Finally, Lillian and Dan

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/19/08 10:30:21

"When introverts collide."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

SCREENED AT THE 2008 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: The movie is called “Finally, Lillian and Dan,” as if to anticipate our impatience. Here is a film where so little happens that whenever something - anything! - finally does, we sigh a collective, exasperated “FINALLY!”

It’s tempting to call rookie director Mike Gibisser’s film the latest entry in the “mumblecore” subgenre of the low budget indie world. After all, there’s mumbling, and plenty of it - several of the characters’ very few moments of dialogue are almost incomprehensible, thanks to two performances that produce mainly whispers and shy grumblings. But the movie’s not so much about the navel-gaze as it is about the blank stare. Gibisser’s characters wander the spaces of the frame in a constant fog.

Which could lead to some dazzling cinema, if only the filmmaker had not stubbornly left too many pieces missing from the dramatic puzzle. The story, such as it is, follows a woman (named, apparently, Lillian, although I glean that from the title and not the movie itself - if names were mentioned, I didn’t catch them) who cries all the time and a man (um, “Dan,” I suppose) who wanders the streets like a hobo, pausing only to take long, somber drags off a cigarette. They sleepwalk through life until the day they wind up next to each other in line at the grocery store; they eye each other, or provide as much visual contact as their zero-energy lives will allow, then go their separate ways, apparently each having fallen madly in love with the other. Later, she decides to throw a block party, and he discovers one of the flyers she’s put up. Sadly, no one attends the party except the man, but that’s enough to thrill her into almost barely showing an emotion.

All of this takes something like a third or so of the movie’s 90 minute running time. By this point, we’ve been patient with Gibisser’s project, thanks mainly to a strong opening (Lillian’s boss clumsily asks her on a date, and while the scene is very twee and self-indulgently quirky, it has a certain offbeat charm) and sharp, intriguing performances from Gretchen Akers as Lillian and Lucy Quinn (Gibisser’s own grandmother) as Lillian’s grandmother, with whom the young woman lives. (Jason Kean, as Dan, is stuck as a blank slate for too much of this first section to make an impact.) We’re certain that Gibisser and his cast (he co-wrote the improvisational script with his two leads) are setting us up for something, a chance to discover just who these people are and why they should come together.

Then Dan and Lillian have their date, and it’s mostly them just sitting in a car staring blankly at nothing. When Lillian finally speaks, it’s to tell a woefully uninteresting story about her childhood - a scene that is meant to read as “the real-life awkwardness of uncomfortable people just starting to open themselves to others” but really just comes off as “I liked her better when she was quiet.” (I was constantly reminded of the “Family Guy” where Chris Griffin loudly laments, “I’m so awkward!!!”)

What follows is nearly an hour of the couple hanging out, usually not doing anything, occasionally having their own panic attacks, perhaps in fear that the other will discover how hopelessly dull each of them is. Meanwhile, in some scenes, Lillian dances with her grandmother.

And that’s all there is, which is the problem. In an attempt to show the clumsiness and discomfort of shy people wooing each other in their own special way, Gibisser spends too much time on the awkward silences and not enough on the people themselves. We never do find out much of anything about either character, which becomes maddening. It’s one thing for a movie to be indirect and enigmatic; it’s another for it to be opaque.

The character walls are too high, too thick, and with no slice of insight regarding the characters, we’re left watching two blank slates frown for very long periods of time while sad music plays on the soundtrack. Gibisser proves himself to be a talented visual artist - many of his shots are lovely, thanks mainly to smart use of grungy 16mm photography and subdued mood lighting - yet as a storyteller, he’s exasperating.

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