leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Most people tackle their traumas through therapy, but in Greg Pritikin's quirky tale of coming-of-age in soulless suburbia, maladjusted Steven (Adrien Brody) gives voice to his discontents through a ventriloquist's dummy. Steven's 10-year high school reunion is coming up, but he still lives at home with his squabbling parents (Jessica Walter, Ron Liebman) and older sister, Heidi (Illeana Douglas), whose youthful dreams of singing professionally have curdled into low-level depression. Steven's only friend is fellow high-school outcast Fangora (Milla Jovovich), whose dreams of punk-rock fame in New York City are stalled at mimicking Patti Smith's moves in her mother's basement, and he's fired from his dead-end job as a low-level office drone. Broke, unemployed and miserable, Steven buys a creepy ventriloquist's dummy (is there any other kind?) and lets his every inner agony pour from its grinning mouth. Dragging the nameless dummy everywhere, Steven begins a painful transformation punctuated by mishaps and miscalculations that are nowhere near as funny as the filmmakers apparently intended. Goaded by Fangora and his splintered alter ego, Steven actually manages to persuade pretty unemployment counselor Lorena (Vera Farmiga) to have coffee with him, though they must first get past the inconvenient matter of her restraining order against him. Fangora may be a girl, but her advice to spray paint a billet-doux on Lorena's door was way off the mark. And a word to aspiring Don Juans classy chicks may dig classical music, but martial-march king John Philip Sousa is no substitute for Al Green. Just as this offbeat item is wearing out its angst-oozing welcome, Pritikin pulls everything together in a surprisingly satisfying wedding sequence that ties up everything from Heidi's buried aspirations to Fangora's nutty determination and Steven's triumph over pathetic dweebiness. Yes, the running gag about Fangora's band learning klezmer music so they can score their first gig at the big fat Jewish wedding Heidi is orchestrating is tiresome, but the payoff is sweetly gratifying... in an odd kind of way. And that sums up the film overall: It's repetitive and obvious but somehow endearing, like a truly ugly dog with sweet eyes. Brody's carefully calibrated performance (which predates his breakthrough in THE PIANIST, though this film opened subsequently) deserves much of the credit, with Douglas and Farmiga supplying excellent support.