Dilettante's Diary

Dec 6/10

Home
Who Do I Think I Am?
Index: Movies
Index: Writing
Index: Theatre
Index: Music
Index: Exhibitions
Artists' Blogs
Index: TV, Radio and Misc
Restaurants
NOVEMBER 22, 2017
Nov 3/17
Oct 5/17
Sept 21/17
Aug 3/17
June 16/17
Mar 21/17
Feb 26/17
Feb 9/17
Jan 30/17
Dec 19/16
Dec 11/16
Nov 20/16
Sept 17/2016
Aug 21/16
July 17/16
June 29/16
June 2/16
Apr 23/16
Feb 28/16
Feb 1/16
Jan 27/16
Winter Reading 2016
Dec 15/15
Nov 19/15
Fall Reading 2015
Oct 29/15
Sept 16/15
Sept 4/15
July 29, 2015
July 1, 2015
June 7/15
Summer Reading 2015
May 19/15
Apr 30/15
Apr 19/15
Spring Reading 2015
March 23/15
March 11/15
Winter Reading 2015
Feb 20/15
Feb 8/15
Jan 29/15
Jan 20/15
Highs 'N Lows of 2014
Dec 19/14
Dec 2/14
Nov 10/14
Oct 29/14
Fall Reading 2014
Sept 17/14
Summer Reading 2014
Aug 22/14
Aug 8/14
July 11/14
June 16/14
May 28/14
Apr 30/14
Apr 16/14
Apr 2/14
March 21, 2014
March 13/14
Feb 11/14
Sept 23/13
Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
Sabbath's Theater by PHILIP ROTH
July 18/13
Summer Reading 2013
June 19/13
May 30/13
Spring Reading 2013
May 10/13
Apr 18/13
Mar 29/13
March 14, 2013
The Artist Project 2013
Feb 25/13
Winter Reading 2013
Feb 7/13
Jan 22/13
Jan 12/13
A Toast to 2012
Dec 19/12
Dec 16/12
Dec 4/12
Fall Reading 2012
Nov 17/12
Nov 6/12
Art Toronto 2012
Oct 23/12
Oct 4/12
Sept 28/12
Summer Reading 2012
Aug 26/12
Aug 8/12
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2012
July 14/12
June 28/12
MIMC
May 27/12
May 20/12
May 4/12
La Traviata: Met's Live HD Version
Apr 21/12
Apr 6/12
Mar 22/12
Mar 9/12
The Artist Project 2012
Academy Awards Show 2012
Feb 26/12
Feb 11/12
Jan 23/12
Jan 15/12
Jan 7/12
Dec 20/11
Dec 12/11
Nov 27/11
Nov 18/11
Nov 7/11
Art Toronto 2011
Oct 22/11
Oct 17/11
Sept 30, 2011
Summer Reading 2011
Aug 11/11
July 28, 2011
July 19/11
TOAE 2011
June 25/11
June 20/11
June 2/11
May 14/11
Apr 29/11
Toronto Art Expo 2011
Apr 11/11
March 24/11
The Artist Project 2011
March 11/11
Feb 23/11
Feb 7/11
Jan 21/11
HIGHS 'N LOWS OF 2010
Jan 17/11
Dec 21/10
Dec 6/10
Nov 11/10
Fall Reading 2010
Oct 22/10
Summer Reading 2010
Aug 9/10
Aug 2/10
TOAE 2010
July 16/10
The Shack
June 27/10
June 3/10
May 5/10
April 17/10
Mar 28/10
Mar 17/10
The Artist Project 2010
Toronto Art Expo 2010
Feb 22/10
Feb 3/10
Notables of '09
Jan 11/10
Dec 31/09
Dec 17/09
How Fiction Works
Nov 24/09
Sex for Saints
Nov 11/09
Housekeeping
Oct 22/09
Oct 6/09
Sept 18/09
Aug 23/09
July 31/09
July 17/09
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2009
Toronto Fringe 2009
Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate
June 28/09
June 6/09
Myriad Mysteries 2009
May 10/09
CBC Radio -- "The New Two"
April 14/09
March 24/09
Toronto Art Expo '09
March 1/09
The Jesus Sayings
Feb 8/09
Jan 26/09
Jan 10/09
Stand-outs of 2008
Dec 24/08
Dec 4/08
Nov 16/08
Oct 27/08
Oct 16/08
Sept 26/08
Sept 5/08
July 21/08
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 08
July 5/08
June 23/08
June 4/08
May 18/08
May 4/08
April 16/08
March 26/08
Head to Head
Feb 26/08
Feb 13/08
Jan 30/08
Jan 17/08
Notables of 2007
Dec 30/07
Dec 8/07
Nov 22/07
Oct 25/07
Oct 4/07
Sept 18/07
Aug 29/07
Aug 8/07
Summer Mysteries '07
July 20/07
June 28/07
June 8/07
May 21/07
May 2/07
April 14/07
March 23/07
Toronto Art Expo 2007
March 8/07
Feb 16/07
Feb 2/07
Jan 24/07
Notables of 2006
Dec 27/06
December 11/06
November 28/06
Nov 8/06
October 14/06
Sept 22/06
Ring Psycho (Wagner on CBC Radio)
Sept 6/06
August 12/06
July 18/06
June 27/06
June 9/06
May 23/06
Me In Manhattan
May 2/06
April 12/06
March 17/06
March 9/06
Feb 16/06
Feb 1/06
Jan 11/06
Dec 31/05
Dec 12/05
Nov 25/05
Nov 4/05
Oct 24/05
Sept 7/05
Sept 16/05
Sept 1/05
Aug 10/05
July 21/05
Me and the Jays
July 10/05
June 15/05
May 18/05
April 27/05
April 18/05
April 8/05
March 21/05
Feb 28/05
Feb 21/05
Feb 4/05
Jan 28/05
Jan 19/05
Jan 5/05
About Me
Dec 20/04
Dec 5/04
MOVIES
BOOKS
RE-READINGS
MYSTERIES/CRIME books
VIDEOS and DVDs
PLAYS
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

The date above is the date of the most recent postings. As new reviews are added, they will appear towards the top of the page, while the older reviews will move further down.

Reviewed here: Room (Novel); The Year of Magical Thinking (Theatre); Rachel Ovadia (Art); 127 Hours (Movie); Down Terrace (Movie); Due Date (Movie)

Room (Novel) by Emma Donoghue, 2010

Having not read the other contenders on the short list, I don’t know whether or not Room was unfairly denied this year’s Man Booker Prize. The novel certainly deserves some major awards. One that we’ll bestow on it here and now is this: the prize for the book that proved the most severe test of character for us here at Dilettante’s Diary. This, you see, was the first book in a long time that tempted me – quite severely – to ignore all my daily duties so that I could race through the book. Readers of weaker character would probably not have survived the test, but I hung on (with considerable effort, it must be admitted) and attended to my assigned responsibilities. After completing the book in my free time on two evenings, I was thus able to reap the reward of a good conscience on top of the pleasure of a great read.

To fully understand the effect this book had on me, however, you have to realize that here at Dilettante’s Diary we try to know as little as possible about a book before reading it. That’s because we want to come to the book with a fresh mind – like a kid hearing a story for the first time. For us, it’s very important to see how an author hooks our attention and keeps us reading. You can’t get a good sense of that if you know lots about the book already. So that means that I avoid reviews, commentary and especially cover blurbs. If a book looks like it might be of interest to me, that's because I’ll have heard something or other about it, possibly the fact that it won, or was short-listed for, some prize. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve admired the author’s work in other instances.

In this case, it was mainly the book’s being mentioned in connection with the Man Booker that got my attention. Having finished Room now, I do remember hearing some other details about it a while ago. But I’m at that stage of life where, thankfully, my mind discards stuff pretty fast. So I had no idea of what was going on when I started Room. Which made for a rocky beginning. The one thing I’ll tell you here is that the book’s narrated in the first person by a five-year-old boy. Knowing that might help you to get going. For me, prose that was threatening to get unbearably cutesy at times made it a bit tough to persevere.

But I did. And the middle section of the book turned out to be as exciting and gripping as anything I can imagine. About the plot, though, I can say no more. What happens is so unlike anything you’ve ever read that you need to find out for yourself how it all goes down. My saying any more here would spoil the thrill of your discovering it all on your own. 

It must be admitted, though, that the high level of excitement isn’t sustained right to the end. When you’ve got a story that climaxes in the middle, there’s inevitably going to be some petering out afterwards. That’s what happens here. New problems do crop up and there’s an extra twist of tension right near the end, but the story doesn’t race forward with the same urgency.

As for analyzing in detail Ms. Donoghue’s accomplishment, let’s leave that until everybody has read the book and knows what’s going on. The scholars and academics will no doubt go on at great length about the literary precedents, like Alice in Wonderland and The Runaway Bunny. Until the time comes for that kind of detailed appreciation, I’ll just say that Ms. Donoghue has pulled off an extraordinary literary feat in the person of her five-year-old narrator. Who would have thought that an entire novel could be written that way? Mind you, it helps that this five-year-old is something of a prodigy when it comes to language and math, but Ms. Donoghue makes the kid’s acuity believable in the light of the influences he has been exposed to.

What’s more striking, though, is the way the author conveys the state of a kid’s mind. I don’t know whether she studied kids of her own very closely or whether she consulted at length with child psychologists, but she gives a completely convincing representation of the way one kid sees things. Just one example: the kid's lying on a bed, knocking his feet against each other as they try to get accustomed to the strange feel of a new pair of shoes: to the kid, it feels as though his feet are fighting until they can become friends. My days as a five-year-old are a bit behind me, but Ms. Donoghue made me feel again exactly what it must have been like to discover the world for the first time in all its scary and glorious confusion.

 

The Year of Magical Thinking (Play) by Joan Didion; starring Seanna McKenna; directed by Michael Shamata; Tarragon Theatre, Toronto; until Dec 12.

If you’re a middle-aged Torontonian and you consider yourself an arts and culture buff, this is the play you have to see – especially if you’re female. After all, what we have here is the personal story of the celebrated US writer, Joan Didion, brought to life on stage by one of Canada’s greatest actors, Seanna McKenna. Given that combo, women with a certain knowing look are packing the theatre. If you were too dumb to order your tickets long ago, you’re going to have to camp out in the lobby and pray that some ticket-holder dies on the way to the theatre so that you can get their seat.

What you’ll then be treated to is Ms. Didion’s account of her difficult year following the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, as a result of heart failure, in 2003. (The couple had collaborated on several screenplays.) At the time of Mr Dunne’s death, their recently-married daughter was hospitalized in a state of septic shock because an untreated flu had turned to pneumonia. Although the young woman seemed to recover well from that episode, other major medical crises occurred to her in the following months. Those problems led Ms. Didion to think that if she somehow kept close watch on their daughter, Mr. Dunne would come back. Not that Ms. Didion didn’t accept his death on the rational level. But some barely conscious instinct kept suggesting that his death wasn’t real. She was prepared to dispose of his clothes, for instance, but she couldn’t get rid of his shoes because she somehow felt that he might need them some day.

Through the telling of this bizarre experience are woven stories about the family’s holidays, their arguments, the happy memories and the sadder ones. We also get a lot of medical lore, given that Ms. Didion has something of a steel trap mind when it comes to such facts. We also come to see that she’s a controlling, retentive, obsessive, verbose and domineering person who insists on trying to manage everything and everybody in the attempt to make the world a safe place for her loved ones. Those qualities are conveyed in elaborate, spinning sentences, with effective use of a kind of "hesitation step" narration: the speaker keeps interrupting herself for long digressions, then returning to the main topic. Seanna McKenna delivers all this with superb skill. One wonders what the play would be life with a somewhat softer, more sympathetic note now and then, but it’s likely that Ms. McKenna’s edgy, aggressive energy is required to propel the play through the ninety minutes to its conclusion.

No actress, however, could completely overcome the inherent weakness in this play. It’s a hazzard of many one-actor shows: we often get an actor on stage talking at us, telling us a lot of stuff, but there isn’t any dramatic action. As I see it, for a play to show the theatre at its best, there needs to be something happening to a character (or characters) that causes conflict on stage; we need to witness a change in process. At the end of the play, we need to feel that the characters have arrived at a different place from where they were when we first saw them. Having felt that we were involved in their struggle, we should come out feeling that we too have changed, if only slightly.

This play delivers little of that satisfaction. Near the end, a couple of intense moments make you feel there has, after all, been a kind of emotional arc to the proceedings. Ms. Didion has learned something about her controlling attitude to life. But any feeling of our being engaged in her struggle comes so late that it almost doesn’t matter. For most of the ninety minutes, we’ve been subjected to a lot of information about the woman. So she thinks, on some level, that maybe her husband could come back? That’s interesting but not the stuff of drama.

And yes, the prolix speechifying shows tremendous verbal dexterity, but you end up marvelling at the writing and the actor’s delivery rather than getting caught up in what she’s saying. Much of it wouldn’t be out of place in the self-help, inspirational genre. The kind of thing you might hear coming from the couch on Oprah: how I survived my terrible, awful ordeal. As with any such personal account, if you took this material as the basis for a fictional play, you’d want to make all kinds of changes to produce a really effective piece of theatre. Just to say that it’s true, that it actually happened to somebody, doesn’t make it a good play.

But maybe the point for many of the eager theatre-goers is that it happened not just to somebody but to Somebody. We’re getting a look into the lives of the famous, glamorous and successful. References abound to the films and books worked on. Much talk about flitting back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. The impulsive trips to Paris and Hawaii. The homes here and there. Maybe I’m envious but I found it all a bit off-putting. Same with the many references to US institutions (hospitals and universities) and locations. Call me provincial, but they don’t help me to identify with the character. Not that the tone is lah-tee-dah. On the contrary, it’s chummy. You get the feeling that we’re supposed to catch all Ms. Didion’s references because we’re expected to know all about her life. (That kind of thing may be easier to take in the more intimate circumstances of a book. Which is how this material first appeared, I believe) The theatrical context makes it feel as though the actor’s addressing a bunch of girlfriends.

Which is how many in the audience were responding: lots of titters and chuckles at the little pleasantries and ironies. Nothing worthy of an actual laugh, as far as I could see. The appreciative vocalizing gave me the feeling that people wanted to show that they were on the writer’s side. Or maybe they were just determined to have a good time for their $40? Fine for them.

 

Rachel Ovadia (Solo Exhibition) Gallery 133, 1260 Castlefield Ave, Toronto. Until Dec 2nd. www.gallery133.com

Lots of invitations to art shows arrive here at Dilettante’s Diary. I’m able to follow up on very few of them. Sometimes it’s a question of accessibility, sometimes a question of time. But it struck me that there might be something special about this show by the distinguished artist, Rachel Ovadia, at Gallery 133. For me, that venue is a bit off the beaten track but it was well worth the trip. It’s a beautiful, expansive space with lots of room for exhibition and appreciation.

And then there's the quality of the work on view. Many abstract painters throw paint on the canvas with abandon and exuberance. What you get is a feeling of fun, play and creative verve. Rachel Ovadia’s large mixed-media paintings (most of them approximately four feet by five feet) are quite another matter. There’s something eerily intellectual and spooky about them. Very often you get a background of broad, sweeping strokes in various shades of one colour, with a few accents of another colour. That establishes a predominant mood. But then there are thin lines – often black – twisting and turning through the painting in a loose, snaky way, almost in calligraphic style. It’s as if they’re trying to tell you something. What could they possibly mean? You stand there trying to tease out their message.

I know abstract artists hate it when you try to assign specific meanings to their paintings. Worse still when you claim that you can decipher representational shapes in the work. However, the only way I can convey some of the effect of Ms. Ovadia’s paintings is to put into words some of the things they suggest to me. One of the paintings that has the most immediate and obvious impact is entitled "Moonlight": mostly shades of blue, with little bits of white and some black lines. To me, it doesn’t seem presumptuous to say that what you’ve got appears to be very close to a representation of the dark, hulking shapes of ships on water at night, with a few bright reflections of moonlight and some mooring lines. But it’s all much more evocative and emotional than a realistic image would be. "Spring Tale" features soft greens, blues and yellows, with a shadowy shape like a fish near the bottom. It seems to me this could be the artist’s response to the teeming life of wetlands. A painting called "Venice" – all blue, white and grey – looks vaguely like a collection of ice floes. But a faint suggestion of architecture in the background suggests that this could, indeed, be an artist’s unconventional take on one of art’s most hackneyed themes. "Biosphere" is mostly white, with splotches of red and black, plus some loopy black lines. The overall effect is, at once, both airy and scary.

That same motif of black, white and red recurs in some smaller works on paper. They’re some of my favourite works in the show. There’s a particularly fresh, clean feel about them, as well as a feeling of spontaneity. In their simplicity, they express – as do many of the paintings in the show – the Japanese influence that Ms. Ovadia cites in the artist’s statement accompanying the exhibition. www.ovadiaart.com

 

127 Hours (Movie) written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy; based on the book by Aron Ralston; directed by Danny Boyle; starring James Franco; with Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn

It’s 2003 and this gung-ho guy’s hiking through the caverns and hills of the badlands of Utah. He hasn’t told anybody where he’s going. He doesn’t have a cell phone. Misjudging a leap, he falls into a crevice. A huge boulder falls in with him, pinning his arm to the wall of the crevice. He’s stuck there for five days.

Since this is based on a true story and since there’s a well-known book about it, you probably know how it turns out. So yes, to answer your question: there’s some grisly stuff to sit through. (At least, I think so. At certain points, I couldn’t watch too closely.) But we can’t say anything more about that here, since, as you know, we don’t reveal crucial plot details at Dilettante’s Diary.

Especially when there’s only the one plot line. This is what you call a really linear movie. It moves relentlessly towards that one point, no sidetracks or diversions. No subplots. How, then, do you fill an hour and a half of screen time with one immobile guy struggling with that one problem the whole time?

You use a lot of flashbacks, plus you take your viewers into his imagination and his hallucinations. Thus, a couch shows up in the desert and members of the guy’s family, along with other people from his past, appear on the couch to watch him. Glimpses of a relationship with an old girlfriend get replayed in his mind. Another thing that helps to fill the time is that the guy has a video camera. He’s using it to record a sort of last will and testament to his family. Being a somewhat inventive guy, he also uses it to record whimsical fantasies about himself appearing as the conquering hero on a talk show.

So much for the relatively straightforward narrative elements of the movie. Then there’s the psychedelic photography which drenches the movie in surrealism, not to mention the music that mixes things up in its own way. In the opening scenes, where the guy’s heading out on his big adventure, we get split-screen, with multiple images flashing at us kaleidoscopically and relentless rock music screaming at us. Every time the guy stops to take a digital photo, a sample of the photo jumps into the movie in a flashy, digital way. When he’s drinking from a bottle, we’re looking into his mouth from inside the bottle. The sensory overload is nearly intolerable.

Is director Danny Boyle pumping up the adrenalin to see us through the long stretches of silence and solitude coming up? Maybe. But I gradually began to accept the jazzed up style as essential to the work of art that the film turns out to be. Even the music makes a more significant contribution than the usual background score. When it gets very symphonic, I began to think of the movie, not so much as a typical drama, but a kind of tone poem with painterly visuals, such as a storm rushing overhead in speeded-up time, same with a sunrise, or the eery darkness of night in the canyon.

And the theme of this majestic tone poem – or you could call it a landscape painting on a very broad canvas, with sound – would be something along the lines of: how significant is one puny human body vs the vast, inhuman forces of nature? how much does one man’s life little count in the overall scheme of things? what must a person do to prolong that life for as long as he can?

As the man at the centre of those questions, James Franco succeeds admirably at winning our attention and our sympathy. We come to know him as brave, yet vulnerable, somone who’s as weak as any of us, but stronger in some ways than any of us could imagine ourselves being. He wins us over so completely that if the ending doesn’t squeeze a few tears out of you – and this is where the music really comes into its own – then you’re one cold, calculating bastard.

Rating: C+ (i.e. "Certainly worth seeing")

 

Down Terrace (Movie) written by Robin Hill and Ben Wheatley; directed by Ben Wheatley; starring Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Julia Deakin, David Schaal, Tony Way, Kerry Peacock, Michael Smiley

For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of watching this movie was the process of trying to figure out what was going on. So I don’t want to provide too much explanation here. Best if you find out for yourself the way I did.

Let me, then, just set the stage with a few particulars. Nearly all of the movie takes place in a cramped row house in some town in England, near the sea. Living in the house are a middle-aged couple, Bill and Maggie, and their thirty-four-year-old son, Karl. Various cronies of Karl’s and Bill’s drift in and out. Everybody looks ordinary to a fault. Not a movie star within miles.

In one of the early scenes, they’re celebrating somebody’s birthday. Bill’s talking about the old days when he was involved in drugs. He says everybody except himself and Timothy O’Leary was making money in the business. For Bill, though, it was all about idealism, about a supposed revolution. When not reminiscing in this vein, Bill tends to strum quietly at his guitar, reprising gentle 70s folk songs. And yet, there are mumbling references to prison. One of the guys takes Karl aside and shows him a gun, just purchased. Is that leading to anything? Or, could this be just some British soap opera about the lower classes, one of those movies that glories in kitchen-sink realism?

Well, a plot line does emerge – sort of. On that, however, we can so no more. What we can say is that you’re going to be treated to an experience unlike any delivered by the typical Hollywood product. The attention to human beings as the flawed creatures that they are is so intense and respectful that it doesn’t seem far-fetched to say that the work of Ingmar Bergman comes to mind.

Which is not to say that the movie apes the master in any way other than in terms of integrity and honesty. In fact, one of the most distinguishing things about this kind of quiet, low-budget movie is that you get situations unlike anything you’ve ever seen on screen. Such as the scene where Karl’s cooking dinner at his home for his former girlfriend (Kerry Peacock) who says she’s pregnant with his baby. He’s shuttling back and forth between the kitchen and the dining table, trying to smooth things over between this woman and his parents who resent her.

Then there’s the business with an Irishman (Michael Smiley) who arrives at the house, apparently in the capacity of a hit man. Not having been able to line up a baby sitter, he’s had to bring along his three-year-old son. When Karl starts playing with the kid, the dad, a guy whose speciality appears to be dishing out violence, insists that Karl stay in sight and not kiss the kid, presumably out of fear of any sexual abuse being inflicted on the kid.

When it comes to originality, though, one scene stands out over all the others. In fact, you wouldn’t believe that it could happen until you see a middle-aged mother lying with her son on his bed and singing him the lullaby "Tell me why the stars do shine...."

In the expected British fashion, the actors deliver fine ensemble work, all of them inhabiting their characters fully as authentic, believable individuals. But the most remarkable accomplishments in this regard come from the three members of the central family. Bill (Robert Hill) gives us a hardened man who may or may not still want to be seen as a caring, sensitive father. As the mom, Julia Deakin is haggard, thanks to the family’s peculiar stresses, but your pity for her may not survive your discovery of the extent of her involvement in what’s going on. As Karl, the son, Robin Hill (also the co-author of the screenplay, with director Ben Wheatley) strikes you as something of a bland, negligible character – until you begin to appreciate his attempt to show some responsibility towards his unborn child, his struggle with his mood swings and his need to show people, especially his dad, that he’s not a weak person.

These actors take you through a bleak tale by means of short scenes that often end in abrupt blackouts. (Disregard all billings of this movie as a comedy. It ain’t!) Not every detail of what’s going down comes clear, but you get the general idea. You may not feel that things need to end the way they do here, but you’ll probably admit that you’ve learned something: that terrible things can be running under the current of lives that look unexceptional. In other words, evil can have a very banal mein. It’s kinda humbling to discover that the people involved are so like you and I.

Rating: B (i.e. "Better than most")

 

Due Date (Movie) written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel, Todd Phillips; directed by Todd Phillips; starring Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis; with Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride, Jon Cryer, Charlie Sheen

The buzz on this one was both good and bad. I wanted to believe the good. Maybe it was the previews that got my hopes up. The impression conveyed was that, as usual, Robert Downey Jr would add a touch of class to the proceedings. Here, he plays a suave architect who has to get from Atlanta to his home in LA because his wife’s scheduled to have a C-section to deliver their first baby in a few days. For reasons too complicated to go into here (but they’re no more implausible than the setup for most comedies), he’s stranded without money or ID and he’s therefore forced to accept a ride from a collossal doofus, a would-be actor, in the person of Zach Galifianakis.

There’s lots of good stuff happening. It’s hardly an original comedy premise – two people who can’t stand each other are forced to get along – but there are some neat takes on it here. Mr. Downey is especially good, with his deft touch at deadpan humour, as the sophisticate who struggles mightily but can’t always hide his repugnance for the companion forced on him. Mr. Downey could trademark that mirthless smile. It’s nice to see Jamie Foxx giving his all in a small role. To me, there’s something generous and self-deprecating about a big name actor’s doing that. Maybe I’m naive, but it helps me to feel less cynical about the business. And while it’s not exactly a new trope, it was fun to see yet another example of the shtick where a hopelessly bad actor suddenly turns out to be a very good one.

Some clever script writing turns up, as in a scene where somebody makes an elaborate prologue to a heartfelt confession, then dishes up some trifling pecadillo; after the inevitable forgiveness spreads sweetness and light all around, the same offender follows up with a whopper of an unforgiveable sin. Another example of good writing: when a character is told that he’s a worthless bag of shit and that every cell in his body is loathsome, he responds: "I’ve been told that before and I’m working on it." In a eulogy to a deceased parent, a guy says: "Dad, you were like a father to me."

Other audience members were chuckling contentedly all through this. So why, even though the strident rock music was striving to convince me that I was having a good time, was I beset by a sinking feeling?

Not because of the episodic, slapstick nature of the thing. I was willing to accept that a movie like this is bound to be filled with things like car chases, a handicapped veteran who whups a leading man, a drug dealer with obnoxious kids, vomiting, car chases, border cops feeling their cheerios, a masturbating dog, car chases, somebody constantly getting stoned on medical marijuana for his "glaucoma", cars flipping over and cars being demolished.

No, it was something else that was bothering me. Two things, actually.

First, the lack of a sense of urgency. The movie’s packed with incident but there isn’t much momentum. So the Downey character has to get home for the C-section – so what? Either he gets there or he doesn’t. If he does, fine; if not, life goes on. Maybe part of the problem is that Mr. Downey doesn’t do touchy-feely all that well; you don’t get the message that he cares a whole lot about what’s going on in the obstetric department. Or it could just be that there was nothing written into the script to make the situation all that compelling. In spite of periodic phone calls from the mother-to-be, it’s nowhere near as edgy as the situation in The Hangover where you’ve got a bunch of guys who are trying to find a missing groom while his bride is getting dressed and the wedding guests are assembling.

But the bigger problem with Due Date, I think, is the Galifianakis character. In comedy teams where a sophisticate is paired with a goofball (Martin and Lewis, anybody?), you don’t necessarily have to like the jerk; you don’t even have to find him believable. But I think you need to want to think that he could be believable. Which you can’t in the case of this guy. He’s just too stupid. How stupid? He thinks the Hoover Dam was constructed by the pilgrims. When he hears about Shakespeare, he says the name was actually Shakesbeard and he was a pirate. In this guy’s world view, a child of a black father and a white mother could turn out like a zebra. As if he’s William Blake discovering the world in a grain of sand, he announces in a hushed voice that rest stops on the highway have the nicest showers. He’s so impressed with the profundity of this insight, that he repeats it immediately.

Could any actor have made a human being from this material? Mr. Galifianakis doesn’t. One of the worst aspects of his attempt is that he occasionally adopts a haughty, faggy walk: head held high, swinging shoulders, wiggling bum. It’s completely at odds with the character’s slob side. Presumably, the walk is meant to show that he’s trying to maintain some dignity in spite of all the odds. Far from achieving that, the result is that you end up with something that looks like a caricature made up just for the sake of a movie, a caricature that has nothing to do with a real person.

Which raises the question of Mr. Galifianakis’s being cast in the role. You have to wonder if the success of his oddball character in The Hangover gave somebody the idea of building a movie around such a guy. It may have looked like a good idea but I think Mr. Galifianakis should be wary of ever accepting a role like this again. Due Date ends with his character appearing in a sitcom. He merely walks in and the canned laughter gets cranked up as if he’s a scream. Which only emphasizes how un-funny he is. Not a great impression to leave us with.

Rating: D minus (Where D = "Divided" i.e. some good, some bad)

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com