Thursday, August 25, 2005

THAT THING YOU DO AGAIN

Posted on Thu, Aug 25, 2005 at 4:00 AM

***1/2
November
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Rated: R
Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/november/
Release Date: 2005-08-26
Cast: Courteney Cox-Arquette, Matthew Carey, Brittany Ishibashi, Nick Offerman, Amir Talai
Director: Greg Harrison
Screenwriter: Benjamin Brand
Music Score: Lew Baldwin
WorkNameSort: November
Our Rating: 3.50

There's a lot to learn from a movie like November. One is that Courteney Cox in eyeglasses is the closest thing to Tina Fey (from a purely visual standpoint, anyway). Another is that having Cox explore the inside of her ear with a foreign object makes a bloody mess that would send dear old Monica running for the Comet. Oh, and there's also a beginner's course in the stages of grief – here pared down to "denial," "despair" and "acceptance," and announced as such on the screen as this short, somber but reasonably involving mystery goes about its metaphysical business.

Something happened to photographer Sophie Jacobs (Cox) inside a dingy convenience store one fateful November day; something so awful, so life-altering, so deeply traumatic that she's even willing to seek out Nora Dunn for psychiatric help. But every time we seem to be getting to the bottom of Sophie's particular issues, the screen goes kablooey with jumpy, Reznor-esque nightmare imagery and the story begins all over again. Only its bare bones remain intact; tonally and motivationally speaking, we're faced with an entirely new set of parameters.

What really went down in that dramatic vortex of a store? Did Sophie's boyfriend (James LeGros) have an unexpected rendezvous with random violence, or was it Sophie herself? How complicit was she in the tragedy? These and other questions are posed basically for the sheer hell of it in newcomer Benjamin Brand's script, which director Greg Harrison (2000's rave drama Groove) crafts into a light-impact cranial workout. November is all about following the story's essential beats as they're refracted in three different ways. The character of Sophie's mother (Anne Archer), for instance, is first seen as a busty harridan and mellows considerably as her single encounter with her daughter is repeatedly revisited. In an overt show of significance, each of the three basic segments gets its own color scheme, from anemic blue to sun-kissed yellow.

The filmmakers have invested so much energy in enigma that audience identification ends up being beside the point. We're interested in finding out what happened to Sophie and her fella, Hugh, but we don't really care what the answer is – not in the sense of caring about genuine human beings. That skewed focus ensures a final reaction no stronger than "Whaddaya know," but hopefully not as weak as "So what?" Chalk it all up as useful filler for the downtime between David Lynch pictures.

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