By G. Michael Dobbs
Two very different new DVDs are featured in this week's review column.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Actor John Krasinski is best known for his role on the hit show, "The Office," but in this new film he is both in front of and behind the camera.
Impressed with the book of the same name by David Foster Wallace, Krasinski undertook its adaptation for the screen -- a process that took him years. The result is a very uneven, but moderately interesting film.
Julianne Nicholson plays Sara, a graduate student who we learn has undergone a painful breakup with her boyfriend, played by Krasinski. We learn this in a fairly convoluted manner through flashbacks. The editing of this film and how the characters reveal things about themselves is far from linear. Krasinski and his editor created a lot of interest in how they presented the narrative.
As part of her way to understand men, she undertakes a series of interviews with guys, talking about women. Some of these are insightful, one or two goofy and several are disturbing.
The most compelling interview is not about male-female relations, though. Veteran character actor Frankie Faison recounts how his father worked as a restroom attendant in an upscale hotel, a job that filled his character with disgust.
That emotion disguises a respect he has for his father, though, for taking care of a family by performing a demeaning job for years. The sequence is wonderful from how Krasinski staged it to Faison's performance, but it stops the film dead and doesn't advance the plot or the insight into Sara's character.
Nicholson portrays Sara as someone who has retreated from being an active person to being a passive observer because of her grief over the failed relationship. It's a tough job, as Sara is not very likable or, for that matter, unlikable. She's a bit of a cipher.
Making Sara so passive and detached is a bit of a risk, as she is our guide through the story and ultimately, shouldn't the audience care about her?
While flawed, "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" is the kind of film that is worth giving a try.
The DVD extras include a fairly insightful making-of feature.
What kind of role does laughter play in your life? That's one of the answers director Albert Nerenberg seeks in his new documentary, "Laughology."
Nerenberg relates how he "lost his laugh" after a series of tragic events in his life and he was amazed to learn, through his own infant daughter, that laughter isn't learned behavior, but is part of being human.
His interest in recovering his own ability to laugh, as well as learning more about laughter leads him around the world -- to Baffin Island where laughter is part of the way Inuit people survive to India where a medical doctor developed a laughter yoga, to Tennessee where the man with the world's most infectious laugh lives.
While some reviewers said the film was funny itself, I didn't find myself laughing, but I was certainly fascinated by what Nerenberg presented. Did you know that Plato was against laughing, as were some Christian theologians in the 19th century?
The increasing amount of medical research shows that while stress constricts the flow of blood in the body, laughter reverses that threatening condition. The act of laughing is actually exercise for the body.
A fine little film, "Laughology" should be required viewing for any of us who has "lost their laugh."
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