Sunday, April 09, 2006

Look Both Ways (2006)

Movies like this piss me off because its rookie mistakes are so painful and avoidable. What we have here is a director trying her desperate best to sabotage her own material. Writer/director Sarah Watt has penned for herself a perfectly good tale of two damaged, frightened people trying to connect in a world fraught with peril, and then for reasons unbeknownst to all but herself, she ruins it by surrounding it with a soppy we-are-all-connected drama that puts me in mind of Magnolia, if Magnolia really sucked. The first act of this film, all pensive morose gazes and scattered character work, is abysmal. The third act of this film, chock full of dumb misunderstandings and a goddamn climactic rainstorm that expresses the sadness its emotionally remote characters keep inside, is abysmal. But the middle... ah, the middle. The second act of this film is the cream in the donut -- it's where this terminal slog through a river of sog metamorphosizes into a weird dark comedy. Watt minimizes the shifts between characters to focus on Meryl, a death-obsessed artist, and Nick, a photographer recently diagnosed with cancer. As these two navigate through a sea of bodies onto a path that will eventually unite them, their morbid imaginations run wild. Fantasies collide with the reality of the narrative, the most memorable of which are the hilarious animated interludes that illustrate Meryl's thoughts. This plot strand is the most valuable, as it cuts through the treacle to offer a blackly funny meditation on death hammered together out of paranoia and self-involvement. The contrasting strand with Nick's acerbic friend Andy also operates on this level, though not quite as successfully; everything else is desperation time, especially the one-note threads involving a woman grieving for her dead boyfriend and the shell-shocked train conductor who accidentally killed said boyfriend. Every time Watt cuts away from Meryl and Nick to focus on some other minor character or attempts to tie everyone together through a musical montage, the film suffers chest pains. (Watt should be brought to trial on charges of musical montage abuse -- there's at least six. And the music isn't even good.) Then she brings on the rain storm, and the film keels over and dies from a massive heart attack. With Look Both Ways, Watt shows she can tell a good story. She also shows that she, like so many others, can't tell seven at once without tripping herself up. It's alright -- not everyone can be P.T. Anderson.

Grade: C


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