“Goliath,” co-directed by brothers David and Nathan Zellner, is an experimental film in appearance, tempo and most importantly spirit. Its tale, about a sad sack of a man (David Zellner) searching for his beloved lost cat Goliath, is something chancy filmmaker Harmony Korine would love. Yet, midway into the film, the Zellner Brothers (David Zellner also wrote the screenplay) abandon their film’s lovely quirkiness for more conventional, beginning-middle-end narrative drama. It’s a bold misstep because the subtle, lingering “Goliath,” premiering in Dramatic Spectrum at the Sundance Film Festival, lacks the emotional heft necessary for ordinary storytelling. “Goliath’s” strengths are its oddest qualities. When the Zellners attempt to play matters straight, even attempting a melodramatic climax, “Goliath” loses much of the spark that made it irreverent fun in the first place.
Cinematographer Jim Eastburn channels longtime experimental filmmaker Leighton Pierce and creates beauty from “Goliath”‘s ordinary suburban streets, annoying co-workers, office hallways and of course, the gray cat named Goliath. His camerawork is the standout feature of the film giving “Goliath” its arty dazzling glow, the movie equivalent of Polaroid photos and Daniel Clowes comic novels.
David Zellner is perfectly deadpan; giving a performance that at its best moments resembles sleepwalking. His round face, shaggy hair and dumpy body represent the film’s ordinary people theme. But after an escalating series of confrontations, there’s something of an emotional breakdown at the end of “Goliath.” Zellner is at his best when he’s shuffling through his daily routines, the film’s subtle strangeness. During “Goliath’s” melodramatic meltdowns, especially when he explodes in a rage, weed whacker in hand, it’s as if he’s landed in a different movie.
In these moments of high drama, for the first time, David Zellner comes off as false, as playacting. Melodrama is the fatal flaw for “Goliath,” creating a series of disconnects between film and audience, an audience I believe seeks out movies like “Goliath” for its bold experimental nature.
It’s as if the Zellner Brothers changed directions in order to offer audiences a more ordinary movie-going experience; something they can immediately recognize.
“Goliath” is a wonderfully strange movie, experimental realism at its best that near its end attempts to be ordinary. This raises one question for the talented Zellner Brothers: What’s so bad about being strange?
indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW’s special Park City section.