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The Stage and Cinema
2010 Independent and Foreign Film
Review Writing Contest

Runner up 2 Caroline Hagood

picture - lovely-by-surprise---------------------------

Film: Lovely by Surprise
Year: 2007
Country: USA
Language: English
Director: Kirt Gunn

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In each layer of writer-director Kirt Gunn’s luminous film debut, “Lovely by Surprise,” is some absurdist, uproarious, shining oddity. The film opens on an enthusiastic Marian (Carrie Preston), who is struggling with a novel that appears to have developed a mind of its own.  What ensues is a pitch-perfect take on the nutty adventure that is writing a first book.  Despite the protestations of her former writing teacher, Jackson (Austin Pendleton), Marian doesn’t believe in the separation of real life and fiction, and it is this belief that powers this wildly inventive film.

Flashes of Marian’s gloriously created world are scattered throughout the film.  In it we find Humkin (Michael Chernus) and Mopekey (Dallas Roberts), two childlike men who live on a ship in the middle of a field. They often stand on their diving board, but never jump off because they are isolated from the outside world and there is no water beneath their boat. The hip soundtrack is well-integrated, with apt musical selections popping up in the midst of surreal scenes, like Humpkin’s escape from his fictional world in nothing but neon undies. These moments spring from a script that will cause the aspiring screenwriter to shed a tear of envy. In one scene where Mopekey bathes Humkin in a tub full of breakfast that somehow represents both therapy and love, Humkin wonders aloud whether therapy is supposed to be “so cold and full of cereal.”

 In the real world sector of “Lovely by Surprise,” is Bob (Reg Rogers), the car dealer whose recent loss of his wife has left his young daughter (Lena Lamer) mute. Bob lives off the charity of his ever-patient boss, Dave (Richard Masur), because although Bob is many things—a calming, accepting figure who reminds people of what matters, urging them to go home and be with their family instead of buying a car they don’t need—it is clear from the start that he will never, under any circumstances, sell a car.  At one point, the long-suffering Dave politely reminds him that telling customers that cars won’t save them from evil and death is counterproductive because it robs them of the supposition that sells the darn things in the first place.  Yet all Dave asks is that Bob talk to someone without scaring them to death. The problem, however, is not that people look scared when they leave, but that they look too relaxed.  Somehow, even though he is suffering himself, Bob cures them of the angst that marketers tell them they need a car to quell.

The childish manner of Marian’s characters is both precious and wise. They like to eat cereal, take milk baths, don green facial masks, luxuriate in the lilt of wonderful words, like “asparagus,” and appreciate their author-given ability to see things as they are not.  They particularly like to suddenly turn together and simultaneously pee off the side of their vessel into the dry grasses beneath. Their author (and here I refer to both Marian and Kirt) loves them deeply, and it shows.  The peculiar logic under which they were created echoes in their every interaction: they know that the membrane between real and make-believe is permeable; and this teaches us that other barriers we have erected in our own lives may be similarly porous. 

 

 
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