Static lead characters, little emotional build up and modest dramatic pay-off make filmmaker and actress Marianna Palka‘s dysfunctional lovers tale “Good Dick” a cinematic hamster wheel. The premise of two damaged young loners trying to connect is tried and true but Palka’s movie, making its premiere in dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival, is one-note dull. By it’s ambiguous finish, “Good Dick” has turned into a missed opportunity by a filmmaker who displays plenty of technical promise. All one can do is tuck away the disappointment, celebrate the film’s brief sparks of life, and anticipate what an emerging talent like Palka will do next.
Anna (Palka) is a greasy-haired regular at Los Angeles’ CineFile video store, a sad sack who solely rents erotica. Her dark eye make- up, probing stare and baggy wardrobe captures the eye of a flirty young clerk (Jason Ritter). He becomes puppy dog infatuated with Anna to the extant of lying about a dead relative in order to visit her apartment. Anna and her desperate-to-be boyfriend develop one of the oddest relationships in movie history. Unfortunately, due to a lack of on-screen chemistry and dynamic storytelling, “Good Dick” is bad love at its most boring.
“Good Dick,” its flaws and achievements, is all about the Scottish- born Palka, the film’s writer, director and lead actress. She displays impressive technical polish with the aid of cameraman Andre Lascaris and production designer Andrew Trosmans. Thanks to their efforts, there are moments of tranquil beauty akin to a David Gordon Green film. In the film’s most beautiful moment, a breeze passes through a set of ocean blue kitchen curtains in Anna’s apartment. In terms of telling stories about troubled, everyday people, Palka strives for something similar in spirit to fellow Los Angeles film artist Miranda July. Unfortunately, Palka’s debut pales in comparison to July’s 2005 debut feature “Me And You and Everyone We Know.” To Palka’s credit, she is believable as the troubled Anna, both in appearance and in solemn spirit as she explains what she wants from a boyfriend. “I want you to not talk at all when you come over here,” Anna says with deadan seriousness. “Make the food. Watch the movie.”
Palka’s crippling misstep, what prevents “Good Dick” from succeeding, lies with storytelling that leaves important questions unanswered until the film’s bitter end. While ambiguity can be good in movies, in the case of “Good Dick” it’s the cause of dramatic inertia.
As the lovelorn clerk, Jason Ritter is boyish handsome with an energy that borders on puppy dog annoying. His banter among his fellow video store staff is reminiscent of the record store clerks in Nick Hornby‘s “High Fidelity.” His camaraderie with supporting players Mark Webber, Martin Starr and Eric Edellstein offer the liveliest moments in “Good Dick” and reveal the spark missing between he and Palka.
Veteran actor Charles Durning has a brief cameo as a lovelorn CineFile customer that feels out of sync with the rest of the movie.
The film’s most surprising scenes belong to character actor Tom Arnold who appears in “Good Dick’s” final moments as Anna’s father. His confrontation with Palka generates anger sorely needed in the rest of the film. Finally, near the finish, answers about Anna are reveled. More importantly, there’s much needed energy. Palka pulls back the curtain on Anna, just a little. It’s also a little too late to salvage her feature film debut.
indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is available in iW’s special Park City section.