Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Good Dick

It begins with a look. It always begins with a look.

Boy meets at girl in video store. Boy attempts awkward conversation with reclusive girl about '70s erotica. Reclusive girl turns out to be sociopath. Boy stalks and forces himself into reclusive sociopath's life. Love ensues?

Love is blind, love is a cruel mistress, and in Good Dick, love is a callow exercise in emotional futility. Written, directed and starring Marianna Palka and longtime boyfriend Jason Ritter, Good Dick delves into indie film's favorite subject: the quirky, awkward, borderline perverse things we do to find love.

First time director Palka has a flair for showing the lonely emptiness of Los Angeles, and shows a genuine sense of chemistry with onscreen love Ritter. Yet despite somber moments of intimacy and the customary indie foray into kitsch involving romantic signage attached to appendages, Good Dick feels flat and underdeveloped, forgoing fully fleshed out characters in favor of long stares and moments of isolation.

Ritter is a charming onscreen presence that makes his character's boundless optimism endearing, but also makes it difficult to comprehend the punishment he continues to endure pursuing Palka's damaged recluse. Palka to her credit, writes scenes of beautiful intimacy, but undermines attempts at subtlety with an uneven performance. We understand that her recluse has an emotionally damaged past; we don't understand why she's so maddeningly inconsistent with Ritter's nameless optimist.

At the core of Good Dick's shortcomings is it's over-reliance on emotional conjecture. Ritter's cloudy past is alluded to with an after school special formality, while Palka's emotional damage appears to be derived from a caricature of a rich, creepy, abusive daddy (flatly played by Tom Arnold) that is forced, and not genuinely earned.

For a first feature, Palka does a more than adequate job establishing a nice tone and feel for Good Dick. As a performer, her lapses into melodrama outweigh the emotional veracity of her eyes, and the natural beauty she belies. Ritter is a stabilizing center for the film, and a welcome film presence that can only get better with age.

It always begins with a look. But sometimes, we need more than that.

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