Friends, this open letter contains a few spoilers as it’s almost impossible to talk about how idiotic this movie is without revealing some of the spoiling details of the plot. I’ll give a bold spoiler warning when they are coming up, but if you’ve seen the movie or don’t care, feel free to read on with reckless abandon. Thank you.
To Whom It May Concern:
As per my mother’s request, I’ll start off with the good parts of the film, and there are actually a few to mention. For one, the actors you somehow duped into being in this thing are fantastic. Zooey Deschanel, Paul Dano, John Goodman, Ed Asner. It’s amazing that you got them to sign up for this, read the script, and follow through with appearing on camera. However you did that, well done. The second major achievement is that you’ve successfully learned to ape the motions of a real drama without ever making one. Since this is director Matt Aselton’s first film, it seems obvious that given a few more dry-runs, he’ll actually be able to make a solid movie. Something to look forward to.
Now, starting with the bad I find myself confused at where to begin because you’ve made a truly bland movie. What’s worse, you’ve made a truly bland movie parading around like it’s interesting and high brow when in fact it’s leading a silent parade with no clothes on.
See if I am on the right page here: Brian Weathersby (Paul Dano) is a mattress salesman who is in the midst of adopting a Chinese baby for unknown yet seemingly benign reasons when Happy Lolly (Zooey Deschanel) enters his life and complicates things by dating him. For some reason, they are surrounded by inexplicably eccentric characters who do little to actually affect them, and Zack Galifinakis plays a homeless person who keeps attacking Brian for no reason whatsoever.
Let me first say this: a middle schooler can make quirky characters, but it takes talent to give them depth.
Characters are a good place to start, especially since the writers (also Matt Aselton with co-writer Adam Nagata) were so consistent in creating characters that have zero depth to them but appear as if they might be interesting because of arbitrary quirks. Brian has wanted a Chinese baby since he was eight year old, going so far as to cry when his father bought him a bicycle because it wasn’t, you know it, a Chinese baby. He shows almost zero emotion throughout the entire film, reacting lukewarmly when he finally gets good news regarding that thing that he’s always wanted since he was old enough to hate bicycles. Happy is a vapid moron who can barely read a magazine – how you took Zooey Deschanel and put her in a role so empty is beyond me, but there has to be an award for making her unlikable. Oh, and her name is Happy. Happy Lolly. Just let that sink in for a moment. Read it two or three times if you need to.
You named your main character Happy Fucking Lolly.
Moving on, the only character that can get away with being simply quirky with no other depth is John Goodman’s Al Lolly, Happy’s Father, who plays out like a wealthy version of Walter from The Big Lebowski except not nearly as engaging. However, since he doesn’t impact the story, his scenes are at least decently funny if not totally worthless.
In fact, now that I think about it, it’s almost as if you read a list mocking indie films and mistook it for the handbook on how to create a quality dramatic indie comedy. I understand, that sort of thing could happen if you’re not paying close attention. Your film is so cookie-cutter from that mold, that I ended up playing Indie Film Element Bingo. I lost, because I’m pretty sure somebody cheated, but the point is that the board was basically full up. Quirky girl with quirky name? Check. Characters that don’t exist in real life? Check. Dull conversations that don’t push the action? Checkaroo. Total lack of story? Bingo!
At the end of the day, even if you dress up the wacky neighbor with new-age quirks, he’s still a sitcom stereotype with no life underneath it all.
Speaking of which, if you’re going to have characters that flatly stick to their quirk like it’s the last life vest on the Titanic (Ed Asner plays an old man who still thinks everyone has secretaries and porters shine shoes and how do cell phones work. Hilarious!) you should at least have them focused on a goal or something that will present an engaging story. I will grant that the complication of a man almost getting something he’s always wanted (which we realize is important because he yawns when it happens) coming at the same time that he begins as heated a romance as can be between two Zoloft enthusiasts is a solid starting point for conflict. But you never carry it through. The bulk of the film is near-useless conversations between characters who end up rambling through without much direction, and then it resorts to the classy cliche of one of the characters missing an important event, an old standby for creating a fight. A fight that’s never resolved.
You can’t just pile idiosyncrasies onto a person to make them interesting. They need some human qualities. A connection of some sort of the real world. That’s a free tip for when you write your next film.
I realize that your movie will play like gang busters to a certain audience who is convinced that you’ve left everything open-ended to allow their imaginations to fill in the rest. To allow them to think about the film. To create something that doesn’t just spoonfeed its entirety into the audience’s throats. That’s a noble pursuit, but you fail at it so aptly that you’re either one of two things: completely inept at creating characters and story or the most nefarious of filmmakers who preys on the gullibility of a certain audience that wants to appear smart without doing any work. The problem is that I had to fill in all the details about the characters’ interactions except what foreign languages they spoke.
And then there are the plot holes. Holy hell, the plot holes. And this is where we get into SPOILER territory. Happy still comes over to get the international adapter even though she’s not going to Paris after all. Either she’s an unlikable idiot or it’s a plot hole. They never have a conversation to work out their fight. His schizophrenia is never brought up, let alone explained. Oh, and the happy ending (excuse me, “Happy” ending. Get it? No?) is the feel-good moment on the cusp of a schizophrenic single man who now has custody over a year old Chinese girl. Everything worked out for the best!
And the biggest plot hole of all – and another SPOILER – is a lesson for all filmmakers everywhere. You can not have a schizophrenic hallucination actually affect the environment outside of the person who is hallucinating. At the beginning of the film, as you know, a homeless type man attacks Brian inexplicably. Later on, he shoots at Brian and his family, also for no reason. Then at the end, he attacks again, and Brian stabs him, leading to what looks like the first real major conflict of the film until it’s revealed that the homeless man was a hallucination all along. Yet, when he shoots at the family, Brian’s brothers both duck for cover, clearly seeing the homeless man and hearing the bullets. They not only act against what should be one man’s hallucination, they also comment on the event. That’s not how it works. Either someone’s real or they aren’t. If they are, they aren’t hallucinations. If they aren’t, they can’t be seen by other people. Having it both ways is tricking your audience for the sake of appearing smarter than you really are.
Somehow, you’ve managed to create a film with no story that has plot holes. You’ve created characters that are only quirks and no heart. I get it – you watched The Royal Tannenbaums and figured you’d make a few wacky characters of your own with some dark problems. The only difference is that you’ve placed yours in the real world without giving them an anchor. These characters would never exist in the real world, and that makes it impossible to resonate with them. You may have tricked a few people into thinking you’ve made an intelligent film, but you haven’t actually done any of the hard work that comes with making an intelligent film. You present a few random people that make pinatas in the shape of world dictators, talk business in Korean while getting happy endings, ask strangers to drive them to doctor’s appointments but don’t seem to have anything else of vested interest in the world around them. If you were trying to tell a love story, you had too many scenes that should have been cut, and if you were trying to present an ensemble of weird characters, you focused too much on the main two.
Overall, your film just made me angry. You have a great cast that is left out in the cold by the writing. Your pace is glacial, there’s no life to it, and the writing acts so anxious to prove that it’s smart that it comes off like the kid in the front of the class who reminds the teacher that she’s forgotten to assign homework.
The obvious rebuttal is that I don’t “get it.” I admit this is correct, because there was nothing to get. And to that fair rebuttal, I offer this personal anecdote. I once dated a girl who was mysterious and flirtatious, never giving me much to work with. It was intriguing, exciting, compelling enough for me to pursue her. Things went well, but over a cobb salad one night, I realized that she never opened up – she continued speaking in surface level flirtation – because there was nothing going on underneath that level. She was hollow on the inside and covered that fact up by being obtuse and interesting. Your film, Gigantic, is the cinematic equivalent of that girl. A piece of art that has no soul, no heart, and has to make up for it by using flashy misdirection.
P.S. – You can completely disregard this letter if your real goal was to create a laugh-out-loud funny parody of all that’s wrong with the new indie movement. But next time, title it something like Indie Movie so that those of us who are slower can catch on.