A periodic check-in on what’s going on in the world of movies that didn’t make it to theaters.
The Year Of Getting To Know Us
Jimmy Fallon engendered a lot of ill will in the late 1990s for reasons that now seem silly. The rap on Fallon during his high-flying early Saturday Night Live days was that he was too cute and too young, a lightweight, a pretty boy who cracked up on air, appeared in too many sketches, and got too much press. He was the hot young new guy, and that guy always catches a lot of shit. There was an unmistakably personal element to it as well: To a lot of the sneering, joyless scolds in the media, Fallon was the entertainment equivalent of the guy who plays Counting Crows songs on an acoustic guitar on the quad during freshman year of college, the guy who gets laid constantly ’cause he thinks he’s just so fucking cute with his acoustic guitar and his ankle bracelet and Maori warrior tattoo. No matter how nice he is, everybody hates that guy, except the women fucking him.
So when Fallon left Saturday Night Live to pursue a film career, a lot of people were rooting for him to fail. I’m not proud to admit I was one of them, though I derived no joy from watching his movie career tank. Fallon has a persona of sorts—upbeat, slightly nervous, super-friendly Gen-X man-child—but for whatever reason, it’s never lent itself to big-screen vehicles the way Adam Sandler’s similar image has. I suspect that might be because on the big screen, Fallon’s puppy-like eagerness to please—a positive quality for a talk-show host—registers as something unfortunately close to desperation. It certainly did in Taxi, though the film didn’t do Fallon any favors.
Fallon ultimately found his voice as a talk-show host. The comedy-drama The Year Of Getting To Know Us, which debuted at Sundance back in 2008 en route to a discreet direct-to-DVD burial, provides an intriguing glimpse into how Fallon’s career might have progressed if his old pal Lorne Michaels hadn’t noticed that his buddy was either drowning or waving and tossed him a professional life preserver in the form of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.
The Year Of Getting To Know Us is essentially Jimmy Fallon’s Garden State. The parallels between the two are inescapable: Both films revolve around sentient balls of sadness (Braff in Garden State, a sad-eyed, despondent-looking Fallon here) who return home following a family crisis to frown, lurk, linger, stare distantly at nothing much in particular, and luxuriate in existential ennui. Both films center on broken, emotionally stunted men who return home, metaphorically and otherwise, and try to figure out where everything went wrong and how they can heal their fractured psyches. In The Year Of Getting To Know Us Fallon, playing a successful 35-year-old writer with commitment problems, returns home following an accident involving his father (Tom Arnold).
The perfectly cast Arnold plays a big man too willfully oblivious to realize that everyone in his life is making themselves miserable in a desperate, inherently doomed attempt to make him happy, particularly Sharon Stone as his poignantly pathetic wife and Illeana Douglas as only the most pathetic of his many mistresses.
Director Patrick Sisam deftly maintains a bittersweet tone as the wounds of the past linger in the present, but the film loses its way in a third act that slides into inertia and melodrama before wrapping everything up much too neatly with an ending orgy of life lessons. It’s as if the filmmakers lost trust in the audience at the last moment and felt the need to broadcast, as artlessly as possible, the theme about the impossibility of escaping our pasts.
Year maintains a distinct sense of hurt, loss, and vulnerability. It’s a sad, delicate, hopeful movie about sad, delicate people desperately seeking hope. And it’s betrayed by a desperate need to please, even when that means undercutting the rest of the film. The Year Of Getting To Know Us is ultimately a failure, but a noble one.
Just how bad is it? It’s actually surprisingly compelling
Has Charlie Sheen ever cared? Is his surreal disengagement from the sum of society an insanity-fueled recent development, or has he never particularly given a fuck? It’s telling that when Jim Abrahams went looking for a glib, featherweight comic variation on the character Sheen played in Platoon, he went directly to Sheen himself. Charlie Sheen is the poor man’s Charlie Sheen. Perhaps he always has been. Maybe we were all just intoxicated, and we let his finely chiseled features and vague air of basic competence hide the fact that there was never much there in the first place.
In Good Advice, which I set out to cover here but ended up finding so repellently compelling that I turned it into a full My Year Of Flops case file, Sheen stops just short of holding his nose and making furious stink-line gestures with his other hand while reciting his dialogue. He actively seems to hold the film in complete contempt, for understandable reasons. He also seems to hold himself in complete contempt, for reasons that are even more understandable.
The 1999 comedy-drama Five Aces should feel different. Sheen wasn’t just prostituting his crumbling gifts for quick child support and/or cocaine money. No, he produced as well as starred in a low-budget labor of love for writer-director/old acting buddy David Michael O’Neill, who costarred with Sheen back in 1990’s Cadence. So Sheen should betray at least some level of emotional engagement, yet he appears all too content to simply fade into the background as his lesser-known and more desperate costars battle for screen time and attention. In a move that might qualify as hilariously misguided if Five Aces weren’t so maddeningly leaden and dull, the film casts Sheen as a responsible, faithful young man whose irresponsible friends try to corrupt him during a final weekend with the boys before marriage takes Sheen away from them and forces him to behave like something other than an overgrown 10-year-old boy.
Think of Five Aces as Charlie Sheen’s Grown Ups by way of a dodgy John Cassavetes knock-off that might play at a lesser film festival. Everyone in the film gets a big dramatic moment. Yet the filmmakers never seem to notice that the film isn’t a scathing indictment of sexism and male immaturity so much as a ringing celebration of it. The boys never seem to have any trouble getting laid in spite of their awful personalities and free-floating hatred of women. And when Christopher McDonald delivers his big monologue about how he became a womanizing asshole because—I hope you delicate types are sitting down and holding onto your monocles tightly for this one—a woman hurt him as a young man and he’s scared to let down his defenses, it does nothing to undercut the film’s smutty, glib, frat-boys’-night-out vibe.
Sheen is the marquee name and one of two names and disembodied heads on the DVD box’s puzzlingly enigmatic cover, yet he barely manages to stay awake during his big scene, a speech on his emotional development delivered at his mother’s grave. Sheen has been checked out for so long that even his labors of love betray a distinct lack of affection. Even his personal projects are weirdly devoid of any personality beyond knee-jerk misogyny.
Just how bad is it? Pretty fucking bad.
The Sasquatch Gang
For the third film in this installment of Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory, I did something a little different. And also a little stupid. I let a reader named John Airthings Mincks choose the film, and for unfathomable reasons, he led me in the direction of The Sasquatch Gang, a low-budget tale of, as the DVD box eloquently puts it, “nerds and turds” that answers the eternally unasked question “What would the little-loved, Happy Madison-produced Steve Zahn vehicle Strange Wilderness look like if it were a half-assed Napoleon Dynamite knockoff?”
The Sasquatch Gang at least earns its Napoleon Dynamite pedigree: Writer-director Tim Skousen served as the first assistant director on Dynamite, and nabbed Jon Heder and Jon Gries for cameos. It also has a lot more affection for its characters, in that it’s interested in both laughing at them and with them. A pre-stardom Justin Long stars as a mullet-sporting hillbilly-American who runs into trouble when bill collector Stephen Tobolowsky—who really does pop up in the most random places—informs him that he now owes more than a thousand dollars in fines and late charges from a fast-food purchase years earlier. Meanwhile, an awkward young geek and his massively overweight, even geekier friend discover what appears to be sasquatch footprints. This attracts the attention of nature-show host Carl Weathers, a pompous boob who has become the world’s pre-eminent expert on yetis, sasquatches, and the like, in spite of his complete ignorance about yetis, sasquatches, and the like.
The filmmakers quickly lose interest in the travails of the earnest young geeks who discover the tracks, and focus their attention on the slightly more high-wattage Joe Dirt-on-a-budget hillbilly shenanigans of Long and his sidekick, only to lose interest in them just as quickly. The film then shifts focus seemingly at random, while still finding time to attend to a subplot involving a love triangle between the two geeks who discover the tracks, and an equally awkward girl who works at a video store and has her jaw wired shut as a weight-loss measure.
As you might imagine, The Sasquatch Gang is all over the place. The narrative is so rambling and digressive, and the stakes so perversely low, that The Sasquatch Gang barely feels like a movie. Like Napoleon Dynamite and Jared and Jerusha Hess’ other films, this is amateur hour all the way. The film’s homemade quality cuts both ways; there are nice, personal little moments of understated humor throughout, but it’s necessary to power past a dire first half hour before the film even approaches affable mediocrity. I expect so much more from the film’s unlikely producer, Kevin Spacey. You’d figure the star of K-Pax and The Life Of David Gale would have better judgment than to get involved with a dodgy-sounding project of questionable taste and quality.
Just how bad is it? If you’re willing to wait out an awful first act, strangely charming and incompetent in equal measures.