By: Scott Weinberg, reprinted from the Sundance Film Festival, 1/21/09
I'd heard a few unpleasant rumblings regarding the Sundance title Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, in addition to numerous opinions on how the source material (a collection of stories by the late David Foster Wallace) had been labeled more or less "unfilmable." But that's pretty much the same stuff I heard about a Sundance title from last year called Choke ... and I ended up really liking that flick. Plus, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men marks the directorial debut of the very likable John Krasinski (yep, good ol' lovable Jim from The Office), AND it boasts a very colorful cast, a scant running time, and a premise that sounds pretty interesting.
But ... unfortunately I'm going to side with the "unfilmable" naysayers this time out, because, despite a few (early) sections that deliver some chuckles alongside some slight-yet-interesting insights into the male psyche, much of Mr. Krasinski's first feature is an aimless, pretentious mess. Well-intentioned? Sure. Intermittently entertaining? I suppose. But a full-bore movie movie? I'd say no.
The title is pretty accurate: Our lead character is a lovely graduate student played by the lovely Julianne Nicholson, and it's her goal to delve deep into the male personality ... exactly WHY we're not entirely sure, and as the interviews progress, a viewer would be hard-pressed to see the value in these self-serving diatribes. The movie wants to be some sort of Vagina Monologues for Males (the Penis Debates?), but aside from the few interviews that are played for laughs, the material is considerably more grating than it is insightful.
The end result is a movie that makes no clear points (but throws out hundreds of spacey platitudes), has no discernible plot to speak of, and lacks any characters who might prove to be an entry point for the audience. It really IS just a bunch of (mostly dull) interviews with (mostly obnoxious) men, and while some of them are pretty darn amusing (sitcom star Joey Slotnick has a great scene), the large majority are all but dripping in smug and self-important wankery. I'm sure Krasinski had some great ideas and intentions, and one feels like a heel for knocking a nice guy's passion project, but it seems like this material would stymie even a veteran film director. Maybe Robert Altman could pull this one off, but at this point I wouldn't be all that interested to find out. (Also, unfortunately, Robert Altman is deceased.)
One is tempted to pick through the pretense and find a few components worth praising, but really, even the always-reliable Julianne Nicholson seems to be confused by the proceedings. And while you'll certainly be treated to a big batch of likable, familiar faces (like Bobby Cannavale, Timothy Hutton, Rashida Jones, Will Arnett, Josh Charles and Mr. Krasinski among them), none of the performers are able to defeat the stiff, stagy, and episodic nature of the material. Some movies feel like stage plays. This one feels like 25 very brief stage plays jammed together -- maybe five of which are worth sitting through.