Sundance: Oh, Zooey
I’ve been reading David Thomson’s biography of Nicole Kidman, an incisive, heartfelt and sometimes creepy investigation into the power of movie crushes. Yes, the guy is coo-coo for Kidman, a fact he doesn’t hide. Nor should he.
Film critics often suppress human nature for fear of coming off as lame-assed visage vultures. Fuck that: I’d watch Zooey Deschanel do just about anything. I can’t help it. And I’m not alone. One of the intoxicating aspects of the movie-going experience is losing one’s self in a certain performer, an actor or actress who hits you on a primal level.
Sure, Zooey’s luminous physical features are part of it. But there’s more at play. There’s a ceaseless authenticity that informs her every move, as if she would say the exact same thing or make the exact same gesture no matter the context, a rare gift within the wildly self-conscious world moviemaking.
Her growing cult of admirers will be happy to note that Deschanel appears in two Sundance dramas from first-time feature directors, both of which I caught on back-to-back days here. In Steve Berra’s The Good Life — a coming-of-age story that piles a few too many Sundance tropes (voice-over narration by an alienated small-town teen with a strange affliction that causes him to lose his hair, shitty family life, dead-end job, etc.) — she plays a wayward daughter who attempts to find herself by helping the film’s broken protagonist (Mark Webber) see his own life in a different light. Deschanel’s character is idealized as hell, a temptation that Berra surely found hard to resist given the actress in question. Ghosts of The Last Picture Show looming throughout, The Good Life is an intriguing yet flawed debut, one shot through on the merits of its game cast and cohesive visual aesthetic.
More successful is Martin Hynes’ stylish, Godardian The Go-Getter, another coming-of-age tale that finds a naïve but curious teenager (a wonderful Lou Taylor Pucci) dealing with his mother’s recent death by hitting the road to find his long-gone half-brother. He ditches his bike and steals a well-worn Volvo, a twist of fate that leads him to Kate (Deschanel), a mysterious girl with whom he’s instantly smitten.
Backed by funny, evocative dialogue, the soulful songs of M. Ward, dreamlike visuals and the unique presence of its leads, The Go-Getter got me from the get-go. (Interestingly, The Good Life is in the Dramatic Competition, while The Go-Getter is a ghettoized Spectrum selection.)
During the post-screening Q&A, a woman asked Hynes this sacrilege question, an inquiry that yielded more than a few guffaws from the cult of Zooey: “Tell me a little about the actress who plays Kate. Where you find her?”
“The actress who plays Kate is Zooey Deschanel,” he says with slight awe in his voice. “I originally saw Zooey in All the Real Girls, which is an incredible film by David Gordon Green. And she’s been in Elf, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy from last year …”
As he pauses to conjure more of her oeuvre, an eager audience comes to the rescue: “The Good Girl, Almost Famous, Failure to Launch, Winter Passing…”
“A lot of Zooey Deschanel fans,” he says, embarrassed at his lack of recall. “I’m glad Zooey isn’t here right now, ’cause I’d feel bad.
“She’s so wonderful that when I went to meet Lou, to try to convince him to do the movie, I had to go meet him in San Francisco. He was on a press tour and I was on my way out of the country and there was one day where we could get together at the Ritz Charlton in San Francisco. And right before I started to walk to the hotel I thought, ‘If I can’t convince Lou to do the movie, maybe Zooey can,’ because she was already cast. I bought All the Real Girls at the Virgin Megastore and brought it to him. I think it helped, ’cause she’s so good: You can’t not want to act with Zooey.”
I know what you mean, Mr. Hynes. I know what you mean.
— Jason Gargano