Depending on whose side you're on, Harmony Korine, writer of the notorious Kids and writer/director of the almost-as-notorious Gummo, is either the freshest new talent in American independent filmmaking or the manifestation of all its most half-formed means of expression and self-indulgent tendencies. There's no telling yet, based on Gummo, the sort of film that's at least interesting, but not likely to inspire breathless anticipation of future work in the same vein. Set in Xenia, Ohio—depicted here as a backwater haven for barely functional hicks—Gummo is a loosely connected series of scenes of depravity, including glue-sniffing, cat-drowning, racist banter, the sexual harassment of dwarfs, and a young boy so lacking in morals and parental guidance that he eats his dessert before his dinner. The principal characters include two teens who kill cats in order to sell them to a Chinese restaurant (huh?), a group of sisters which includes Chloe Sevigny, and, as possibly the first movie character inspired by Blind Melon's "No Rain" video, a boy who wanders the town wearing giant bunny ears. While it looks great, thanks in no small part to cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (Good Will Hunting, Grace Of My Heart), Gummo is essentially an avant-garde variation on The Jerry Springer Show, or the sort of movie photographer Diane Arbus would make, if she made movies and they weren't very good. Take away the shock value, and there isn't much there: just a stylistically promising student film peddling bargain-basement surreal nihilism that, stretched over 90 minutes, grows awfully tedious.
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