Monday, April 26, 2010

Iceland's Dagur Kári offers up THE GOOD HEART; Cox and Dano shine; TM does a Q&A from memory

The land of that volcano does boast some positive attributes.  Chief among these, for moviegoers at least, is writer/director Dagur Kári, shown below, whose first full-length film, the bizarrely funny and extremely energetic Noi, the Albino (Nói albínói) back in 2003 caused some critical heads to turn his way. Kári's following film, Dark Horse (Voksne mennesker), despite a couple of small festival showings, was hardly seen on these shores, but that should not be the case with his new one (and first in English), THE GOOD HEART.

At a very low-key and pleasant roundtable Q&A with Mr. Kári and one of his stars, Paul Dano (the other, Brian Cox, was to have appeared but was stuck in Europe, due to volcanic ash), we conversed with that the writer/director, whose English is pretty good, and learned that this project took several years to come to fruition. (For the first time in his interviewing history, TrustMovies managed to set up his digital recorder, then forgot to hit "record," so the Q&A interspersed here is coming from his ever-dimmer memory bank.) 

The Good Heart brings together two men of disparate age, circumstance and attitude.  Brian Cox (above) co-stars as a surly, crotchety old bar owner in yet another role that will have critics crying, "His best ever!" (Mr. Cox, who is but 64 and has managed nearly 160 film and TV appearances, makes a habit of being so good so often -- from Red Eye to Red, The Escapist to Trick 'r Treat -- that this sort of praise, true as it is, must grow tiresome for him to hear.)  Paul Dano (show below, with a feathered friend who proves quite important to the film), who has also managed to be expert in literally every film he's made, no matter if the film itself might come up a little short, plays a homeless young man who is taken under the wing of the Cox character.

How all this comes about is actually quite fun, and no less unbelievable than what happens in most romantic comedies to which mainstream audiences are these days subjected.  The characters' "cute meet" (and what follows it) works due in part to how charming and dear it all is, with Cox's salty language and demeanor a perfect foil for Dano's innate and never-pushed sweetness. This young actor does vulnerability about as well as anyone since the pre-Psycho Tony Perkins.  When TM asked Dano about this during the Q&A, the actor seems at first surprised but then agreed that, yes, the type of roles he is offered (and then selects from among) tend to go in this direction.  "How do you keep your stability" another blogger wanted to know, and Dano explained that he is fortunate indeed to have a girlfriend of 2-1/2 years who will spank him (not literally, he assured us) whenever he gets out of line. (One of my compatriots later informed TM, who tends not to keep up with who's dating whom, that the girlfriend is none other than Zoe Kazan. So, good for this talented young couple -- who probably keeps each other in line, in the way that smart "significant others" tend to do.)

But back to The Good Heart.  So juicily does Mr. Cox latch onto his character with his sleazy conversation, and so sweetly does Mr. Dano try to negotiate all this and more, that the two engage in a constant and lovely pas de deux which is broken around midway by the introduction of a new character, a young, beautifully exotic and evidently down-on-her-luck woman whom Dano's character takes in, just as Cox has done with Dano.  Complications, unsurprisingly, ensue, but they are nothing compared to the gaping hole that the movie then becomes. 

This young woman is played by the terrific French actress Isild LeBesco (of À tout de suite, Backstage and Wild Camp: click the title of the latter for a review by my Greencine compatriot Craig Phillips).  Le Besco is extraordinarily good at expressing youthful rebellion and outrage at conventionality, among other things. But she does need a trace of character to do this, and she gets practically none from this writer/director.  Instead, we have "generic woman" intruding on a pair of happy guys and making their life, particularly that of Cox's character, miserable.  April, as she's called, has no back-story except that she's a flight attendant suddenly out of work. And that's it.  We know Dano's Lucas, at least from from his homeless routine, hospital stay and relationship with Cox's Jacques, who has enough sentimental back-story to choke a horse.  Of April, we learn nothing, except that Kári intends her to wreak havoc on our poor guys and their male bastion of sanctity.

While this hole does not sink the movie, it de-balls it somewhat.  My first question to the filmmaker was about the role that the woman plays in the proceedings, and he explained that, as we can clearly see, she interferes with and helps destroys this male bastion. Well, OK.  As I recall from Kári's earlier Noi, the female get short- shrifted, as well, but I will reserve judgment until I see another or two of this interesting filmmaker's work.  I hope he'll tackle a strong female character and bring her to life. 

The movie is still a lot of fun: sweet and moving and funny.  The three leads are a treat to watch, as is every individual bar patron, brought to fine form by a well-chosen cast.  (Kári told us during the Q&A that only a small portion of the film was shot in New York but most of it was filmed in Iceland; yet the mix of Icelandic, UK, American and French actors on display never jars.)

The Good Heart (approx 95 minutes, from Magnolia Pictures) opens this Friday, April 30, at four theaters in the Southern California area, and one in New York City.  All its current and forthcoming playdates, theaters and cities can be found here.

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