Lovely, Still,

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

Robert’s man­ager, Mike (Adam Scott of Party Down), is a jerk rem­i­nis­cent of David Brent or Michael Scott — the bosses in BBC’s and NBC’s The Of­fice, re­spec­tively. He at­tempts to get Robert in­volved in a pyra­mid scheme to sell Christ­mas cook­books but seems to have real af­fec­tion for his el­derly em­ployee; he even of­fers him a ride home. Robert de­clines in fa­vor of walk­ing. His take on other peo­ple is si­mul­ta­ne­ously pas­sive and cu­ri­ous, as if he’s not en­tirely sure he should be­lieve what he hears — or he has stopped lis­ten­ing. Has he seen so much in his life­time that ev­ery­thing now is just noise?

The movie’s tone al­ter­nates be­tween sur­real, darkly comic, and bleak un­til Robert meets Mary (the stun­ning, in­com­pa­ra­ble Ellen Burstyn), the woman who has moved in across the street with her adult daugh­ter, Alex (El­iz­a­beth Banks). Robert and Mary be­gin spend­ing time to­gether, to Alex’s con­cern. Landau and Burstyn play their parts as two starry-eyed ado­les­cents in the throes of first love. They fall hard and fast for each other in just a few days.

The shadow of some­thing large and likely sin­is­ter hov­ers over

each frame of this film

Some of these scenes border on sac­cha­rine, but Fack­ler has this well un­der con­trol. Just as the film flirts with set­tling for hap­pi­ness, the tone shifts, fun­house style, and fairly begs the ques­tion of just what is go­ing on here. Is Mary un­hinged in her will­ing­ness to fall in­stantly in love with this sad old man? Is she on some kind of med­i­ca­tion? What is it about her that en­er­gizes Robert and gives him the gait of a man half his age? When out of each other’s pres­ence, each ap­pears racked with self-doubt. Robert ob­sesses over his tele­phone, check­ing the dial tone and will­ing her to call. With­out her, he’s lost, worse off than when we met, him be­cause now he is desperately in love.

At first the rips are small. A know­ing glance here, a yel­low Post-it there. A sense that some­thing bad is about to hap­pen. The rips be­come tears. The gun in­tro­duced in the first act goes off in the third, and when the movie comes apart at its seams, there is a moment of be­trayal for the viewer who has been tricked, even cru­elly de­ceived. But for­give­ness is swift be­cause there’s no un­learn­ing the truth.

Con­sider that re­al­ity is rel­a­tive. How one per­son per­ceives the world is not how an­other per­ceives the world, even though both per­cep­tions might be cor­rect. And no two peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence an event, a re­la­tion­ship, or even a pass­ing emo­tion in ex­actly the same way.

All of the ac­tors in Lovely, Still are ex­cel­lent. Scott’s per­for­mance in par­tic­u­lar is in­cred­i­bly nu­anced. The tal­ented Banks at first feels un­der­used, but in hind­sight her cast­ing ap­pears in­ge­niously sub­ver­sive. Burstyn and Landau act over any lin­ger­ing holes in the logic of the film. Is the struc­ture ul­ti­mately lit­eral or meta­phoric? For some, the two must re­main in­ex­tri­ca­ble.

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