MFF Preview

Lovely, Still

By - Oct 1st, 2009 10:05 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

Lovely, Still

Lovely, Still
USA, 2008, 90 min, English
Saturday, Oct. 3, 7 pm, North Shore Cinema
Sunday, Oct. 4, 1:15 pm, Oriental Theatre

In its heartwrenching reality as well as its surreal fantasy portrayal, Lovely, Still works on a lot of levels. On one hand, it works as a near-textbook transference of the “puppy-love” concept normally reserved for the youth-obsessed demographic. Conversely, it is also a study in the end-of-life issues that ultimately nearly all people face who live to experience old age.

Martin Landau, whose resume may be limited only to his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood in the mind of the postmodern filmgoer, fits with ease into his role as Robert Malone. A beguiled and ultimately timeless figure whose grandfather-like presence serves as an anchoring point for the film, Robert stumbles with an endearing innocence through the first two scenes. It is through his eyes that we see the majority of the story unfold, however reliable his perspective may or may not be.

We come upon Robert as he is toiling away at a menial job at a local store. His existence is seemingly innocuous – a permanent bachelor of considerable age in a nearly unrelatable culture more suited for someone half his age. He comes home from work to find his front door open and an equally elderly woman named Mary in his living room. It is in their initial awkward exchange that Robert first sees what seems to have been missing all along, in his mind – a potential whirlwind romance with a woman he finds completely captivating.

The film is set against the backdrop of the Christmas season, an obvious time of both death and renewal. In the twilight of their characters’ lives, Robert and Mary (Ellen Burstyn) both shine in their childlike discovery of meeting someone new. There is a clear familiarity between them: Robert, at one point, mentions that he feels like he has known Mary for years. The middle of the film moves back and forth through dream-like montages involving nothing more than symphonic music and wistful looks into the distance. Mary and Robert go sledding while a remorseful rendition of “Ave Maria” plays in the background. Robert goes shopping for a Christmas gift with the giddy enthusiasm of a pubescent schoolchild while “Jingle Bells” rings saccharine-sweet. It is in this portion of the film that we gain a sense of Robert’s true frailty and possible disconnect from reality – cutaways involving compulsive phone-dialing and the daily ring of the alarm clock are well-supplemented with bouts of psychedelic red and blue flashes that vaguely resemble synaptic diagrams in a neurology textbook.

But the story shifts to lighter moments as well. Mike, a character originally perceived to be Robert’s boss at the store, is a constant comedic foil through the film. His slightly askew take on modern selling and people-pleasing runs directly counter to Robert’s new-found innocence. Additionally, Mary’s daughter is ably played by the always-bankable Elizabeth Banks. Her portrayal of the perpetually worried daughter of an aging widow is at once brief and enthralling.

If there is any clear flaw within the film itself, it is the overuse of some simple Hollywood cliches: Christmas lights that illuminate at just the right moment; snowfalls that conveniently wax rhapsodic with their breadth and angle; and, the aforementioned “heart-string-tugging” of a score heavily laced with strings. These elements, combined with a slight overstating of Robert’s naivety, serve to make the overall experience a suitable stage to be set for the film’s conclusion.

The third act of the film is obviously its most poignant. The disconnected dream sequences of the previous act are supplanted with more direct and confusing images and situations. Robert’s increased vulnerability is apparent in these scenes, with dramatic shifts in music and camera cuts that more closely mirror Burstyn’s earlier work in 2000’s Requiem for a Dream.

It is difficult to discern if, after the film’s disturbing turn of events in the final 30 minutes, what the viewer has witnessed is a reliable depiction of events. One can only imagine that it is a well-crafted blend of fantasy and reality, memory and delusion. In his debut as both a writer and director, 24-year-old Nicholas Fackler seamlessly blurs those lines between perception and reality that make a film like this one worth seeing again and again.

What did you think about Landau’s performance?  Did you get to meet him while he was in town?

Categories: Arts & Culture, Movies

0 thoughts on “MFF Preview: Lovely, Still”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I found this film to be a transcendent experience that has kept me thinking for over a week.
    I thought Landau’s perfomance Oscar-worthy, as well as Ellen Burstyn’s. I did, in fact meet Martin Landau at the Oriental and found him to be gracious and charming. He was kind enough to sign my copy of “North by Northwest,” an Alfred Hitchcock thriller that’s ranked among the best films of all time, by the AFI and by me.
    Nik Fackler’s movie is a revelation and deserves wide distribution. I implore anyone who has seen and been moved by it to write, call, anything to try and influence the powers that be to take a small risk on a distribution deal. This is a perfect family film for the holidays. How can it be ignored with such a cast???
    The themes and premises in this movie are subtle and the clues well developed, but there’s no “shocking ending.” No deep, dark secrets to anticipate that could potentially ruin the experience of seeing the world through Robert Malone’s eyes as they happen. Let the movie flow over and through you and you’ll be rewarded with powerful emotion.
    “Lovely, Still” can hardly be considered an “independent” or “arthouse” project, given the heavyweight talent in it. This movie has to get seen if talent means anything in this business!

    Scott

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *