family, they live in a small Midwestern town and after some prodding they’re able to get the whole community to “play along”, to the extent where Bianca gets her hair done and is elected to the school board. As the kindness of the people around him make Lars realize that he is cared about, he begins to notice Margot (Kelli Garner), creating a one-of-a-kind love triangle in his mind. It takes a great performer to pull off a role where the “supporting actress” can’t give support (or do anything else, really), but Gosling goes above and beyond that challenge to the extent that you’ll eventually feel as much sympathy for his plastic partner as you do for him. I won’t share the conclusion, but I promise you’ll never see anything else like it.