Bright Lights Film Journal

DIMINISHED CAPACITY: If the Quirks offend thee…

Put the blame on Mame, or Frank Capra, but I think we’re at a saturation point with “quirky” indie family comedies. Hopefully this weekend’s release of the tepidly reviewed “never should have escaped the Sundance” LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE-cum-DAN IN REAL LIFE style quirky family comedy “about heart, about growing up, and growing old…” Alan Alda-Matthew Broderick senile old bonding movie, DIMINISHED CAPACITY will mark the water line by which cliches meant to pacify the whole extended family, which have come pouring out of Sundance and IFC like an old lady’s tears, will now be done with. Presuming the poor film makes no money.

I don’t know, there’s a comedy in there somewhere, maybe in a really early draft of Sherwood Kiraly’s adaptation of his own novel. I mean, the pitch is great: a senile old man with a zest for zaniness heads to Chicago with assorted family members and a priceless old baseball card he wants to sell. The card is a great mcGuffin, as Broderick has to continually void all the bad deals the demented old man gets hoodwinked into (like entrusting Mister Magoo to shop your original Matisse around the upper east side). Along the misadventure-strewn way just about everything original has been sifted from this idea and discarded…as in, the girl who Broderick used to go out with (Virginia Madsen, quietly searching for someone to play off of) now has a kid (but is divorced) and the kid is a little league space cadet and it all comes down to him catching the card as it almost falls into a janitor’s pail of water… you get the idea. Luckily I was seeing this at the Sunshine in downtown NYC and so wasn’t the only one groaning as cliche after tired quirky indie cliche was upturned and exposed like so many bugs under rocks all scored to mopey tunes off Sufjan Stevens’ ILLINOIS album.

One stand-out is Dylan Baker as a card trader at the convention. Playing a very serious Cubs fan, Baker has a field day, lending a world-weary dignity to a guy who lives and dies by the repeated failures of his beloved ball team. Wisely realizing Baker is really on the ball, first-time director Terry Kinney lets all his scenes play longer than they need to, and for the time he’s on screen, it’s as if the clouds of stale cliche part and something real and tender and human comes out. You can see the assemblage of quirky actors–Broderick, Alda, Madsen–watching him from the other side of the collector’s card table in awe, wishing he’d come in earlier and set the mood. Before him, it’s almost like a trading card session between two Sundance workshop veterans: “I’ll trade you a quirky gag involving fish writing poetry for your learning to shake off self doubts and reach for that brass ring.”

(continued over on Acidemic – check out me trying to tie in ALIEN: RESURRECTION!)