Judge Gordon Sullivan doesn't need more go.
Life Doesn't Come With a Road Map
Looking back, the roots of independent film seem the creation of necessity: maverick directors telling highly personal, individual stories that were at odds with dominant Hollywood trends. At some point, independent became indie, and the previously necessary cinematic sacrifices (less lighting, less dialogue, location shooting) became cemented as an aesthetic rather than a necessity. From there it's only a short step into the land of the cliché. The Go-Getter, the first wide-distribution feature from writer-director Martin Hynes, features a commendable cast but cleaves so close to the indie aesthetic that it becomes redundant.
Facts of the Case
Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci, Fast Food Nation) leaves school one day to steal a car so he can find his older brother to tell him the news that his mom has died. Along the way, he receives phone calls from the sympathetic young woman (Zooey Deschanel, Almost Famous) from whom he stole the car, guiding him towards self-discovery. He also encounters a girl (Jena Malone, Donnie Darko) from his past who has grown into a quite different young woman. As Mercer learns more about his wayward brother, his trip becomes more and more difficult and surreal.
Let's go down the indie film check list with The Go-Getter:
Dysfunctional family? Check.
Honestly, I stopped there because it was getting tedious, not because there weren't more cliché elements to The Go-Getter. Individually, any one of them would have been an acceptable element of the film. Taken together, they make the film feel like a remix of the best in independent filmmaking of the past twenty years. Also, many of these elements don't seem to help tell the story. In particular, there's a scene where Mercer is talking to Kate on the telephone, and he recounts seeing a foreign film where the three stars dance for no reason. So, the director treats us to a black-and-white scene of Mercer, Kate, and Joely dancing in a fantasy sequence. The dance scene doesn't reveal anything about the characters, and its only purpose appears to be to prove that the director has watched a foreign film. Watching the scene it's also difficult not to recall the similar homage to Band of Outsiders in Pulp Fiction. However, the difference is that Pulp Fiction's dance scene was narratively driven and actually served to illuminate the characters.
I was totally willing to roll with the film until Elliot Smith's "Coast to Coast" came on the soundtrack. The use of Smith's music in indie films is nothing new (see Good Will Hunting for the most famous example), but his music hasn't gotten a lot of soundtrack play since his suicide. I can understand why the director would choose the song, since it's a road movie and "Coast to Coast" is a cute addition. However, considering the highly emotional content of Smith's music, as well as the pathos surrounding his suicide, it seems crass and manipulative to put him on the soundtrack, like the film alone can't conjure up enough feeling so it has to rely on a dead musician.
Perhaps that's what most bothered me about The Go-Getter: because of all of the unoriginal elements, I felt like I was being manipulated. It seems like the director reasoned that since these elements worked in other films, they could effectively push buttons in this one. The manipulation is obvious enough to be annoying, without being interesting enough to make the film an examination of indie aesthetics. If The Go-Getter had been a little more self-aware, it would have been a great postmodern comedy, but as it stands it can only lay claim to failed drama.
On a technical note, this is one of the most horrendous audio mixes I've had to review. M. Ward's much-touted musical contributions come through loud and crystal clear, but if they're at a reasonable level dialogue is completely indecipherable. I was riding gain throughout the entire movie, and sometimes I couldn't turn my system up loud enough to pull the dialogue out of the other sounds in the mix. Plus, the only subtitle option was Spanish, which didn't help the situation.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With all that said, The Go-Getter isn't a bad film. It's technically competent and well acted, even if it is ultimately unsatisfying. Zooey Deschanel and Jena Malone both shine as Mercer's perspective love interests. Most of Zooey's performance is over the phone, and her voice is remarkably expressive. Jena gets to play a character much less self aware than I've seen her before, and she's very convincing. The best thing about The Go-Getter is the fact that it made me want to see more work from these two actresses.
Although it too is cliché, the slightly lo-fi look of the film is nice. Everything has a warm tone, and the stray bits of grit and grime on the print give it charm. The DVD renders this look effectively, offering no compression artifacts or visual problem. Aside from the audio, the rest of the disc is similarly effective. There is a feature which includes a game of "20 Questions" with the cast and crew, as well some test footage which features narration by the director. The bulk of the production info is discussed in the director's commentary, along with Hynes thoughts on the film and its inspiration.
The best I can do for The Go-Getter is to damn it with faint praise: this film shows potential for all of its participants, but they need to work with less tired material. If you absolutely need to see another independent feature about a sensitive young man searching for the meaning of life, by all means pick up The Go-Getter. If the idea of such a film makes you want to tear out your hair, then this flick is easy to avoid.
The Go-Getter is guilty of neither going nor getting.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Peace Arch Entertainment
• "20 Questions"
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