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Just Average: 6.67%
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1 review, 9 user ratings

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Viva (2008)
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by Jay Seaver

"It's just like a bad 70s nudie movie, which means it's not very good."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: Anna Biller worked hard on "Viva", and I must admit to admiring some of what she managed to accomplish. Where most auteurs would be content to write, direct, and star in their movies, Biller also had credits as producer, editor, production designer, and costume designer. It turns out that she's very good at those last two - the visuals are almost always striking. The rest of the work, unfortunately, runs the gamut between dull and excruciating.

Take the opening scene, where married couple Mark (Jared Sanford) and Sheila (Bridget Brno) trade inanities by the pool, guffawing at every uninteresting comment either makes. Their neighbor Barbi (Biller) soon joins them, wearing a dress with an absurd hemline and joining in the fun, commenting on how she and Sheila have better curves than the girls in Playboy and soon posing while Mark flashes away with his new camera. If you demand more from comedy than mocking recreation, this scene will seem to go on roughly forever. Relatively soon, though, Barbi and Sheila are on their own - Mark moves in with his brother and Barbi's husband Rick (Chad England) leaves on a month-long business trip. Soon, the two are involved in a prostitution/matchmaking operation, with Barbi using the name Viva because (dramatic pause) it means "to live" in Italian, and that's what she wants to do with the rest of her life... Live!

Biller's recreation of 1970s California goes beyond detailed to fetishistic. In the Q&A afterward, she said that the art direction was primarily based on advertisements in 1970s Playboy magazines, often posing the actors in such a way as to match the the models from the ads and incorporating the slogans into the dialog. The result is a world that seldom looks real, but does frequently feel familiar and complete. The costumes are similarly outrageous, with bright colors (lots of reds and yellows) and ridiculous cuts.

That would be enough if Viva was a short film. Unfortunately, it's a wee bit longer than two hours, and doesn't have entertainment for half that. It's a string of anecdotes and vignettes that move smoothly from one to the next without consequence, and that's fine in theory, especially if the individual vignettes are good. They're not, though. They're the type of warts-and-all recreation which are completely bereft of the sincerity that makes their inspirations campy fun. The people Biller apes were trying their best, but made something laughable either because the environment changed or because their talent didn't match their ambition. The opposite is the case here - the work the film's crew puts into making a circa 1970 bad movie just feels wasted - why put all that effort into recreating the environment just so if a similar amount doesn't go into being funny?

Clearly, though, Biller thinks it's funny, and given all the jobs she did, it's hard to fault her for having trouble letting go of footage. But, that's why most writer/directors have other people as producers and editors, so that there's someone in the room saying "hey, this part goes on too long and wasn't the funniest bit to begin with". Or that, even as parody, her performance isn't that great. Biller's Barbi/Viva never has enough of a personality to be funny, let alone have the audience feel something for her; at least Brno gets to play Sheila as an amusing stereotype. Jared Sanford hams it up as Mark, while Chad England does seem to be making a bit of an effort as Rick.

There's occasional amusing bit to "Viva", but it goes the way of all too many parodies - it's so intent on having the audience laugh at how bad old movies were that it fails to put enough effort into the present one being funny.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15962&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/30/07 09:22:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2007 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Independent Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Independent Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2007 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/20/09 Bruce B. This was kind of funny, but too long 3 stars
7/16/07 Jason This film and its actresses are SO SEXY 5 stars
6/19/07 Rebecca Viva la Viva! 5 stars
6/01/07 Andrew Who says this is a comedy? It's funny at times, but also dramatic, sexy, and even sad. 5 stars
5/31/07 Chichikov A beautiful and ineffable mix of the tawdry, the solemn and the absurd . 5 stars
5/31/07 Jack Fox Sexy as hell! 5 stars
5/30/07 Pablo I saw this at BUFF. It rocks! 5 stars
5/27/07 Jonathan Sexploitation with a message, that manages to be both funny and thought-provoking. 5 stars
4/02/07 Shelly This is a great movie. I think maybe the reviewer just didn't get it. 5 stars
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  02-May-2008 (NR)
  DVD: 24-Feb-2009



Directed by
  Anna Biller

Written by
  Anna Biller

  Anna Biller
  Jared Sanford
  Bridget Brno
  Chad England
  Marcus DeAnda

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