May 14, 2004 - by Foxsong
Moving, sweet, and deeply human
Of course I went into the premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival hoping to like it. Still, I'm not sure I would have liked anything on the screen just because it was David's; I have a highly-developed sense of being able to cringe in empathetic embarrassment when someone I like royally screws something up. So while I wanted to like what I saw, I also prayed I wouldn't have to cringe anywhere along the line.
I needn't have worried. It's a lovely piece of work. It's just sweet enough to grab at your heart; it's just gritty enough to have its feet firmly on the ground. The writing is 'lean' in the best sense of the word: there is not an ounce of fluff on it; nothing gratuitous that was tossed in for the easy laugh or for the cheap pathos of the moment. Every word in the script, every shot in every scene, earned the right to be there.
What I loved about David's writing in his two X-F eps, I loved here too. It's character-driven, not plot-driven; so while he definitely has an idea of the story arc, rather than having a sense that he molded the characters' actions to fit the plotline, you feel he presented these characters with this situation and let them tell him how they handled it. Because of this, you don't see actors reading lines -- you see living, breathing people, having lives. In many films you can spot one or two actors who achieve this through their own talents, but when it's everybody in the production, you have to assume it was the writing and direction that gave them their wings.
These people must have loved working for him. He has said that he didn't really have a hard idea of how the lines were supposed to read or how the scenes were supposed to be played; he just wrote down the words and let the actors take them. And he was smart enough to assemble a group of actors who could not just take them but could run with them. If Anton Yelchin in particular is not considered for some awards for this performance, it will be very surprising indeed.
The camera work and editing are marvelous. Again, he was smart enough to hire very good people, but we saw the evidence of his good eye in those two X-F eps, and it's a cinch he didn't have to hire those people to make up for anything he was lacking. Right from the get-go, the visuals of the opening scenes are so engaging, and it stays that good throughout. Like the writing, the cinematography and production are very purposefully done, and all work toward achieving a particular effect.
So, okay. It wasn't as good as I hoped it would be... it was better. :-)