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It's a title and plot with promise -- a thief who touches the lives of the people she steals from ... a philanthropic kleptomaniac. From the plot summaries and positive buzz to the name itself -- The Pleasure of Being Robbed -- Joshua Safdie's debut feature suggests a delightful departure from cliches, a venture that's particularly desirable this week as the overwhelmingly cliched Valentine's Day hits theaters. This indie hints at happiness in thievery, how the act of taking someone's possessions can give them something back, and fulfill them in a way their things could not.
From a whimsical look into robbery to a comedic take on consumerism, there's a lot of could-be's for Robbed, but the reality is nothing more than a grating mess that avoids the possibilities of its plot.
The Pleasure of Being Robbed follows Eleonore (Eleonore Hendricks) as she flits around Manhattan trying to keep herself entertained through thievery. At first, there seems to be more to the act than simply victimizing innocent people. She calls random names to a woman until one works, running over as if she is an old and beloved friend, hugging, chatting, and then tugging the bag from the woman's arm before walking away with it. But this is the only time she gives whilst stealing.
Whether its taking the time of a table tennis tutor and repeatedly laughing at and mocking him, or unknowingly stealing a dog and just pushing it out her door without a second glance, Eleonore is only concerned with her own amusement and curiosity. She takes things, uses what appeals to her, and tosses the rest, whether it be animals, things, credit cards, or cars. A thieving sociopath, she's unphased when a grocery store owner calls her out for eating grapes, or when a woman catches Eleonore rifling through her bag.
She doesn't touch anyone's lives. In fact, she doesn't even really touch her own. There's no real emotion to Eleonore -- no reason for her sociopathic behavior, no rationale, no goal nor purpose. The impact on her victims is unknown; they're gone almost as soon as they arrive on the screen.
The only emotional punch comes from filmmaker Josh Safdie himself, as he plays "Josh," a friend who runs into Eleonore as she tries to find the car that belongs to keys she has stolen. He doesn't question her actions, or give any reason for them. He just helps her and then gives Eleonore her first driving lesson all the way to his apartment in Boston. But in small moments he wants to be near her, and seems to be enamored by her indifference.
But even that indifference is flawed. At times, she reacts with emotion, and seems to be completely mentally balanced before going off and stealing something else or following her blank whims without rhyme or reason. You might wonder where the fuzz is, and the police do, finally, appear -- but to little affect. They're ineffectual and easily manipulated, all of which just leads to a strange and ill-placed fantasy sequence nestled before the film's vague conclusion.
In a film like Happy Go Lucky, the seemingly grating mirth has purpose, which unfolds to reveal true character depth and charm. There's a lot more to Poppy than just annoying a book store clerk in a bad mood. But with The Pleasure of Being Robbed, there's no pleasure to gain from the film, no insight, no curiosity -- only Eleonore's pleasure at stealing 80 minutes of our time.
Get ready for polar opposites! The positive reviews are topped by Spout's David Lowery, who showered heaps of praise upon the film, stating: "the best compliment I can pay Safdie is that his work makes film better." The flip side is lead by Nick Schager who wrote for Slant: "If The Pleasure of Being Robbed is the future of American independent film, than perhaps consideration should be given to blowing the whole thing up."
The film earned a 20% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of 10 reviews.
Joshua Safdie is currently brewing buzz again for his Sundance film Daddy Longlegs, which averaged a B+ on indieWIRE's Sundance review roundup.
Eleonore Hendricks co-created the film with Safdie, and has appeared in a handful of films including the Carter Smith short Bugcrush. (Bugcrush is the film that led Jennifer Venditti to discover Billy Prince, the focus of her documentary Billy the Kid.)
The DVD includes Safdig's short We're Going to the Zoo, some super-short gag clips, and a "commentary" which is a musical track set to the film (which might be more rewarding than watching with the dialogue).
Verdict: Skip it unless you've got a lot of patience fueling your curiosity.
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