Friday, July 31, 1998

Director needs to learn to let go

Movie: Mr. Jealousy

Posted on Fri, Jul 31, 1998 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 2.50

"Mr. Jealousy," the second feature from director Noah Baumbach ("Kicking and Screaming"), seems to have it all: interesting premise, great cast, even a soundtrack by indie-rock gods Luna. So what's the problem? I'm assuming the script must have read well to have attracted its high-calibre cast, so chalk this one up to something getting lost in the translation from page to screen.

Lester Grimm (Eric Stoltz) has had girl problems since the age of 15, a fact we learn through a gimmicky opening that unsuccessfully tries to channel Woody Allen. He's still having girl problems 15 years later. Through mutual friends, Lester meets Ramona Ray (Annabella Sciorra). She is beautiful, spirited and charmingly idiosyncratic, which explains her oh-so-wacky non-sequiturs like, "What would you do if I ran over and kicked you in the head right now?" Of course, Lester falls in love with her.

Everything is peachy between the two, until Lester becomes fixated on Ramona's past lovers, especially the best-selling author and voice-of-his-generation Dashiell Frank (Chris Eigeman). Spotting Dashiell on the street one day, Lester follows him and ends up joining his therapy group under a false name so he can learn more about his new girlfriend and not make the same mistakes.

"Mr. Jealousy" is not a bad movie, but any funny or genuine moments are ultimately bulldozed by the director's heavy-handed cinematic techniques. Most intrusive and annoying is the omniscient (and omnipresent) voiceover narration, once again proving what works for Woody Allen doesn't necessarily work for everyone. Baumbach seems to be trying to impose a novelistic significance on the film, but the voiceover undermines the fine performances and insults the audience's intelligence.

There are numerous enjoyable performances from a cast that also includes Bridget Fonda, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Peter Bogdanovich. The funniest performance belongs to Carlos Jacott as Lester's best friend Vince, who is feverishly determined to gain insight through Lester's use of his identity in group therapy.

Baumbach needs to learn to let go more and trust that good actors can carry a movie. He shows promise, however, and adopting a "less is more" approach might make this mediocre director great some day.


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