Gigantic (2009, Vivendi Entertainment)
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Matt Aselton’s film Gigantic is a quirky little movie with a great deal of charm and plenty of heart. Eccentric would be a good adjective to describe this film co-written by Aselton and Adam Nagata. There are plenty of reasons to check out this independent film, in particular the splendid cast and the entrancing cinematography by Peter Donahue, who shot on film instead of the indie trend of HD, adding to the movie’s appeal.
Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will be Blood) stars as Brian, a mattress salesman from a large family who is in the process of adopting a child from China. Quiet, reserved, and intellectual, Brian also has a demon pursuing him around the streets of New York in the form of Zach Galifianakis, who appears randomly throughout the film in different guises, trying to beat up or even kill Brian. One afternoon, Al Lolly, a boisterous, rich man (John Goodman) comes to purchase a mattress. After some great back and forth between Brian and Al, a mattress is chosen and Al tells Brian he will send his daughter down to pay for it. Enter Zooey Deschanel, the reigning queen of indie pics, as Happy. She’s a bit misguided and off course in life. When she arrives to make the payment, she promptly falls asleep on the mattress for several hours. Brian is immediately smitten. Slowly, a relationship builds and the two characters begin to fall in love.
While that description sounds a little pat, Gigantic is difficult to sum up in a neat little logline. When speaking with director Aselton, a likable man in conversation, he pitched his film as “A man trying to adopt a baby from China while avoiding the random attacks of a homeless man.” You could hear the sarcasm dripping from Aselton’s voice when he made this description because that logline would imply simplicity, and Gigantic is far from simple. A director of over 100 commercials, Aselton decided to avoid the quick buck of a summer tentpole film, like some of his peers, and create a character-driven, somewhat ambiguous picture like the directors he idolized as a film student. Men like Hal Ashby (whose work Gigantic most closely resembles), Sidney Lumet, and David Lynch. Indeed, Gigantic has the feel of many of those ’70s films by those film directors, using long lenses almost exclusively to allow scenes to breathe in nice long shots, allowing the actors to perform and discover their characters before our eyes.
Despite the film’s title, Gigantic is a small film, one that focuses on the interplay between the actors instead of plot contrivances and big action sequences. Aselton has a nimble touch with his actors, guiding not only Dano and Deschanel to understated, sweet performances, but also reigning in John Goodman’s tendency to dominate a movie, giving him one of his best roles in years. One of the nicest surprises of the movie is Ed Asner’s performance. In each scene he’s on camera Asner, portraying Dano’s eccentric, loving father, lights up the movie screen. A generous, ensemble actor, this Hollywood legend is such a joy to watch that I wished I could see an entire movie devoted to him and his wife (an underused Jane Alexander).
Gigantic may not be everyone’s cup of tea (just ask my wife). However, it is the singular vision of director Aselton working in sync with his actors and crew. Is it perfect? No. But it did make me smile and care for the characters. In addition, it made me curious and excited to see what Aselton does next.