The Brie Larson Project Part III – Digging for Reality

Posted: April 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

I am trying to build a narrative here, so if you’re waiting for my take on Trainwreck or Kong: Skull Island or something a little more mainstream, don’t worry. We’ll get there. If you really don’t care, then this is the column for you.

In 2015, Jake Johnson cashed in on his newfound “New Girl” fame and made Digging for Fire with Joe Swanberg, best known for… nothing. No, I’m kidding. Apparently, he’s known for little indie movies with a lot of improvisation, which includes this one. I assume that because no studio would make this movie. That does not necessarily mean it’s bad, and it does have a lot of famous people in it (including Larson, Anna Kendrick, and Sam Rockwell), but it’s just not something that a studio would care to make. And who could blame them?

Digging for Fire, as I wrote in my previous post last year, is about, “young parents Johnson and Rosemarie Dewitt who are hitting all kinds of ruts, financially, romantically and just in general feeling old and grumpy as they house-sit for a much-richer couple. She and their young son go to spend a weekend with her mother so they can have some Me time.” Yes, I quoted myself, because you probably didn’t click the link, right? Before I begin my rant, let it be known that the New York Post called it a “hilarious, existential treasure.”  You believe them, right?

Anyway, on to the Me-Time weekend; Johnson spends his partying and getting high with his buddies, while she spends it getting seduced by Orlando Bloom. There’s also a storyline that Johnson found an old gun and a human bone buried in the greenery on the property, and becomes convinced that there’s a whole body there somewhere. So he digs and digs (hence the title), which is the actual impetus for his wife to spend the weekend elsewhere. He also blows off his taxes to dig for a body that’s probably not there, which I guess is supposed to tell us something about obsession or whatever. All it really tells me is that Hollywood filmmakers don’t know much about how real people live. (More on that later.)

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Since this is supposed to be about Brie Larson, I should tell you that she plays “Max,” one of the young co-eds that Johnson’s Moloid friends invited over to trash this rich couple’s house. Since most of these guys are old college buddies but are older and married now, there are levels of partyers there, from the stereotypical jerk who never really stopped partying, to the other jerk who is a total stick-in-the-mud. Johnson is somewhere in-between, but his digging obsession kind of takes up most of his limited brainpower, anyway. Larson is the only one who sees the lure of finding a real, live dead body, and that draws them together a little. To the filmmaker’s credit, there is a story here. Apparently, because they are men, they had written in the story outline that Larson’s character flirts with Johnson and there’s a bit of intrigue regarding whether or not they will have sex with each other. Larson rightly pointed out to them that, according to a Vulture article, by way of this dude’s blog, “‘I would not be sexually attracted to a married man with a 5-year-old who’s digging in his backyard.’” But the mystery and sense of adventure bring her back the next day. She ends up going to dinner with Johnson, and they share some moments, which mostly consist of him complaining about how his life as a high school gym teacher wasn’t really what he had in mind when he was growing up (No duh!).  I think we’re also supposed to see that her young, fancy-free lifestyle is alluring to him because he’s so old and passed his prime, because he’s 37. I’m really giving this story too much credit by delving into it that deep, though. Basically, he whines and she listens, which is pretty much all he wants because his wife has probably heard it all already, and she’s got problems of her own.

Ah, yes, the wife. Sadly, since this was written by men, she sort of gets relegated to the B-storyline. While visiting her family, DeWitt (who played Midge Daniels on Mad Men, if you need a reference. I know I did.) decides to head out to a nice bar and enjoy some time by herself. Of course, she is accosted by a belligerent drunk, and rescued by a handsome stranger played by Orlando Bloom, because of course, right? A guy who looks like Orlando Bloom is a single man living in L.A. in 2015. And not a douche. Orlando gets punched for his troubles, and he and DeWitt end up hanging out some more because she feels bad for causing his handsome face to get pounded. They, in fact, share a very intimate walk on the beach, which I again covered last year in my previous post, and said, after that “even I wanted to jump him.”

In the end, DeWitt resists Bloom, and Johnson had no shot with Larson, anyway, and they return to each other with a renewed understanding of their relationship, and hopefully an interest in doing their taxes. Do I have to write any further about the on-the-nose casting of this movie? Brie Larson as the young girl that Johnson clearly wants to have sex with, Orlando Bloom as the handsome and extremely gentlemanly gent that DeWitt probably should have sex with, and Sam Rockwell as the obnoxious friend. I guess they wanted to show how strong-willed our protagonists were to be able to resist temptation, but let’s face it, who would have faulted DeWitt for cheating on her idiot husband with this beautiful man?

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Casting aside, I feel like this is the screenplay version of motel room art. It’s technically good, and the structure is fine, and if a lot of the dialogue was indeed improvised, good on them because that is pretty hard, but they should have just let Brie Larson handle the whole thing after her suggestion. It was good that they listened, but there’s still a little too much “man” stuff going on for it to work. I do get that married people, especially young parents, probably do face periods where things get rocky. And yes, no one wants to be a gym teacher. And yes, people do get tempted to take a walk on the wild side. All of that happens in here, and it’s very realistic. And yet, somehow I still don’t buy it.

One more quote from myself (You really might as well have just clicked the link): “because filmmakers are really doughy-eyed, Johnson and Dewitt resist all urges and realize that all they really want is each other, and to raise their child as they see fit and to Hell with the pressures of the world (Yay!)” It’s not that I didn’t buy that they were able to resist cheating and resist the lure of digging or whatever Johnson was doing, but I just really didn’t care all that much, and I almost wished they did cheat, just to give the story a little more teeth. Instead, we got this very happy little Raymond Carver story that wraps up all nice at the end.  I mean, they never even found a body buried in the ground. Nothing dramatic really happened, at all. I feel like if I had submitted this in some screenwriting workshop, that’s the feedback I would have gotten. And hopefully, that’s what they did get, because this totally seems like the kind of screenplay that someone would write for one of those horrible workshops.

This is what I was getting at earlier about filmmakers in Hollywood not knowing how real people live. Yes, all the things that happened in this movie can and do happen to people, but how the characters reacted wasn’t very believable, or even interesting. I’m not asking for a movie to reinvent the wheel, but I am looking for some reason to make the 90 minutes I just spent watching your movie seem worthwhile. Passion projects are great, and everyone should definitely get to see their dream movie get made, and that’s what most indie movies are. But if your dream movie doesn’t really have a lot to say other than, “Sometimes, love wins,” then maybe just jazz it up a bit to make it worth it.

So, unless you’re endeavoring to watch all of Brie Larson’s movies, you can definitely skip this one. But this same year would see the release of both Trainwreck and Room, so things were looking up for her, and those who follow her.

 

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