Judge Bill Gibron likes his indie movies "meatier" and slightly less mannered.
As a survivor of cancer, Sammy Smalls (Cristin Milioti, The Sopranos) has grown up into a rather insecure young lady. An operation for the disease has left her with a limp, and she's so embarrassed about her body that any intimate contact makes her giggle uncontrollably. This makes sex almost impossible, which her musician crush/potential boy friend Eugene (Mark Rendell, Charlie Bartlett) finds rather distressing. In fact, he won't even consider a relationship with the 21-year-old grocery store security detective because of her inexperience with the physical art of lovemaking. Upon the suggestion of sultry co-worker Sylvia (Ali Liebert, Kyle XY), Sammy begins a kind of pornographic Pilgrim's Progress, trying to hump everything in sight. When she finds the situation still rather comical, she resorts to blackmailing shoplifters into going out into the woods and doing her experimental erotica. Of course, what she learns is that, sometimes, the corporeal aspect of love is never as important and basic human compatibility.
Somewhere in the middle of the Naughts, independent filmmakers got it in their hipster heads that quirk could act as a shortcut to specific character personality types. Give a guy a collection of ill-fitting plaid shirts, an unusual instrument, minor facial scruff and hair that would make Henry Spence jealous, and he's instantly a sincere, uncompromising artist (insert medium here). Likewise, take an unconventionally attractive girl, give her an unusual occupation or hobby, toss in a complicated love of all things retro (kitsch or camp) and revisionist (Japanese candy, Russian communism iconography), and sprinkle with just a dash of daft worldview, and you've got the perfect RomCom antidote…except that sometimes eccentricity is all a movie has. For her first film as a director, Canadian music scene icon (and friend of John Cameron Mitchell) Sook-Yin Lee has decided that oddity is all she needs to tell a fringe fairytale of one girl's unusual coming of age, and while the resulting movie has a nice, endearing quality, it does frequently flail over into unnecessary idiosyncrasy.
There are examples of pointless peculiarity everywhere in Year of the Carnivore. Sammy's boss (former MadTV star Will Sasso) has a weird kind of vigilante justice when it comes to crimes committed in his store. Similarly, Eugene's dad is a brawny brute of a man who hides a syrupy, sensitive side. During one incredibly surreal scene, Sammy discovers the joys of a motorized dildo while surrounded by the infant twins she is babysitting. She then goes on to have a wonky threesome with the couple who hired here. There's an elusive thread revolving around her side job as a caregiver for an elderly Japanese lady, the woman's friendly dog, and her own parents desire to have her childhood pet "put down." In fact, a lot of Year of the Carnivore seems to exist as more of an experiment regarding what will and will not work in a standard movie than a truly coherent narrative. Lee simply plays the old advertising game, running unexpected ideas up the typical comedy flagpole to see if anyone salutes. Most of the time, we do. At other instances, we just stare, dumbstruck.
Painting Canada as a country filled with smooth suburban malaise, the DVD transfer of Year of the Carnivore is actually quite good. We get nice colors and contrasts, and the details have a depth unexpected in such a low budget project. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image looks properly cinematic, even if the movie is made up of many small, minor in scope moments. The sound situation is another story all together. While the Dolby Digital Stereo mix is perfectly fine (good ambience, easy-to-understand dialogue), the score is made up of twee shoe-gazing gunk that makes you curse the day the glockenspiel and ukulele were ever invented. As for added content, we get a nice behind the scenes (Ms. Lee acquits herself and her vision quite well) as well as a trailer. In fact, all miserable musical backdrop aside, this is a smart and sophisticated release.
Without a doubt, Year of the Carnivore will irritate some people. It's like listening to a bunch of clueless poseurs extol the virtues of The Shaggs without ever hearing a single song by the sisters Wiggin. Yet Sook-Yin Lee brings just enough genuineness and geniality to keep things from rocketing over into complete freak flag failure.
Not Guilty. Fun, if still a bit forced and fey.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Maya Entertainment
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