It's not who you are. It's who they think you are.
This low-key romantic comedy avoids falling into tired story arcs. The leads are a matched set of intelligent, disaffected gophers. Supporting characters are given respect. Insightful social commentary, dry humor, and Hollywood satire add depth to the film. Pipe Dream is a fresh take on a well-beaten path.
Facts of the Case
David (Martin Donovan) is a plumber with a keen social sense. He tires of the unconscious disdain others send his way. While hanging out with his friend RJ (Kevin Carroll), a Hollywood casting agent, David notices how attractive women fawn over directors. He drafts RJ to help him in an outrageous scheme. RJ will hold casting calls for a movie while David poses as the director. David can thereby experience life in the upper social echelon.
To pull off the ruse, David will need a script. It just so happens that David's neighbor, Toni (Mary-Louise Parker), has recently penned one. He knows this because they slept together, and she dissed him because of his lowly plumber status. David feels justified in taking the script from her. He gets caught in the act, and Toni sits in on the casting session out of morbid curiosity.
David selects the unknown Marliss Funt (Rebecca Gayheart) over Jill Hennessy for the leading role because he digs her looks. But when the buzz over this secretive picture draws the attention of an interested producer, the ruse takes on a life of its own!
Pipe Dream is a low-budget indie flick. As such, there are few effects, eye candy, or aural theatrics. The strength of an indie film is in the script and the acting. In the case of Pipe Dream, both are strong enough to grab and hold your attention.
Intelligence is the central mantra of Pipe Dream. The writers are intelligent, and they penned an intelligent script. The actors are likely intelligent, or at least good enough to convince us as such. People express themselves through realistic behavior. You can believe that the events could actually take place. Intelligent authenticity lends Pipe Dream a measure of credibility.
There are three main layers to Pipe Dream. The first is, of course, the romantic comedy aspect. As a romance, Pipe Dream fares pretty well. The leads are well matched in skill, looks, and personality. Their chemistry is tangible, their kisses believable. Their romance is therefore approachable. As a comedy, Pipe Dream has its moments. The humor is so dry that it may pass under the radar, but some barbs land big. The comedic aspects err on the side of restraint, which is noble but undercuts the comedic potential somewhat.
The second layer is satire. Pipe Dream is a biting glimpse behind the scenes of Hollywood. Agents, assistants, buzz, "personal" services are all sent up in turn. Pipe Dream is a prescient forerunner of Ben Mezrich's article "To Live and Die in L.A." in Wired magazine. If you are curious about the men and women behind the curtain, Pipe Dream gives a convincing take.
The third layer is a complex social commentary on perspective. In essence, Pipe Dream challenges us to examine how we perceive and treat people based on shorthand cues such as clothing or profession. This may be the central theme of the film. It is obvious that the writers have experienced negative bias (and possibly dished some out). Do we treat our waiters and assistants as well as our professional peers? Do we focus on the people who can get us somewhere? What does that say about us? This message hits home in a variety of ways throughout Pipe Dream.
The script and the actors are determined to avoid clichés. There were so many times that I thought I knew exactly where the plot was going, but it went somewhere else. Pipe Dream isn't groundbreaking in terms of plot, but it isn't too worn either. The actors really sell their roles. I could imagine bumping into them at the bar. Martin Donovan and Mary-Louise Parker play it low key, but generate intense interpersonal fireworks. Their genuine discomfort, jealousy, desire, annoyance, and camaraderie are the heart of the film. Supporting characters are given greater-than-usual status. RJ is not there as David's sidekick, he is an intelligent professional with his own life who just happens to be involved. The cast presents a believable world.
Pipe Dream is entertaining enough, but the real story is in the commentary. Cynthia Kaplan and John Walsh speak with the ease of two people comfortable working with each other. Their chemistry comes through in the commentary. They work off of each other's comments, as though they know where the other is heading. They give and take (though John seems to take over periodically) in a relaxed manner. Lapses do occur, but in general the commentary flows steadily. The comments are truly of interest. The director/writing team senses what the audience most wants to know about Pipe Dream. They pull in their own insights and experiences while commenting on the noteworthy aspects of the film. This is a commentary by two people who really believe in the film and want to honestly discuss it. The pair seems as determined to avoid pretension as the cast was to avoid clichés.
Finally, I must commend the carefully chosen soundtrack. Alex Lasarenko generates effective moods through precise use of instruments and rhythm. The music isn't groundbreaking, but does evoke a subtle feeling of wry enjoyment.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It was hard to fully enjoy Pipe Dream precisely because it was a low-budget indie flick. The image quality was atrocious. The film was overly grainy; we're talking 20 grit sandpaper here. Numerous scratches and blemishes concealed the poor detail. Adding insult to injury is the persistent and noticeable edge enhancement. If you don't understand edge enhancement, this transfer is a textbook case of why you shouldn't use it. Pause and behold the outlines!
The "behind the scenes" extra is remarkably bad as well. They placed a camera behind the scenes and just left it on. The muffled roar of passing traffic obscure the tinny, faint words being spoken. There is no editing or focus brought to the piece. I had no idea what was going on nor why I should care. If watching assistants with clipboards stand around smoking and frowning is your thing, enjoy.
The ending is unsatisfying. The story was moving along quite well, but dissolved in the last 15 minutes. David is recast in a less than admirable light, which invalidates much of the goodwill we have for him. The message of social perception goes from subtle to ham-handed. I appreciate the non-standard romantic comedy denouement, but I could have lived with a less downbeat turn of events.
If you love romantic comedies, this one is a nice spin on the formula. If you don't like them but your significant other does, this is a decent pick-up endurable by even the most jaded macho film buff. If you're gonna watch one, this one isn't bad. The commentary increases replay value, but there is nothing here to highlight your home theater system.
The intelligent energy put forth by all parties has thoroughly bedazzled the jury. You are free to go.
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