Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Truck Stop

I am not fooling anyone with these short posts while I wade through an especially busy period at work. I will be more than happy to tell you how superficial and inanely directed An Education was and to offer some more CIFF reviews from my notes, especially of the jury's favorite film, Mississippi Damned. In the meantime, a brief missive to let you know disappointed I was a couple of weeks ago to miss James Mottern's Trucker during its one-week run at Facets in Chicago, only to elatedly discover that it resurfaced for one more week-long run at the darling, 80-year-old Wilmette Theatre. I popped in tonight for a look at Michelle Monaghan's buzzy performance, currently on the receiving end of one of those personal-mission PR campaigns that Roger Ebert devises for himself every year or two.

I haven't done this for three years, but I walked out. I have certainly seen many worse movies in that time period than Trucker; for me to exit the theater early, either the print has to burn in the projector or my indifference to the movie has to be compounded by a huge tidal wave of anxious guilt over everything else I need to be doing. That's certainly what happened to me at Trucker, but I must say that Monaghan's utter failure to say "Man!" or "Dude!" in any remotely convincing way didn't help (and the script forces her through it incessantly). Nor did the cruddy, unprofessional, aggressively off-putting look of the film, even when one allows for the limited budget. Plus, when I scooted, at around the 40-minute mark, Monaghan was about to Bond With Her Child, after a narratively slapdash series of circumstances lands him back in her lap after ten years or so. We were about to hit the compulsory juncture where she Sticks Up For Him against some arbitrary foe, even though They Don't Really Like Each Other Yet. I am happy to grant that things might not unfold exactly as one expects over the rest of Trucker, but even half of what I expected would have been too much on this particular evening. Just now, I don't want to see any kid pouting in any car with any hard-living adult unless the (putative) adult is Tilda Swinton and they're about to crash the sedan through the corrugated tin "wall" between the U.S. and Mexico. You know what I mean.

I do feel confident, though, reporting to all you Oscar-hawks that I can't imagine us needing to worry about Monaghan. Clearly, lots of people are more taken with her work than I was (conceding that I still have half the movie to watch), but you only get nommed for stuff like this if the movie carries a real ring of hard-luck authenticity à la Melissa Leo, or if the scale of self-transformation, cosmetically and career-wise, is as galvanizing as it was for Charlize Theron and Sally Field. Monaghan isn't a big enough Name, and the performance isn't different enough from stuff you've seen dozens of times before, for her to generate nearly enough traction. No matter how many slings and arrows get shot at Amelia, Swank would be in before Monaghan would be... and surely among Cornish, Mirren, Wright Penn, and Cotillard, we've got other ways to fill out the category without either of them factoring in.

Assuming, of course, that Meryl Streep, Gabourey Sidibe, and Carey Mulligan are already in. Which I'll have more to say about in due time. But I'll go out on one more limb, since why not? My personal feelings about the performances aside (as much as that's possible), and having now seen that full trio of front-runners, I think Sidibe will win, especially if she keeps doing the kind of press that reveals how much acting she was doing as Precious. Streep's still a threat, and I suppose Mulligan is, too, but it's not quite the performance I was expecting—in terms of what it is, not how good it is—and I can't quite see Oscar voters carrying her to the top of the heap.

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Blogger Guy Lodge said...

Monaghan looked so inauthentic and self-conscious in the trailer that I simply couldn't imagine the performance making more sense viewed in full -- there isn't enough time in the world to make me watch this.

I'm beginning to have exactly the same suspicions about the Best Actress race, though I must admit the thought of a Sidibe win makes me extremely unhappy.

3:34 AM, October 28, 2009  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

I can't say Im surprised about Monaghan. The film only just managed to get rescued from a straight-to-DVD release. Kind of pleased about that because it looked baity in the least appealing way possible.

I've only seen Streep of the assumed big three (Mulligan on Friday) but it does seem as if people are already content to crown Mulligan. Never seen somebody unknown generate so many followers off-the-bat. Do you mean that her performance is less showy and explosive than you were expecting?

It would surprise me if Sidibe won, especially since Mo'Nique is looking so strong. It could go to Streep after all (didn't love her but that onion scene had me in stitches) and it's hard to see anyone beyond there (Swank, Mirren, Cotillard) doing enough since they've all won very recently.

7:37 AM, October 28, 2009  
Blogger adelutza said...

I actually sat through all of Trucker, continuously doubting my film taste and knowledge of what a good performance is . I couldn't believe that what I was seeing generated those raves from Roger Ebert ; or if it was indeed such a good film, why, of why did I think it's a completely waste of my time?
So, Nick, I'm really glad I read this post :-)

1:43 PM, October 28, 2009  
Anonymous Robert Hamer said...

This is a damn funny review. For some reason capitalizing clichés (Bond With Her Child, Very Important Subject, etc.) cracks me up every time. Can't say I'm surprised, though. The hammy trailer told me everything I needed to know about the film.

But I don't think it's fair to compare Michelle Monaghan and Trucker to Julia. Tilda Swinton can make ANY movie and ANY role awesome.

2:12 PM, October 28, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@All: Well, I never even saw the trailer, so I had nothing to go on except the Ebert review and the fact that Nathaniel at the Film Experience had moved her into his second tier of possibilities for Best Actress. Had no idea what was coming.

@Adelutza: This is an incredibly reaffirming note. I'm so glad to hear this from you! There's a more evolved part of my brain that wants to be wrong, since one wishes all movies to be as good as they possibly could be (except the Matrix sequels, which made me ecstatic with how obviously dreadful they were). But I cannot lie: I'm glad there wasn't a better movie about to start happening, and I'm glad to hear from a like mind. I had exactly the same experience of, "Wait, this movie? This performance? Four stars?" And I usually like Monaghan just fine.

1:19 AM, October 29, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

Considering this movie will barely make $50,000 at the box office (yes, fifty thousand) I think it's very safe to say that a) Monaghan won't be nominated and b) Ebert is going even more senile.

5:29 AM, October 29, 2009  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

how quickly things change. I guess there's a reason that campaign hasn't sparked yet.

2:06 PM, October 29, 2009  
Blogger Goran said...

Nick, I'd be curious to hear some more of your thoughts on Education. It sounds like you had a similar response to me.

Also, if you get the chance, I'd love it if you could elaborate on that D for Disgrace. I found it a thoroughly mediocre adaptation of an excellent novel, but a D? That's pretty violent (not necessarily too violent, only curiously violent).

8:00 PM, October 29, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

This was like the shortest Oscar campaign in history right?

2:30 AM, October 30, 2009  
Anonymous Jim T said...

I think the shortest Oscar campaign was for Sienna Miller in Factory Girl. Anyway, I'm glad Monaghan's chances are not looking good. Not because I'm a bad person but because there are other actresses I'd rather see nominated.

From what I read, Nick likes Mulligan's performance despite not liking the film so perhaps this new star gets one of the biggest number of positive notices in the dacade.

7:30 AM, October 30, 2009  
Anonymous Jilda said...

Trucker has a top notch Awards Consultant in Cynthia Swartz behind it but the distributor is extremely cheap and refuses to send out DVDs. So, there really isn't a campaign at all.

11:57 AM, October 31, 2009  
Blogger Bill C said...

@Jilda: Are you sure about that? I got an awards screener for TRUCKER, and I'm pretty far down the totem pole.

2:35 PM, October 31, 2009  
Anonymous Jilda said...

Really? I'm not exactly high either. But I know people that should be getting one and don't have it. I was told that it was because of the fact that they weren't shipping them out. Maybe they were wrong. Maybe I should check out if they got it now. I'd feel embarassed if they do. haha

7:19 PM, October 31, 2009  

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