Friday, August 26, 2016

So adorable you could puke: Dani Menkin's Israeli/American road movie, IS THAT YOU?

Having been a big fan of Israeli documentary filmmaker Dani Menkin's Dolphin Boy (released here in 2012), TrustMovies was primed to see his first foray into narrative filmmaking, IS THAT YOU? (which has been subtitled The Road Not Taken). Post-viewing, I can now say that it has been a long, long time since I've sat through a movie that so set my teeth on edge. By the time it was over, I was surprised not to have ground those little white chiclets down to gum level, even as the milk in my refrigerator curdled. I guess I was simply unprepared for all the cutesy-pie, oddball characters and wring-your-tear-ducts sentimentality that this movie accrues.

Now, I admit that there will be many folk out there in audience-land who will love this kind of film. And I am somewhat surprised that it rubbed me so fiercely the wrong way. But it did, and here's why. From the outset, Mr. Menkin, shown at right, would seem to be attempting some kind of would-be Cassavetes number, as our hero, played by the oft-seen and usually good Israeli actor, Alon Aboutboul, below, arrives in the USA to visit his estranged brother. From the outset it is clear that these two are oil and water, with Mr. Aboutboul, who was recently seen as the villain in London Has Fallen, playing one of those super-sensitive/ super-sexy older men, while his bro is one of those uber-crass Israelis by way of the USA.

Yes, any subtlety goes almost immediately MIA here. The plot has to do with our hero tracking down an early love-of-his-life, which sets him off on a road trip in which he meets character after character who are just so oddball and cute that you cannot believe for a minute that any of them could ever exist. I suppose that maybe one of them might, but sticking the entire lot into a single movie proves a big mistake.

The first of these (if you don't count those two brothers) is a man who now lives in the house where the former girlfriend once lived. So of course this guy immediately invites our hero in to show him a series of photos on his stairs that offers up a message/moral. (So many messages/morals are offered up in the course of this film that you'll be ready to suggest, as one famous movie mogul once advised, that the filmmaker ought use Western Union -- or, these days, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat or whatever else is the latest in social media.)

But, no: The filmmaker just keeps piling the messages on, mostly via a pretty young woman filmmaker whom our hero meets early on and sticks with for nearly the rest of the movie. As played by Naruna Kaplan de Macedo (at left, above and below), the performance is believable only to the extent that the actress can circumvent the ridiculous character the filmmaker has conceived.

So on we go through one new cutesy introduction after another -- commitment-phobic single guys, kindly married lesbians, opera-singing policemen (certainly the dumbest thing in the film), and so forth. Note to story-tellers: It's fine to have your searched-for party move to a different location, once or even twice. But three or four times within the same film? No thank you.

But I'm off-message. As we learn from yet another fellow we meet: "If you love somebody and they love you, don't let 'em get away."  Duh. If you want to feel manipulated within an inch of your life, this is the movie for you. It almost (but not quite) makes me want to re-think Dolphin Boy. Running a thankfully brief 81 minutes, Is That You? opens today, Friday, August 26, in New York City at the Cinema Village, and is expected to open in the Los Angeles area sometime in September. I would also imagine it to be a shoo-in for a few theaters down here in Southern Florida, especially in Boca Raton.

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