A bland, white businessman timidly joins a drum circle and learns, through a mystical immigrant, how to express himself while my head explodes.
I don’t know about you, but I started the summer off with a bang. Typically skeptical of summer blockbusters, I was surprised to notice how many of them this year seemed to actually interest me. It’s early June, and I’ve already seen three huge-budget films. I can’t say I’m not excited about Get Smart. The cuteness of a Steve Carell /Anne Hathaway team is only surpassed by that damn robot Wall-E, whose mechanical face manages to be adorable even though I know I’m being manipulated by a pair of giant, Pixar eyes. That’s probably not nearly as bad as how manipulated I am willing to be by James Franco‘s toothy grin in the upcoming, better-be-good-or-else- I-spent-way-too-much-time- watching-the-trailer-online Pineapple Express. The Dark Knight, of course, is mandatory viewing for just about everyone I know, and even Mike Myers‘s The Love Guru looks like it might be worth my time and money*.
So why didn’t I see Kung Fu Panda this weekend like my heart wanted to? Because I am a fool. I mentally catalogued the movies I’d seen in the past couple of months, and I sure noticed a whole lot of Judd Apatow and not a whole lot of Some French Guy I’ve Never Heard Of. I started feeling like a poor excuse for a film enthusiast, spending all this time and effort on sugary fluff, when there are independent movies to be seen! Lots of them! Surely!
Turns out that independent movies can be bad too. What’s more, they save all the bad ones for the launch of the summer b’busters and then release them like feeble old wolves out to attack their audience prey with some weak political charge and heavy-handedness. I’ll go ahead and save you the trouble you weren’t going to take to see Thomas McCarthy‘s The Visitor. Immigrants are people too, and some of them – EVEN THE DARKER ONES (!!!) – teach us the beauty of a variated life.
Bam, done. You’ve already put the plot together in your head by now. Grieving, empty man meets a troubled yet wonderful couple, possibly of fairy origin, they are that angelic. The one from Syria gets unfairly profiled by NYC subway cops and off he goes to a detention center in the terrible land of Bronx. Cops, government employees, and white people alike are oblivious to the fate of thousands of illegal aliens who are just trying to play the drums in a drum circle. Empty white man becomes angry, teams up with the Syrian’s hot mother, and together they…well, I won’t spoil your glee at finding out that every person is a person, no matter if they have a different skin shade or imaginary green card.
Woops, I spoiled it. A person is a person. Act surprised.
The worst thing about a bad independent movie is the wasted potential. If you’re an independent filmmaker, you have a certain amount of freedom riding on the fact that nobody’s put up katrillions of dollars to fund your movie. Because it’s not such a huge financial liability, you can afford to take some risks with your craft. Instead of being on a moneymaking assembly line of plastic crowd-pleasers, independent films should push the envelope. And in case independent filmmakers haven’t noticed, those big budget films are getting better. Iron Man? That script was fantastic! Thomas McCarthy owes us more than a one-dimensional plot, practically collapsing under the weight of all the stupid symbols piled on top of it. He owes us some depth and innovation. We’ve seen There Will Be Blood and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly now, OK? We know what’s possible in the world of well-made film, and this doesn’t cut it.
And however tired the lesson behind Kung Fu Panda is, at least Jack Black doing the voice of a bear who likes martial arts is something we haven’t seen before.
*Don’t you be fooled by an M. Night Shyamalan trailer again. You KNOW how his trailers trick you into believing that this time, he has finally made his second good film. You know they do! Look away from the light!