The Reeler


August 15, 2007


DiCillo's latest a tired primer on the perils of a fame-obsessed culture

According to Delirious, we live in a shallow, celebrity-obsessed culture. This makes it hard to distinguish between real and manipulated emotion, things that matter and things that don't. Surprise! While waiting for a movie with the nerve to posit a contrarian argument, we'll have to settle for the spectacle of a movie made by people of minor fame decrying other people's obsession with those of major fame. Educating us about fame are Tom DiCillo (of the much-loved Living in Oblivion, and whose last film, Double Whammy, went direct-to-DVD), and well-known mega-stars Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt and Alison Lohman. Who better, really?

I suppose it could be worse, though DiCillo makes things hard on himself by using that most dreaded device, the Symbolic Name. We have Les Galantine (Buscemi), a paparazzo less gallant than the celebrities he stalks -- dreamy pop star K'Harma Leeds (Lohman), for example. Les is probably (and predictably) a better human being than the bluntly named Chuck Sirloin (Jack Gwaltney), a k a "The Beef." Les runs into the homeless Toby Grace (Pitt) while outside a hotel with a group of other photographers, waiting to photograph K'Harma. Toby gets him coffee, and an uneasy acquaintance is struck up: Toby gets to board in the closet; Les gets free help. But Grace and K'Harma are destined to meet and fall in love, and bitter Les must remain the lesser man.

In summary form, Delirious is schematic, setting up one blunt opposition after another. The opening finds homeless Toby wandering through New York -- rifling through trash cans, stealing pretzels from street vendors, sharing cigarettes -- while the Dandy Warhols' "Bohemian Like You" plays on the soundtrack. Real poverty vs. a satire of the co-option of bohemia: nice one, and underlined with the real "grace" wandering through the worthless, vacuous wasteland of Times Square. The characters are drawn with no more subtlety than the themes -- here is Galantine's interruption on the subject of how rude people can be in conversation: "Me, I'm more of a listener." And if that brand of clever goes over your head, there are dick jokes.

Despite its dubious intentions, Delirious features a few nearly redeeming performances, but Buscemi’s is not one of them. Les is loud, unlikable, and nothing new; a mire of self-loathing tics that further caricature the Buscemi persona. He's much better served by roles that stretch his well-established loser turns, like his fat-cat corporate cheater in I Think I Love My Wife earlier this year. But Pitt and Lohman nearly carry the film between them. In a self-aware gesture that he's reprising his take on the price of fame from Last Days' Cobain impersonation, Pitt even throws on one of his shirts from that film (the black-and-white striped one, equally slobby in this incarnation). The actor also demonstrates a knack for comic timing unseen since that film, using his weird physical timing -- a series of fluid lurches and offbeat slouches that give him a compelling restlessness -- to surprisingly adept effect. With so much more to offer, Pitt really ought to stop playing the troubled and/or psychotic someday soon. Lohman has much less to work with in the role of celebrity sexpot/winsome blonde, but she’s winning enough, a reminder of how real charisma presents itself.

Together, those two nearly carry the film, but with Buscemi mugging in front of the lens and DiCillo posing “provocative” questions from behind it, it’s pretty much hopeless. Thing is, Pitt and Lohman have the presence of a classic screwball comedy team: he relies on his lurching movements as much as his stoned delivery of lines, she's pert and appealing, and they're both relying on physicality as much as their dialogue to sell the movie. But Buscemi -- and the rest of the film -- relies solely on tired thematic content for appeal, and that's a mistake that can't be overcome.

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