The American independent-film scene would be much improved if filmmakers stopped fussing over plot. Consider Sorry, Haters, Jeff Stanzler's sometimes-captivating, sometimes-maddening elegy for 9/11. (Not for the pre- or post-9/11 world, but for the day itself.) The movie was indifferently shot on digital video, but it's graced by two terrific performances: Robin Wright Penn plays a wrung-out broadcasting-industry suit who hails a cab driven by underemployed Syrian chemistry Ph.D. Abdellatif Kechiche. He trucks her out to New Jersey for a strange mission that involves trashing some suburbanite's car, and in return, she promises to ask her network's lawyer to help get his brother sprung from Guantanamo. But the more Kechiche gets to know his fare, the more he senses that she wants something more from him than just a ride. She seems to want him to start blowing stuff up.
So long as Sorry, Haters stays ambiguous and sticks to long, winding conversations between Penn and Kechiche, the movie rolls along and builds momentum. Kechiche frets over how he's going to pay for a traffic ticket that will wipe out his whole night's receipts, while Penn baits him with deceptively complimentary comments about his faith, along the lines of "Allah's not passive like the other ones… I like that." In his styleless way, Stanzler captures the social landscape of New York City, from the unfurnished apartment of Kechiche's illegal alien sister-in-law to the upscale offices at Q-Dog TV, the music-video channel where Penn works.
But the specifics of Penn's plan—if she really has a plan, beyond messing with Kechiche's mind—are bizarre beyond words, and though Stanzler has an unusual and even touching perspective on the events of September 11th, it's hard not to feel uncomfortable with the way he uses a national tragedy to illuminate the psyche of one unstable woman. At the same time, Sorry, Haters doesn't exploit 9/11 so much as recontextualize it. A lot of the movie is about the precariousness of being a stranger in a strange land, as Kechiche watches helplessly while one capricious American disrupts his already-shabby life. But Penn—whose Cribs-like Q-Dog TV show Sorry, Haters teases viewers with rock-star lifestyles—feels equally powerless to control her desire for what she can't have. Stanzler seems to be arguing that in an MTV world, we're all foreigners, desperate to be radicalized.