Do the Wright Thing

Career woman and taxi driver explore post–9-11 jitters

Post–9-11 issues we're still working through in our pop culture: horror, trauma, phobic dread, vengeful rage, xenophobia, war-zone nostalgia, survivor guilt, socioeconomic guilt, name-your-own guilt, blah blah blah. Fictionalizations of The Day and its local fallout have indeed felt like a year of therapy sessions reduced to their forgive-and-heal-thyself pan gravy. Jeff Stanzler's Sorry, Haters avoids the obvious/preachy easily enough; his New Yorkers have already had those conversations, and his scenario eventually hinges on what we didn't share five Septembers ago. The opening overture is just typical enough to get our jaws twitching for a yawn: Mournful Syrian cabdriver Ashade (France-based actor- filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche) crosses paths with hard-charging career woman Philly (Robin Wright Penn), who is apparently in the throes of a post–custody battle nervous breakdown. She offers legal help to Ashade, whose brother has been renditioned back to Syria, but the worm turns sometime after that, when she suggests the two of them "do some damage." "I don't know anything about munitions . . . ?" she says, and Stanzler's modest head-scratcher abandons all claims on the two-lost-souls melodrama.

With a sour twist of character—specifically, a single close-up of Penn's hair-trigger power maven looking over a roof edge— Sorry, Haters acquires the slowly widening, fanged grin of a Polanski tale. (The out-of-tune title is a better fit for Philly's hit youth-channel show, in which wealthy pop stars like Fred Durst boast about their bling.) What seems distastefully misjudged early on becomes part of a lurking pathology. The dirt-cheap DV vibe never becomes expressive, but it does rhyme with the all-bets-off riskiness of the characters. (Like Bubble, Stanzler's movie is being released simultaneously via video- on-demand.) The script, no more or less hobbled by contrivance than your average indie, certainly has a personality of its own, but it's all about the performances. Kechiche is reserved and superbly troubled, but Wright Penn, her stardom- crippling reserves of bitterness and bile rising to the surface, is a scary monster in full bloom, and her habitation of this wacky role makes the movie worth its weight in pixels.

 
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