Going nowhere

Sometimes nothing happens, and that's good. Seinfeld. Eric Rohmer movies. The fiction of Raymond Carver. We're left with more room to appreciate language, or mood, or Kramer's hair. But when minimalist story structure is used to express minimalist emotions, and is echoed by minimalist imagery, nothingness suddenly becomes, well, boring. You've gone from New Wave to No Wave.

Clockwatchers

directed by Jill Sprecher

starring Parker Posey, Toni Collette, Lisa Kudrow

starts Friday at the Broadway Market

First Love, Last Rites

directed by Jesse Peretz

starring Giovanni Ribisi, Natasha

Gregson Wagner

starts Friday at the Metro

First Love, Last Rites is the debut film from former Lemonheads bassist Jesse Peretz, who also happens to be the son of New Republic editor Martin Peretz. Clearly attempting to flee this cultural overdetermination, Peretz has taken a short story by British writer Ian McEwan and reset it in a poverty-stricken Louisiana bayou. The very talented Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan) plays Joey, a Brooklyn boy inexplicably on vacation in this go-nowhere town, where he falls in love with a local girl named Sissel, played by the not discernibly talented Natasha Gregson Wagner.

They mope about like Steve Miller's "two young lovers with nothing better to do than sit around the house get high and watch the tube." Except in this world, there is no TV and no pot. That would be too much like real life, and we're dealing instead with a New Yorker's fantasy of bumpkin existentialism. There's a fetid bed, there are endless cartons of Chinese food, there's Sissel's annoyingly whimsical habit of putting her 45s into pots of water and boiling them. Yes, vinyl 45s—Peretz's rural fantasy doesn't involve anything so crass, so commercial, so out-and-out shiny as CDs. Though reviewers have rhapsodized about this film as a "mood piece" (as if a few lengthy shots of swooping-birds-over-the-bayou a mood piece make), what it amounts to is a kind of antiMartha Stewart piece. It's just as unrealistically anti-technology as Stewart's version of rural life, except Peretz's vision is disaffected, lo-fi, and determined to bore us to tears.

Jill Sprecher's Clockwatchers has a more explicit goal: to reveal the inhuman tedium of the life of a temp. She follows Parker Posey, Toni Collette, Lisa Kudrow, and Alanna Ubach as they wander the corridors of a giant credit agency, meeting with all kinds of indignities. The film, with its moments of wryly observed indignity, at times creates a fine sense of outrage. Posey proves to be good fun in a corporate setting, striding through the office with her piercing twang and her anarchic body language. But the overall idea here is to demonstrate boredom by boring the audience. A cohesive cinematic goal? Yes. An appealing night out at the movies? Not quite.

 
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