Review: Manglehorn

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DIR/WRI: David Gordon Green • WRI: Paul Logan • PRO: Molly Conners, David Gordon Green, Derrick Tseng • DOP: Tim Orr • ED: Colin Patton • DES: Richard A. Wright • MUS: Explosions in the Sky, David Wingo • CAST: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Chris Messina, Harmony Korine

 

After a largely unsuccessful foray into broad comedy that brought us turkeys like The Sitter and Your Highness, director David Gordon Green has firmly established his return to low-key, naturalistic character studies with the Al Pacino starring Manglehorn. Following on from Prince Avalanche and Joe, Green’s latest chronicles the day to day shuffling’s of Pacino’s aging locksmith, A.J. Manglehorn. Paul Logan’s script reads like a build your own melancholy indie drama instruction manual, equipping our protagonist with your run of the mill disappointed offspring (Chris Messina), a quirky age-inappropriate romantic interest (Holly Hunter) and of course, a sickly pet; a cat named Fanny. Manglehorn flits between these three scenarios, attempting to make paternal inroads with his successful but estranged financial wizard of a son in between weekly and flirtatious trips to see his favourite bank teller, played with an earnest charm by Hunter and a constant struggle to get his ill feline to eat her food.

Gordon Green’s past work in this manner has always succeeded by evoking a strong sense of place and Manglehorn doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The locksmith’s shop feels wonderfully lived in as does the small Texan town where it’s located. The George Washington director’s films often take time out for characters with no relation to the central plot or its characters, giving them a moment to themselves before returning back to the business of the story. Manglehorn boasts one such scene, a beautifully spontaneous gospel duet between one of Hunter’s fellow bank tellers and her loving husband. Details like this, memorable characters and the brash colourful daytime palate of Manglehorn’s quiet but living locale contrast with a much less welcoming washed out nightlife of EDM-throbbing clubs and seedy casinos. It’s here that we’re introduced to cult director and sometimes actor Harmony Korine’s Gary, a massage club proprietor who gabbles endlessly about his ill-conceived entrepreneurial endeavours and constantly refers to Pacino as “coach”, a throwback to when the locksmith took charge of the local schools baseball team. Korine’s turn is at once compelling and hugely irritating, representing as he does the rotting heart at the centre of this Texan backwater, though every second he spends onscreen he threatens to derail the film entirely. He functions as the opposite to Hunter’s well-meaning and thoroughly optimistic Dawn who exists to drag Manglehorn up by his bootstraps and out of his fugue state into a better life. Unfortunately their story never quite takes off, their friendly exchanges building to an intentionally excruciating dinner date whilst never really offering a convincing portrait of the muddled beginnings of a late in life relationship.

With a soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky, Green’s film contains many singular moments of pure aural joy but overall the film finds him over experimenting sonically, with many sequences featuring disparate dialogue sequences playing on top of each other, with a slowly swelling soundtrack drowning them both out. It’s a device that whilst initially interesting soon proves to lend an unwelcomingly woozy tone to the film that, coupled with Pacino’s uncharacteristically quiet performance robs the experience of any real urgency.

Ultimately Gordon Green’s latest is a visually interesting though slow and meandering experience, your tolerance of which will largely hinge on your ability to swallow a near endless streams of vaguely whimsical and regret-filled Pacino voiceover.

Jack O’Kennedy

12A (See IFCO for details)
97 minutes

Manglehorn  is released 7th August 2015

Manglehorn – Official Website

 

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Palo Alto

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DIR/WRI: Gia Coppola   PRO: Vince Jolivette, Miles Levy, Sebastian Pardo, Adriana Rotaru   DOP: Autumn Durald  ED: Leo Scott   DES: Sarah Beckum Jamieson   MUS:  Robert Schwartzman, Devonté Hynes   CAST:  Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, James Franco, Val Kilmer, Chris Messina

 

Directed by Gia Coppola, the latest scion of the Coppola filmmaking dynasty, Palo Alto adapts a handful of short stories by James Franco (who also appears and co-produces) into a loosely-structured narrative about disaffected teenagers in the eponymous Californian region.  Jack Kilmer (son of Val) and Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric and niece of Julia) play Teddy and April, two teenagers whose nascent attraction is complicated by Teddy’s friendship with the volatile Fred (Nat Wolff) and by April’s affair with her smarmy soccer coach (Franco).  While Coppola’s focus on troubled teenagers carries some echoes of her grandfather Francis’s Rumble Fish (1983), the film most openly quotes her aunt Sofia, with one character’s wall emblazoned with a poster for her 1997 film The Virgin Suicides.

 

This terrain is well trodden, and not only by Coppolas.  While Palo Alto’s dreamy suburban ambience is at times distinguished from that of The Virgin Suicides only by the present day setting, its sexual frankness invokes two collaborations between Larry Clarke and Harmony Korine, 1995’s notorious Kids and 2002’s little-seen Ken Park.  These are certainly interesting poles between which to be suspended, but Palo Alto struggles to rise above the sum of its influences.  Even the easy-on-the-ear score by Robert Schwartzman and Devonté Hynes (Blood Orange) is most notable for the way in which it juggles reference points, almost all of which originate in the ’80s.

 

Coppola scores highest with her two central performances.  As the confused but essentially decent Teddy, Kilmer has a tender, introverted quality reminiscent of a young River Phoenix, most obviously in a hushed fireside confession of love that echoes a similar scene in My Own Private Idaho (1991).  The film belongs, though, to Roberts, who is a revelation as April.  Coppola’s sympathetic exploration of April’s confusion as she edges toward adult life is reminiscent of her aunt’s work with Scarlett Johansson and Kirsten Dunst, but Palo Alto works despite this familiarity because Roberts, like Johansson and Dunst, has the kind of mysterious quality that can make somebody else’s boredom and frustration compelling to watch.

 

The same can’t be said for Nat Wolff, saddled with the grating part of Fred, an obnoxious budding sociopath who doesn’t develop much shading, beyond an occasional sulk, as the film unfolds.  Phoned in from the pages of early Bret Easton Ellis, the juvenile Fred exists solely to provide dramatic counterpoint to April and Teddy’s cautious steps towards adulthood.  Nobody even passingly familiar with Franco’s half-baked career as an occasional visual and performance artist will be surprised, either, that Fred’s escalating fury eventually boils over into a stilted monologue about homosexuality.  As heat-seeking gay tourism goes, it’s not quite on the level of Franco’s own Interior. Leather Bar (2013), but if we’re supposed to infer that Fred’s borderline psychosis stems from suppressed desires, there might have been a more nuanced way to get this across than through an artificial speech, delivered apropos of nothing in particular, in a parking lot.

 

Curiously, given its title, Palo Alto does not convey much sense of a particular place or time.  This lack of specificity is both weakness and strength.  While the familiarity of the film’s style and content edges it perilously close to the generic, Coppola’s affinity for the eternal struggles of teenagers gives it a universal quality.  Empathic without being indulgent, and anchored by Roberts’ performance, Palo Alto hints at an intriguing future for Coppola, especially now that her debt of influence is comprehensively paid off.

 

David Turpin

100 minutes

Palo Alto is released 17th October 2014

 

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