Cinema Verite (2011) [TV]

May 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

James Gandolfini and Diane Lane in 'Cinema Verite'

Written by David Seltzer

Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

Starring Diane Lane, Tim Robbins and James Gandolfini

Cinema Verite taps into the joy, angst, paranoia and ego stroking of reality television, the phenomenon of becoming a celebrity, ne’ a star, for no reason other than being yourself on the larger than life stage of a television screen through well edited footage to develop a linear plot in between all the minutes in our life that we do nothing of much importance or interest. In particular, Cinema Verite re-examines the first reality television stars ever. A 10-part mini series that documents the day to day lives of a seemingly average, upper class family living in Santa Barbara, California named the Louds, over a 7 month period in 1971, 20 years before The Real World and a quarter century before the explosion of reality television as an industry.

The film ostensibly stars Diane Lane as the matriarch of the family, Patricia Loud, a woman too old to be a hippy, too young to not be progressive and self-reliant in a post-women’s lib era. As Pat Loud, Diane Lane is amazing. Her skin is leathery taught with an orange glow, the kind you get from over exposure to sun in the days before sun lotion. She’s powerful, sexy, self-confident but also with a quiet pain just below the surface. What’s interesting is that we’re watching Diane Lane in a magnificent performance as a real woman who said and did these real things, imperfect as they were, raw as they were, but even so, somehow extremely interesting. That’s the most amazing part about Cinema Verite and the post-reality television explosion- with enough footage and the right editor, anybody can be interesting and worthy of their own television series!

Lane is supported by a wonderful cast, lead by James Gandolfini as Craig Gilbert, the executive producer of the mini-series and a kindred spirit of Lane’s character. He has a quietly pained, all knowing persona where he isn’t letting on to everything he sees and understands- or desires. His goal in the project and his moral compass is sometimes put into question, though he never seems unreasonable. They forge an easy friendship but an awkward relationship as he fights to keep the relationship professional. The rest of the cast is just a strong, though most of the kids are short shifted by the script. The only one who gets significant screen time and character development is the eldest son, Lance, played by Thomas Dekker in a scene stealing performance as a flamboyant 20-something with an ambiguous, fluid sexuality and a flare for the dramatic.

The film shows us brief glimpses of footage of the real family as a segue between acts of the story as we watch an already precariously functioning family disintegrate between the boorish, insincere and limelight loving husband Bill Loud (played with a perfect mixture of desperation, mystique and insincerity by Tim Robbins) and the born star wife who’s strength is in her attitude towards the camera which ranges from indifferent to combative. The brilliance and the meta-aspect of a film like Cinema Verite is in the tragedy of the outcome- the ending of a marriage and the splitting up of a large, previously loving family. Was it the documentary that caused the destruction or was it inevitable? It’s unclear. Then to watch the family going through the motions of a marriage ending, seeing actors act them out as real people who we had the privilege of witnessing as a public, mass audience, hearing and seeing things that we ourselves have gone through in the privacy of our own homes. It’s quite a complex, multi-layered experience.

If the film has a fault, its in the conceit of condensing a 10-hour miniseries plus behind the scenes action that was originally culled from hundreds of hours of footage down into a 90 minute scripted drama. The deceit of this conceit is all too prevalent, leading us to wonder what was left on the cutting room floor and what was editorialized about Cinema Verite.


Welcome to the Rileys (2010)

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart in 'Welcome to the Rileys'

Written by Ken Hixon

Directed by Jake Scott

Starring James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo

Gandolfini is a grieving father who lost a child a few years prior and has been going through life aimlessly in a listless marriage, hitting notes at bare-minimum as a husband, friend and neighbor, while wallowing silently in his own misery, carrying on an affair and chain smoking his way silently through life. Melissa Leo, as his wife, is helpless. She talks to friends (like Ally Sheedy in what essentially amounts to a cameo) but is also helpless. Gandolfini goes to New Orleans on a business trip and meets Stewart’s Mallory by happenstance. They take an awkward shining to each other and strike up an innocent friendship. This awakens Gandolfini’s character and this previously lethargic film from a depressed slumber.

Welcome to the Rileys sparkles once Stewart’s character enters the story. She’s very naturalistic, energetic and mesmerizing in the best performance of her career. She’s foul mouthed but sweet natured Mallory, a wayward teen stripper. Gandolfini’s character is drawn to her immediately in a paternal capacity upon their crossing paths. He was once a father and sees the opportunity arise once more and reinvents himself in N.O. as Stewart’s surrogate guardian/mentor, living with Mallory and trying to provide some much needed stability, an effort which Mallory neither fights or encourages. Melissa Leo, distraught and unwilling to lose her family, soon follows, despite an overwhelming case of agoraphobia. The rest of the film is about Gandolfini and Leo coming to terms with where their relationship has gone in the wake of their own daughter’s passing and what Stewart’s presence in their lives means for the future.

It gets a bit saccharine and self-consciously gritty at points, but Gandolfini and Stewart’s characters are believable enough that they propel the film along enjoyably with some humor injected in their performances. It’s like a more innocent, straight-forward version of the Jodie Foster-Robert DeNiro relationship in Taxi Driver.

The ending isn’t particularly amazing and the story isn’t very original, but the beats and the performances elevate the material substantially. Stewart steals the show, Gandolfini does his character justice, Melissa Leo is alright, but nothing special and the story is engaging but not particularly memorable.

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