The Searchers

The Influence of Anxiety

The generally adorable Deschanel gives Noel an impish pre-sexual innocence. This cute and perky li'l fox even plays the trombone. The less expressive and generally unreadable Schneider is supposed to be the town stud. ("You go down in every girl's history book as the asshole ex-boyfriend," a buddy tells him.) His seeming depression is compounded by a number of scenes with his mother (Patricia Clarkson), who entertains sick children at the hospital and frequently wears her clown getup around the house. Noel wants to give her virginal self to Paul. He's freaked out by her trust—plus, she's the kid sister of his best friend (Shea Whigham), another layabout who sports the highest pompadour in town. Paul and Noel go to bed several times, but he'd rather wait—with predictable results.

This earnest love story is borderline insufferable, and yet there are moments that, in their bold incoherence, have a startling emotional truth. Midway through, the star-crossed couple throw a mutual tantrum, which continues to resonate long after the movie ends. With its stunning Smoky Mountain vistas and sunset landscapes, All the Real Girlsis often as gorgeous as Gerryand nearly as dumb—the difference is that Gerry is, heh-heh, really "dumb" and here you never know. Green manages to suggest true unhappiness in a peaceable kingdom where retarded children speak in folk poetry and a crippled dog is surely the reincarnation of an ancient sage. The final shot of the town's upside-down reflection could break your heart.


A walk to remember: Affleck and Damon in Van Sant's Gerry
photo: THINKfilm
A walk to remember: Affleck and Damon in Van Sant's Gerry

Details

Gerry
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Van Sant, Casey Affleck, and Matt Damon
THINKfilm
Opens February 14, at the Angelika

All the Real Girls
Written and directed by David Gordon Green
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens February 14, at the Angelika

Stone Reader
Written and directed by Mark Moskowitz
JetFilms
February 12 through 25, at Film Forum

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The docu-discovery of last year's Slamdance Film Festival, Mark Moskowitz's Stone Reader has received much pre-release publicity, as well it might. For writers, the premise is irresistible. The filmmaker goes searching for the one-book author of a virtually unknown, long-out-of-print, 600-page novel, which he alone seems to have read. Indeed, Moskowitz insures his solitary mission by purchasing every copy he can find of Dow Mossman's 1972 The Stones of Summer. (He's not a bibliophile—he's a reader of remarkable devotion.)

Moskowitz, whose day job is making political commercials for the Democratic Party, spends a year pursuing Mossman, following cold leads, grasping at straws, and entertaining the viewer by consulting literary wise men ranging from Professor Leslie Fiedler to editor Robert Gottlieb to The Stones of Summer's lone reviewer. This hunt is nearly as much a man's world as Moby-Dick. (Stone Reader is strikingly homosocial: Mrs. Moskowitz will not permit herself to be filmed, and the filmmaker's mother aside, women barely speak.) Flaubert's ideal novelist is one who disappears behind the work; Moskowitz is a filmmaker who places himself front and center, but without vanity. Stone Reader doesn't make a case for The Stones of Summer as a great novel—from what can be gleaned, Mossman's book may be yet another anxious object, oscillating between compulsive overwriting and convulsive over-reaching—but Moskowitz does convince the viewer of his own obsession. What's more, he turns it into a great literary mystery.

As filmmaking, Stone Reader can be rough-hewn and sometimes crass, but Moskowitz's self-imposed mission is moving in a way that completely eluded the Masterpiece Theatrics of Neil LaBute's genteel Possession. "You're way past an ideal reader—you're in another dimension," the object of Moskowitz's quest tells him. Amen. I've never seen a movie that paid more heartfelt tribute to the power of artistic invention.


Related Articles:

"The Desert of the Real: Gus Van Sant Gerry-Rigs the Road Movie" by Ed Halter

J. Hoberman's review of David Gordon Green's George Washington

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