MPI // 2009 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 16th, 2010
The male species at their best, worst and most hilariously complex.
I've never read David Foster Wallace's short story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, which offers 23 different fictional "interviews" with men from various walks of life, most of whom have some sort of repugnant characteristic that they must address. I do know that it's a well-regarded book. I also know that it had a profound impact upon actor John Krasinski when he was in college; the then up-and-coming actor was so moved by a reading of the book at his school that he quickly determined that he would secure the rights to turn it into a feature film. After years of on-and-off writing and shooting between seasons of The Office (Krasinski's full-time job), the film adaptation has finally been completed.
Creating a film out of a series of short stories is a tricky proposition, and it comes as no surprise to learn that first-timer Krasinski isn't exactly up to the task of giving us the next Short Cuts. What he does provide us with is an intriguing, uneven film that doesn't always work but which occasionally flirts with greatness.
Rather than attempting to simply present Brief Interviews with Hideous Men as a series of short films, Kransinski tries to give the whole thing some sense of cohesive shape. He adds a thin narrative of sorts, in which a female graduate student (Julianne Nicholson, Kinsey) conducts interviews with a series of men as part of some sort of school project. Also added as connective tissue are a series of scenes in which Nicholson discusses her project with a professor (Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People), along with a few fourth wall-busting moments in which a pair of waiters talk to the camera about a series of related subjects.
This tissue is wrapped around more or less self-contained vignettes, most of which are conducted in Nicholson's simple interview room (where participants sit at a table with a tape recorder and a pitcher of water) but some of which are worked into the everyday life of our interviewer. These vignettes are wildly hit-and-miss, but the good ones are so good that most will probably be willing to forgive the misguided ones (such as an overeager story in which Dominic Cooper attempts to convince Nicholson of the idea that rape and abuse can actually be positive experiences for a woman).
Most of the stories are focused around the relationships between men and women, or more specifically what men think that women want/need/ought to have. There are varying shades of sexism and condescending theorizing to be found throughout, with the most powerful of these being a scene in which Krasinski himself attempts to validate his decision to cheat on his girlfriend with an easily seduced woman who has a penchant for mysticism. Bobby Cannavale (Fast Food Nation) explains how he's able to use the loss of his arm to emotionally exploit women for his own sexual gratification, while Christopher Meloni (Green Lantern: First Flight) talks about taking advantage of an emotionally vulnerable girl at an airport.
However, the film's best sequence has absolutely nothing to do with sex. It spotlights an African-American man (Frankie Faison, The Silence of the Lambs) telling the story of the job his father used to have working in a swanky hotel restroom. He reflects upon his father's life with a blend of respect and disgust (leaning towards the latter), appalled at the way his father could so cheerfully go to such a degrading job on a daily basis. It's a thoughtful, moving sequence that demonstrates a great deal of complexity and feeling.
Unfortunately, that great sequence is also reflective of the film's biggest problem: it doesn't feel like all of the pieces fit. Sure, there are occasional similarities to be found between the characters in the film, but if Krasinski is trying to make any sort of larger point, I confess that I'm completely missing it (unless the larger point is simply that men are hideous, which you may or may not believe to be true but which isn't much of a profound statement either way). The aforementioned hotel restroom story feels almost totally disconnected from everything else in the film, and the movie's suggestion that we can learn more about modern feminism by examining the attitudes of men rather than women (I'm reminded of a recent episode of Parks and Recreation in which a feminist organization decided to give their annual award to a man simply for the sake of shaking things up) doesn't really apply to much of what is seen in the film, either. In short, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men feels like less than the sum of its parts; a mash-up of interesting scenes performed by interesting actors that never congeals to become anything more profound or important than its self-contained moments of quality.
The DVD transfer is perfectly acceptable, though the film itself looks a bit drab for most of its running time. Despite some interesting editing techniques and a few fun camera angles, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men largely looks flat and uninvolving. Audio is just fine, though on occasion the music is cranked up just a bit too loud in contrast to the dialogue (and not all of Krasinski's jittery selections work). Extras are limited to a brief interview with Krasinski, an equally brief bit of behind-the-scenes footage, a TV spot and a trailer. Meh.
Though ultimately kind of unsatisfying, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is worth a rental considering the occasional heights it reaches.
Tough call. I'd say not guilty, but I'm a man...what do I know?
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated