Runs at Grand Illusion, Fri., Jan. 11–Thurs., Jan. 17. Not rated. 117 minutes.
Usually the phrase "based on the popular Japanese comic book" means you can expect saucer-eyed cherubs or bullet-breasted ninja assassins or at least a good shoot-'em-up in space. However, Honey and Clover is a live-action manga adaptation set in a college dorm full of silent longing and artistic insecurity. The closest American analogue would be Art School Confidential, but it's nowhere near as spiteful. Instead, the tone is more wistful, even nostalgic, thanks to Masahiro Takada's unhurried direction. His five art students variously fall in love, fall out of love, mope, create, question the integrity of their work, and finally summon the energy to drive to the beach together. There they take a group portrait at sunset, and one comments, "A photo of youth to look back on in old age." They're 20 going on 40, acutely aware of time's passing, achingly sensitive to each nuance of doubt and indecision. That said, all their pining is like watching paint dry, and there's little here that communicates the complexity or excitement of artistic creation. One girl has opera on her headphones while daubing the canvas, which means...apparently nothing. The only performance-art breakthrough is when the group's dorkiest, seemingly least-talented member dons a furry white cat suit to pass out flyers for a grocery store. But his graceful dance of commerce goes unnoticed by pedestrians and art students alike. The latter seem blinded, as it were, by their own private headphones.