Saturday, September 22, 2007
SENTIMENTAL SATIRE: DICILLO'S "DELIRIOUS"
Near the middle of Tom DiCillo’s new film Delirious (which unfortunately has the same name as both one of Eddie Murphy’s two brilliant stand-up films and a forgotten John Candy movie that I happen to love) the young lead played by Michael Pitt, Toby, leaves the hotel room of the Britney/Lindsay/Hillary analog he has a crush on. He’s just spent a wonderful, intimate night with a girl who was previously only an image on billboards that he lusted after. The film gives us one brilliant, original moment representative of Toby’s joy, and then follows it up with another, totally clichéd one.
Toby, so bursting with love after this amazing night, hugs the doorman of the building, not even thinking about it, just grabbing him and giving him a good squeeze. And the doorman hugs back. It’s one of those movie moments that is epiphanic because of its total simplicity. Then, as he walks away from the fancy hotel, music swells on the soundtrack, he starts swinging around poles to express his happiness, and rose petals fall from the sky. I didn’t know whether to laugh with or at the movie when those rose petals started falling and covering Toby. It was an evocation of an image that was so stereotypical, it could only have been done in mocking… right?
Delirious continues to boggle throughout with its sentimental satire. The opening sequence with Toby eating out of garbage cans shot in a lovingly soft-lensed style verges on romanticizing homelessness. Later, Toby has become the star of a show that is both a reality show and a murder drama (where he plays both himself and not himself), and we are presented with an even more idealized version of homeless life and a cute girl telling Toby that he has taught her how being homeless can be beautiful, too. This is clearly satire. Was the opening sequence meant as satire, too? Or were we supposed to feel for Toby as he spit out the mystery liquid from a scavenged McDonald’s cup?
DiCillo introduces lowest-of-the-low paparazzo Les (Steve Buscemi), then both actor and director do their best to humanize the character, seemingly running against the grain of the script (which DiCillo also wrote) which continually shows Les to be a jerk, a liar, a sore loser, a bad friend, etc. The treatment of Alison Lohman’s character K’Harma is the one that sticks most closely to the spirit of satire. From her name to the black void that is her personality to her habit of writing songs and conducting business meetings in her bra, K’Harma is a near pitch perfect parody of a teen pop star. Her cutesy nickname for Toby is “homeless”—which is hilarious, spot-on and a little queasy all at once. But, Delirious always pulls its punches, never having the venom that true satire operates on. The back-and-forth switches between murdererous rage, restored friendship and disillusionment that Les goes through at the end of the film (however beautiful certain of these moments are) illustrates my point with no commentary neccasary.
There is some brilliance in this film. It is isn't quite Sweet Smell of Success, but the Hollywood food chain is well-represented by the various assistants, paparazzi and casting directors (hilariously played by Kevin Corrigan, David Wain, Callie Thorn and Kristen Schaal, among others.) Toby’s decision to strike out in the world and make something of himself instead of being Les’s unpaid assistant is portrayed with a perfect and perfectly simple visual metaphor. The virtual break-up scene between Toby and Les is played out with impeccable interplay between blocking and camera. And of interest is the way Toby takes the clichés that Les spouts off at random and repeats them, somehow imbuing them with profundity in the mimicking. But, ultimately, the film fails because it’s too soft-hearted to be the satire it obviously wanted to be. It wants us to sympathize with its characters. How can I take delight in the razzing of Hollywood represented by Toby’s ridiculously quick ascension to the heights of tabloid popularity when the film has been so adamant about his likeability and basic decency that I’m happy for the poor innocent simpleton’s success?