August 13, 2006

DVD Review: Sorry, Haters

This is a film that I am not quite sure how to react to. It is a character study involving a Muslim cab driver and his sociopath fare from a post-9/11 psychological viewpoint. It is oddly compelling in its buildup, but upon conclusion, I was left scratching my head as to her motives. Sure, she has her speech, but I wasn't buying it. The whole proceedings inside her head didn't translate well. I guess I am getting a little bit ahead of myself.

The story starts with a woman getting into a cab driven by a Muslim. She has him drive her to New Jersey where she cries a bit, displays a slightly unbalanced personality and scrapes up her ex-husbands new car with a rock. The drive time allows for Phoebe, the fare, to inquire into the life of Ashade, the cabbie. It turns out that the cabbie is from Syria, and recently his brother, a 10-year Canadian citizen, is being deported to Syria by way of Guantanemo on suspicion of terrorist activities. This news leads to escalating mind games, played by our increasingly bizarre, Phoebe.

As the story moves along its destined course, it is revealed that Phoebe is a self hating woman who felt empowered by the events of 9/11. Now, she is seeking a way to regaint hat empowerement, therefore finding a way to love herself. Her mindgames with the genuinely good person that is having his life taken away from him, losing control of his own life at the hands of this invader. All leading to a climax that is quite disturbing in what it is, and perplexing as to why. It boils down to a woman hiding her own self hating ways behind the tragedy of 9/11.

As increasingly insane as the story gets, the more compelling the lead actors get. It is an excellent example of the inverse relationship that the quality of performance can have versus the quality of the film as a whole. It is also a tribute to the actual talent possessed by the performers involved.

Our insane female fare is played by Robin Wright Penn. She has a simmering intensity in her portrayal of Phoebe. Her outward actions may not necessarily make sense, but her increasingly twisted state of mind playes out on the face of Penn. It is a strong performance for a wacky role. Conversely, Abdellatif Kechiche is wonderfully understated as the Syrian cab driver whose life is being torn away from under him. He carries a lot of weight in his expressions, his feeling s boiling beneath the surface. Very strong perfromances in a film that is ultimately underwhelming.

Sorry, Haters as a title strikes me as a pretentious knock to those who may not like or understand the film the way the director has envisioned it, or apologetic to those who felt empowered by the events of that day. Whatever the case is, it is an odd title that bears little relation to what goes on onscreen, save for a few clips of an MTV Cribs type show called, what else, Sorry, Haters.

The movie was written and directed by Jeff Stanzler, his first feature length effort since 1996's Jumpin' at the Boneyard. He did try to make a film that stirs up the emotions, but ultimately it fails under the weight of trying too hard and not making a true connection with the audience. He shot it on DV, which doesn't help the film as it looks faded and washed out, which may have been on purpose, but just makes it look low-budget.Admirable effort, but it comes up a bit short.

Video. It is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and is not anamorphically enhanced. It has that washed out DV look of a low budget film, not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't look all that good here.

Audio. Sound is 5.1 Dolby Digital, although it is not terribly active in the surrounds. Most of it is centered in the front on the dialog, where it should be. Overall, it is a good track.

  • Commentary. The track features writer/director Jeff Stanzler and star Robin Wright Penn. It is a decent track going over the shooting and some of the thematic material. Stanzler even takes the time to ask Roger Ebert for calling him egomaniacal and that people didn't want him to finish the film, something Jeff says that Ebert wrote in his review. That is not entirely accurate, I quote: "I learn that the producers tried to tell its director, Jeff Stanzler, that his third act didn't work, but he pressed on." So, not quite what Stanzler claims, perhaps the actual claim could be substantiated by either party? I am not in a position to say one way or the other, but it was an interesting point in the commentary.
  • Round Table Discussion. This 10 minute clip is moderated by Tim Robbins, and features no one associated with the film. It is mildly interesting, but it came off as a pretentious discussion making the movie seem more important than it probably deserves.

Bottomline. This is definitely a film that is better served as a rental. It is worth seeing it for the quality performances from the two leads, but the story leaves much to be desired. It is an admirable effort of independent filmmaking. Despite the absurdities of the story, there are some nuggets here that could spark discussion, or be used to create a stronger film.

Mildly Recommended.

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