Judge Michael Rankins will have his people call your people.
Ponderous, self-important, and brimming with art-house pretentiousness, Adam Goldberg's I Love Your Work presents a jaundiced Hollywood insider's examination of the internal toll taken by stardom.
Facts of the Case
You'd want to be Gray Evans (Giovanni Ribisi, Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow) if you could. He's a fast-rising Hollywood movie star, enjoying oodles of money, exploding fame, fawning groupies, and a tabloid-cover marriage to an even bigger star, marquee actress Mia Lang (Franka Potente, The Bourne Identity).
Actually, "enjoying" isn't the accurate word. As glitzy and glamorous as Gray's life might appear to an observer, it's bereft of joy on the inside. He's depressed, increasingly paranoid, and constantly fearful that his beautiful wife is cheating on him with every man he sees, including rock star Elvis Costello (who appears in a cameo as himself). Gray is being stalked—at least, he believes he is—by an overly enthusiastic fan (Jason Lee, TV's My Name Is Earl). He's also plagued by fevered dreams (or are they hallucinations?) of Shana (Christina Ricci, Pumpkin), the young woman Gray left behind when his career caught fire.
Gray's downward-spiraling life takes a wicked turn when he meets John, an eager video store clerk and film student (Joshua Jackson, Dawson's Creek), and his wife Jane (Marisa Coughlan, Super Troopers), who bears a nominal resemblance to Shana. At first, Gray thinks John may yet another stalker, because he and Jane have a remarkable knack for popping in places where Gray happens to be. Gray hires Yehud, a security expert (Jared Harris, Mr. Deeds), to investigate the couple, but Yehud can uncover nothing amiss. Taking matters into his own hands, Gray begins his own, progressively obsessive surveillance of the young lovers, spying on them in their apartment and eavesdropping on their private conversations.
If you supposed that all these machinations can't possibly end on an up note, you'd be right.
Dreary, emotionally uninvolving, and at times incomprehensible, I Love Your Work takes an interesting theme and purees it—along with the viewer's brain—into pistachio pudding. (That's not intended as a compliment, just in case you happen to like pistachio pudding.) There's more than one great tale to be told about the high price some celebrities pay for their fame, but director and cowriter Adam Goldberg tells his in a tediously self-indulgent manner that suggests he's still trying to impress his classmates from film school. That, or he's simply seen a few too many European art-house classics, and believes that's the only way to make a movie.
Goldberg's penchant for bizarre visuals and mopey storytelling completely overwhelms his film. He starts the proceedings with a Felliniesque film-within-a-film sequence whose meaning is totally lost until the closing moments of the picture, by which time the audience has either forgotten or checked out altogether. And things cascade rapidly downhill from there. Along the way, Goldberg litters the path with quizzical dialogue, confounding flashback scenes (at least, I think they're supposed to be flashbacks), and characters written either so sketchily or so leadenly that it's impossible to identify with or feel anything for them.
A working actor himself (you'll remember his neurotic turns in such films as Saving Private Ryan and The Hebrew Hammer, among others), Goldberg lined up a tidy list of capable B-level thespians to appear in his movie. The only problem is, he's stuck them all in roles that don't suit their personas. The central role of Gray calls for an actor with People Magazine cover-boy star quality and charisma. Instead, Goldberg cast the slight, nebbishy Giovanni Ribisi—a solid actor, but we never believe for a moment that he's a big-deal movie star whose adventures would garner him stalkers or land him on the front page at the supermarket checkstand. (Either Vince Vaughn or Joshua Jackson would have been a more effective choice, and both of them are already in the movie.) Franka Potente fares even worse—not only does she look more like a European college student than a Hollywood starlet, but Goldberg's script gives her nothing from which to create a character. She's completely wasted here. By the same token, Christina Ricci's unmistakable edginess serves her poorly in the thankless role as Gray's long-lost ex-girlfriend. It's a part that calls for a fresher, more winsome presence, not a grownup Wednesday Addams.
All of these actors gamely attempt their best with the material they've been handed. But working through this script, the cast feels as though they're slogging through quicksand. The performances lack life and resonance because the screenplay and direction present little opportunity for either. As a result, Ribisi comes off as a morose, whiny loser, Potente as a total cipher, and Ricci as creepy and a touch frightening when she ought to represent lost innocence. Joshua Jackson and Marisa Coughlan show flashes of genuine emotion in their rare moments on camera together, but those moments are too brief and too sparsely salted amid the gloom and doom.
Adding to the film's depressing effect are murky cinematography by Mark Putnam and a screechy, overbearing psychedelic score composed by Goldberg and alt-rock maven Stephen Drozd of the band Flaming Lips. By the time I Love Your Work wound down to its anticlimax, I was desperate for a bottle of Visine and a double dose of extra-strength Excedrin.
Buried somewhere amid Goldberg's delusions of cinematic mastery is a smart, sharply observed skewering of the cult of celebrity. Unfortunately, the filmmaker has made the journey toward that solid center so torturous that the audience never finds the Holy Grail. Perhaps the same script, in the hands of a more confident and mature director, could have yielded a commentary on Hollywood fame that would be worth seeing. Goldberg seems too consumed by his own artifice to get out of the way and let the story tell itself.
Th!nkFilm presents I Love Your Work in acceptable fashion on DVD. The disc delivers the visuals in all their muddy, grainy glory, clearly the result of the way the movie was shot and not an artifact of the digital process. Some of the darker scenes—and there are quite a few of these—tend to swallow the actors and overwhelm them in shadow. The transfer appears to accurately record what the director intended, so blame him, not the technicians. The audio balance, on the other hand, is all over the map, ranging from much too soft in many of the dialogue scenes (the absence of English subtitles is conspicuous here) to blaringly loud almost anytime the score kicks in. You'll need your remote handy to adjust volume levels almost constantly to create a comfortable listening experience.
An audio commentary pairs director Adam Goldberg and star Giovanni Ribisi, only to no beneficial end. The duo contents themselves mostly to remark about what they observe on the screen while viewing the playback, offering little insight into a film that cries out for context and explanation. For long stretches, Goldberg and Ribisi simply watch in silence, taking the audience with them. I wanted to hear a good deal more about the philosophy of the film and Goldberg's approach to the concept he created, and a lot less about whose roommate or college pal wanders through the frame as an extra.
Proving conclusively that Goldberg is far more fond of his musical noodlings than I am, the disc includes a "music gallery" featuring four individual pieces from the soundtrack. If you have a use for background noise as you go about your household tasks, this item might have some utility. Otherwise, it's a self-indulgent waste of ROM.
An assemblage of trailers, including one for I Love Your Work, finishes out the programming options.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Elvis Costello? Is he still alive? Maybe that was Lou Costello I was thinking of. Or Elvis Presley.
Didn't love it, and it didn't work. Goldberg buries a decent story and a collection of capable performances—albeit by miscast actors—under a sodden wallow of show-offy editing tricks and needless narrative befuddlement. It's a timely, compelling story undone by absurd and affected execution. If Goldberg's point is that Hollywood narcissism is a dangerous beast, he ought to take a long, hard stare in his rear-view mirror. That beast is gaining on him.
The Judge finds I Love Your Work guilty of most of the sins it pretends to condemn. As such, he sentences it to a lengthy rehabilitative vacation in a mental hospital catering to the excesses of burned-out celebrities. If treatment fails, there's always the talk show circuit.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary Featuring Actor Giovanni Ribisi and Writer-Director Adam Goldberg
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