Lightning Entertainment // 2008 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // February 11th, 2009
I've changed everything.
I try very hard to take each film I watch on its own terms, to judge them based on their own merits and the filmmaker's intentions. Sometimes, however, a film comes down the pike that is unforgivably bad, with little value on any level. This makes it very hard to be reasonable, but I still try. Such is the case with The Guitar, quite possibly the shallowest movie I've ever seen.
Melody (Saffron Burrows, Troy) has had an awful day. First, she's laid off from her job. Next, her boyfriend breaks it off with her. To top it all off however, her results have come back from the lab and, according to her doctor, she has inoperable throat cancer. Given a time frame of about two months, her life is in shambles. Emotionally devastated, Melody decides that, in the short time she has left, she'll live the good life. She moves into an amazing loft space, maxes out her credit cards on high end furniture and the titular guitar, and gets involved with both her delivery man and the girl who brings her pizza. She's feeling so good about herself that she doesn't even notice that two months have passed and she's not dead. Now that she has to start paying for all this stuff, how happy will she be?
I apologize in advance for the inevitable spoilers that are to come. It is impossible to describe how repulsive The Guitar is without them. In any case, there's no suspense in the film and you shouldn't really see this movie anyway; punching yourself in the face is preferable entertainment.
The Guitar reminds me of the episode of South Park a couple of years ago where Cartman contracts HIV. In it, after he gives the disease to Kyle out of spite, they travel to Magic Johnson's house to discover the cure: an injection of huge sums of concentrated cash into the bloodstream. It takes care of the problem straight away. The one big difference between that cartoon and this film is that South Park is a comedy. The Guitar, on the other hand, is so earnest and self-important that you gag on the pretension. If there was a shred of satire, or if director Amy Redford, making her feature film debut, was in any way winking at the audience with an understanding of how absurd this film is, I could maybe feel like this is a comment on the delusion of consumerism run amok. No, The Guitar is mired in the delusion, there's no satire of any sort.
Looking at the way the story begins, we find Melody as instantly sympathetic. Cancer is a scary disease and, compounded with the clearly shoddy treatment she receives from those around her, we feel for Melody. As soon as we want to see her happy, however, we see how she achieves her happiness. She buys everything in sight with no intention of paying off her debts. This reprehensible behavior, the basic refusal of responsibility because of a terminal illness, is somehow forgiven by everyone she comes in contact with and we, as the audience, are somehow supposed to see her as heroic.
Redford doesn't stop there, however. According to her and writer Amos Poe (Rocket Gibraltar), apparently, complete hedonism is the cure for cancer. Melody has always been a vegetarian for health, but says to hell with it and starts eating meat. She begins sexual relationships with her delivery man (Isaach De Bankole, Casino Royale) and her pizza girl (Paz de la Huerta, Riding in Cars with Boys), breaking her streak of white businessmen. She has no intention of telling them that she's dying, preferring instead to toy with the emotions of those who have finally reached out to her. All of this is supposed to represent some kind of spiritual awakening and, while I understand the desire to make oneself happy when faced with certain death, the presentation is so devoid of soul that Melody comes across as selfish, shallow, and stupid. Then, there's the end of the film, which I won't spoil for those foolish enough to watch. Suffice it to say that Melody learns no lesson and can continue her lifestyle of wanton hedonism.
I reviewed a screener for the film, so some of the technical aspects may change in the retail version. Lightning Media, however, has done a fine job on the picture and sound. There are no noticeable problems with the image transfer; the colors are vivid and the blacks are deep. The Dolby surround is extremely front heavy; the rear channels and the sub-woofer may as well not be there. Even in the loudest guitar-playing scenes, there is no real surround action. There are no extras, but The Guitar isn't something I'd like to see supplemented.
For as bad as The Guitar is, Saffron Burrows's performance is very good. To her credit, she shows a lot of emotion, especially at the start, but this emotion also serves to further reveal the shallow nature of the story and does little to save this disease of a film.
The Black Emmanuelle films have more depth that The Guitar. With a poor story and a reprehensible message, I can scarcely see the audience for this. Unless you're a severe masochist, I cannot recommend The Guitar under any circumstances.
So, so guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Lightning Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R