Review by Michael Edwards
IT’S becoming increasingly the norm that first-time directors create something that’s a quirky take on modern life. Whether it’s the influence of runaway success stories Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, or just the flavour of the day, studios can’t get enough of the strange world views of the new kids on the block.
Gigantic is the latest of the trend, bringing with it veteran oddball Paul Dano and eternal kook Zooey Deschanel to entice the loyal fans of this burgeoning genre.
The story follows the family life of mattress salesman Brian Weathersby (Dano) as he attempts to divine some sort of meaning from his strange and peripheral existence.
The youngest child of a family of five, he was born late to elderly parents who never really knew what to do with him. Apart from his strange colleagues and a scientist friend who mostly sits alone experimenting on mice and fantasising about his student assistant he hasn’t got much of a life, and is convinced that it will be more meaningful with a child. Specifically, with an adopted Chinese child which he will raise alone.
With the quirky set-up all in place, the story needs some impetus and that’s provided by by the appearance of rich art dealer Al Lolly (John Goodman) at the mattress store.
After blustering in full of brusque comments and home truths, he purchases the most expensive mattress in the store and announces that his assistant will return to pay. The next day his beautiful daughter ‘Happy’ (Deschanel) appears to do just that, but her airy, detached manner clicks with Brian and they begin to form a fragile but significant bond that will be explored throughout the film.
As the story progresses, the framework of relationships around Brian is explained through a series of occurrences that are remarkable at once for their insight and their oddness.
Fleeting moments see the insecurities and character flaws of Brian and Happy exposed and explained as they move closer to one another. Whether it’s by having sex in Al’s car or swimming naked in a university swimming pool, every scene is an exercise in intimacy and oddness.
The peak of this is perhaps a magic mushroom-fuelled hunting scene with the Weathersby family that ends with a shooting and some severe vomiting.
The atmosphere of strangeness is compounded by the presence of a hobo who, lurking around every corner, stalks and sporadically attacks Brian in scenes that awkwardly combine hilarious brawling with a painful struggle that somehow works fantastically well to enhance the picture of Brian’s constant battle with the world in which he is trying to carve a place for himself.
It’s an odd film, and one which plumbs depths much darker than many of its indie ilk, but suffers from occasionally feeling a little contrived. But on the whole it’s creative, absorbing and thoroughly bolstered by excellent performances from some superb acting talent.
Running time: 98mins
UK DVD Release: September 28, 2009