Gigantic (United States, 2008)

April 01, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Gigantic Poster

Gigantic is an offbeat romantic comedy that almost - but not quite - works. The characters and situations are a little too quirky for their own good. Everyone is skewed off-center and, while that can be charming in small measures, Gigantic overdoses on it. The film's central romance between two introverted and insecure individuals has its share of nice, sweet moments but director Matt Aselton fails to commit fully to getting these two characters together. Although there's fitful chemistry between lead actors Paul Dano and Zooey Deschanel, Aselton never nurtures those sparks until they catch fire and, as a result, the romantic payoff is unsatisfying. There are also some bizarre interludes that ensure Gigantic will never be seen as mainstream.

Brian Weathersby (Dano) is an unmotivated 28-year-old whose lone desire in life it to adopt a Chinese baby. He's on the waiting list, but he has two strikes against him: he's single and under the magical age of maturity (30). Still, as confirmed by his father (Edward Asner) and mother (Jane Alexander), this has been a lifelong dream, and he's not about to give up now. Brian is struggling with some personal demons that manifest themselves in the form of a violent homeless man (Zach Galifianakis) who randomly attacks him on the street. Although the attacker is in Brian's mind, the damage he inflicts is real in a physical sense.

One day, businessman Al Lolly (John Goodman) shows up at the mattress showroom where Brian works. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy and, with relatively little fanfare, he decides to buy the most expensive bed in the store. He tells Brian he'll send his "girl" in later to finalize the details. The "girl" turns out to be Al's daughter, Happy (Deschanel). She and Brian engage in what might be considered flirting for two socially awkward people, then she falls asleep on the bed while waiting for Brian to complete the paperwork for the sale. They see each other a few days later when he delivers the bed and, after several additional meetings that include sex in the back of a station wagon and skinny dipping in a pool, they are a couple.

Without a doubt, the most bizarre aspect of Gigantic is the homeless man, who appears on four separate occasions. It's obvious he's a manifestation of Brian's psyche, but his ability to dole out visible damage and do things that can be noticed by others makes it impossible to logically reason out his presence and purpose. Most of the legitimate explanations for him fall apart under scrutiny, including the possibility that there really is a homicidal homeless man obsessed with doing harm to Brian. The mystery of the homeless man is a distraction, in part because it's unclear if Aselton knows what he's supposed to represent and, even if he does, this is not effectively conveyed. It's almost as if the director threw the character into the mix just so viewers could argue about what he "means" during post-screening discussions.

Paul Dano is effective playing the introverted Brian. The nicely modulated, low-key performance represents a much different piece of work than his standout role opposite Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Zooey Deschanel, as attractive as she has ever been, wonderfully inhabits her ditzy character, and she provides the zing that is absent from Dano's portrayal of the low-wattage Brian. The movie, however, is skewed heavily toward its male lead. He's the main character; she's the "love interest." This is made clear when she disappears for a significant portion of the middle act. Ultimately, the arc of their romance is interrupted by the arrival of the end credits. We care enough about them as a couple to be annoyed when Aselton decides to bow out after a somewhat muddled final few scenes.

The scene-stealer is John Goodman. When he's on camera, no one else matters. This is possibly the best performance Goodman has given in a decade or more. His character is a mostly comedic figure and he delivers his dialogue with the perfect timing of a seasoned actor who has found lines he wants to relish. Since his role is supporting, he doesn't have a lot of screen time but, when he's around, he holds the attention.

Gigantic exhibits an inconsistent structure, mixing and matching lighthearted whimsy and moments of authenticity with an annoyingly self-indulgent quasi-prentiousness. Dead-ends fray the narrative, crowding out more tightly scripted story elements. Things become cluttered. In addition to the problem with the homeless man, there's a mid-movie mushroom hunting expedition that breaks the film's romantic momentum and a complete misfire of a scene in a massage parlor. There are also late-innings "complications" that seem contrived. Gigantic is determined to remind us at every corner that romantic comedies don't necessarily have to unfold the way they do in big-budget movies, and that love doesn't always follow the Hollywood formula. Although Aselton succeeds in making that point, some of his most aggressive flourishes aren't effective, and their failures end up defining Gigantic almost as fully as the offbeat and mostly engaging central romance.

Gigantic (United States, 2008)

Director: Matt Aselton
Cast: Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, John Goodman, Edward Asner, Jane Alexander
Screenplay: Matt Aselton, Adam Nagata
Cinematography: Peter Donahue
Music: Roddy Bottum
U.S. Distributor: First Independent Pictures
Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2009-04-03
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1