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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Julianne Nicholson tells Timothy Hutton about the hideous men.
Sometimes a person who is talented in one area tries to break into another area, only to find far less success. A good example of this is John Krasinski, who plays my favorite character on my favorite TV show, "The Office," and has also done terrific acting work in movies as wide ranging as Leatherheads and Away We Go. There's no doubt the guy has talent and on-screen charisma. Krasinski used his "Office" clout to buy the rights to adapt/direct a film version of the late David Foster Wallace's short story collection "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men." I haven't read Wallace's book, but I've only ever heard raves about how smart and insightful it is. This being the case, the only conclusion to be drawn is that Krasinski (as much as I like him) screwed the project up, because this is a painfully pretentious and shallow film that really didn't tell me anything about hideous men that I didn't already know.

There's not exactly a story here, just a scenario. Julianne Nicholson (giving a thoroughly somnambulant performance) plays Sara Quinn, a grad student who, as part of her dissertation, interviews various men about their "issues." Actors such as Christopher Meloni, Josh Charles, Will Forte, and even Death Cab for Cutie front man Benjamin Gibbard play the interview subjects, who all too happily confess their bad behavior to Sara. Of course, the most hideous man of all is the boyfriend who dumped her (played by Krasinski) in what has to be the most over-written, needlessly verbose kiss-off in screen history. Dude, if you're dumping her, why all the big words?

The troubles these men have are pretty predictable: inability to commit, obsession with sex, etc. Since none of the actors get much screen time, they generally try to give us oversized characters to make up for the lack of exposure. It wouldn't be fair to call it overacting, but you definitely sense a lot of good people struggling real hard to make an impression before they're shuffled off to Buffalo.

Only one segment really works. Frankie Faison ("The Wire") plays a man struggling to find respect for his father - a man who spent his whole life working as a men's room attendant. The long scene takes place in the bathroom of a swanky hotel, with Faison facing off against the younger image of his dad. The two trade lines, the son talking about how demeaning the job is while the father counters by explaining the pride he took in a job well done. Unlike the other segments, this one feels real and it gets at an emotional truth rather than just pretending to.

Yes, that is my objection to Brief Interviews With Hideous Men: it puts on as though it is deep when, in fact, there's surprisingly little under the surface. Krasinski has obviously seen a lot of art films. He gives his movie an annoyingly fractured pace and has the cast mope around a lot. There are lots of shots in which the actors give deep, penetrating looks to each other, or simply to the space in front of them. People say things in very academic language rather than talking the way real people talk. However, we don't really get to know any of these men (save for Faison), and we certainly don't know Sara. When most of the characters are enigmas, what's to make us care about them? Their sheer hideousness is not enough.

Could Krasinski write and direct something better some day? Perhaps. But for now, he's unfortunately off to a bad start. David Foster Wallace was a widely acclaimed writer whose work touched a lot of people. If you're going to adapt him, you'd better be as good at screenwriting and directing as he was at penning stories. That was Krasinski's first, and biggest, mistake.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is available via IFC on Demand through Dec. 12.

( 1/2 out of four)

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is unrated R but contains sexuality and adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 18 minutes.

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