Gigantic’s symbolist take on 20-something angst refuses to “make all the dots connect,” as first-time director and Gigantic co-writer Matt Aselton told us this week. We sat down with him, and the film’s star, Paul Dano, to discuss their project about a mattress salesman who wants to adopt a Chinese baby and who is stalked by a mysterious homeless man (Zach Galifianakis).
About 20 minutes into the determinedly-slow picture, audiences will experience more than misconnected dots, they’ll experience cinematic déjà vu: The awkward humor, the unsolved mysteries, the cuddly bigotry — it all feels familiar, if not directly referential. Your enjoyment or hatred of the film rests entirely on how willing you are to embrace the absurdity of it all. Zooey Deschael’s charm, or Dano’s asleep-at-the-wheel-deadpan, can’t carry the flick, although they certainly have their appeal.
The question the film raised for us: When did a certain breed of American indies (Garden State/Lost in Translation/Little Miss Sunshine) dictate this slow-paced oddball narrative aesthetic as the norm? When did “quirky” become film grammar?
“I think that word quirky gets tossed around, and it’s lazy and easy to say that it’s ‘quirky,’”Aselton tells us. He says he wanted to make a film about depression without having his characters talk on and on in twenty minute clips, and instead have his images be fodder for discussion rather than expository. IE, are we all as doomed as the drowning white lab rats in the opening scene?
And while an analysis depression doesn’t seem to be the film’s raison d’être, Dano is a perfect candidate for representing a privileged, but bleak, 20-something wilderness Aselton is referring to: the meaningless jobs, the uncomfortable romances, the Brooklyn backdrop. His character, as Dano puts it, represents “repression mixed with confidence.” This is a fitting a description not only his character, but also where the style and voice of this film, among so many others, originates. Gigantic is certainly confident — John Goodman, Ed Asner, and Jane Alexander make an outstanding support group — but it also holds back on saying anything devastating about life in this young century.
Simply put: This isn’t a Kelly Reichardt film.
Perhaps the day Jim Jarmusch gave aspiring Bolex wielding auteurs the go-ahead to bask in the long take, or maybe Wes Anderson’s more recent love-affair with upper-class zaniness, has some hints to where Dano and Aselton are coming from. For some, this romanticized dreariness, combined with the Dano/Deschanel package, is just what they need to help escape their own lives for a brief while — others will find that Aselton’s weird, wounded world is too distant to matter.