Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Amy Nicholson's short, sweet PICKLE opens theatrically with Myers/Whittet's GIRL ASLEEP

Excuse me if I am putting the cart before the horse here, but PICKLE -- the delightful and profound little 16-minute short by Amy Nicholson (shown below) starring her fascinating parents, Tom and Debbie Nicholson -- is such a must-see that it rather puts in the shade the perfectly OK feature film, GIRL ASLEEP, with which it shares the bill. What a blessing that the U.S. distributor of both, Oscilloscope Laboratories, saw fit to place both on the same bill -- which, together, adds up to 93 minutes of fun, frolic and food for thought.

While it obviously comes as no surprise to Ms Nicholson that her parents are people who can't seem to help but come to the aid of the other species on our planet who need their help, we are introduced to this couple as Tom asks us, "How interesting can a fish be when he's standing up in a sponge because he can't swim?" You'd be surprised. By the time we return to Pickle at film's end, you'll have been regaled with tales of animals, fish and fowl that will blow your mind & heart.

Don't mistake my words here; there's not a trace of terk-jerking or pushing buttons. Just tales of animal rescue that are bizarre, funny, appealing and rather amazing, too -- beginning with a Perdue chicken (no doubt going off to slaughter) who falls off the back of a truck and becomes Debbie's first rescue. As these tales pile up, they become a kind of pet lover's dream (or worst nightmare).

Yet Ms Nicholson's dry, inquiring tone, coupled to her very charming parents and some delightful animation as needed (since most of these pets have long since departed this vale of tears), makes for a one-of-a-kind movie experience that I suspect you will treasure.

Look for Peanut, the cat with a bad heart; Ginger, a chicken who must undergo amputation; Pogo, the paraplegic opossum; and finally that stump-bodied little title fish. How this black and hilarious movie that is all about sickness and death can keep you giggling throughout is just one of the mysteries here. Look for some sudden and amazing topiary from Tom, too. And finally, we get a quiet, thoughtful finale that will knock your socks off. Pickle is a 16-minute don't-miss -- and one I want to share will everyone I know and love.

And now for the main attraction: GIRL ASLEEP, a coming-of-age tale about a misfit high-school girl, Greta (Bethany Whitmore, at right and below), who is just about to celebrate her fifteenth birthday. Her family is concerned but not very helpful (in fact, by arranging a birthday party for their daughter to which they invite her entire class, they just about do her in). She has no friends except for one dorky boy, Eliott (Harrison Feldman, below, left)  who maybe has a crush on her -- or perhaps simply knows when he sees another nerd in need.

As written (from his own play) by Matthew Whittet and directed by Rosemary Myers (shown below), the movie is written and filmed with a kind of clever, deadpan stylization that takes things into a slightly surreal realm -- but not so far that reality topples.

Girl Asleep treads a rather fine line rather successfully for its first half, as our Greta is set up for one problem after another, as one embarrassment follows the next. But this is nothing like the WeinerDog, Dawn, of Todd Solondz fame. Greta, despite her wanderings into fantasyland, is a good deal more centered and strong. Even if she does not yet realize that fact. (Those are her three biggest school nemeses, below.)

How she comes to the necessary realization involves a very long fall-asleep/fantasy sequence in which, I must admit, the symbolism and metaphor become way too much. S&M (symbolism & metaphor, in this case), works best when it is not terribly obvious, which unfortunately it is here. And the sequence goes on and on and on. (Perhaps this fantasy sequence worked better as "theater," because it is so very theatrical.)

Then, just as we've pretty much given up, the movie redeems itself completely with a wonderful and surprising finale, in which what happens is unexpected but just about perfect, leading us into a place and position that were always there but have only now revealed themselves. On balance, Girl Asleep is worth the watch. And coupled as it is to Pickle, the experience proves more than worthwhile.

From Oscilloscope Laboratories, this smart double bill opens this Friday, September 23, in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt, and the following Friday, September 30, in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine. Over the weeks to come, the two films will play all across the country. Here in South Florida, you can see them in Miami at the Bill Cosford Cinema, beginning October 7. To view all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed, click here and then click on SCREENINGS.

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