Friday, May 2, 2008

TriBeCa Diary #6: Bart Got A Room

I didn't come to TriBeCa to slag any movies, but I lost my patience with the contrived Bart Got a Room about 45 minutes in, and I just had to say something.

At first, it looked as if I'd like Brian Hecker's somewhat hateful new film. It opens to Danny Stein (Steven J. Kaplan) as he's playing in his school swing band for a smatterling of beach-tanned senior citizens. It's a promising opening, colored in Florida blues and yellows, and from this point on, the film does a fine job of creating a setting, with its constant intentionally-cliched flamingoes and soothing pastel shades. But when the plot kicks in--shy school acedemian can't find a date for the prom--the film takes a vacation from placement and character, choosing instead to run its sweet protagonist unpleasently through the wringer.

Lemme give you an example. With Danny's date options dwindling, his would-be playa dad (a good William H. Macy in a Jew fro fright wig) somehow at one point makes an desperate move to hire his son a streetwalker (and an unattractive one at that); this is so outlandish--no father would make this choice, even one as clueless as Macy's. And there's a scene where Danny is faced with having a conversation with his best friend, cute wallfower Alia Shawkat, or breaking away to go and meet the knockout he had a date with. After Danny fails to simply, politely break away from his friend and just tell his date he was there waiting for her---well, my patience for this character was spent. Danny just stands there stammering in impotent pain as the knockout walks away, pissed off. It was here that I completely wrote Bart's Got A Room off as an exercise in sadism.

Unfortunately, Danny is a passive character and it's difficult to make movies about this sort. In fact, it's almost never done, because the audience gets as impatient with them as I did. Bart Got a Room makes it extremely difficult to like any of the people in it, though you sense the movie achingly wants us to. What remains is the nagging notion that Hacker himself, as writer and director, doesn't care for his characters, either--almost every actor's assumed persona comes off badly (except for Shawkat's, who's written with dignity and decency).

Sorry, I hate being this mean towards any film, but its poorly-structured screenplay spends 90 of its minutes cutting poor Danny Stein to ribbons, and devotes two minutes to the story's payoff. By the time it comes, it's way too little, too late. It's like a Floridian Welcome to the Dollhouse (a movie I despise) and a Jewish John Hughes movie all rolled into one, and it comes off like weak borscht. No fault to its excellent cast (including Cheryl Hines, Dinah Manoff, and Jon Polito), but Bart Got A Room isn't comedy; it's abuse.

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