Running on Empty


Abald attempt at recapturing ’70s loser cinema à la Midnight Cowboy, Scarecrow, and Wanda, Amos Kollek’s Sue suffers from invoking the era’s desolate grit, but it’s hard to argue with its sincerity. Unceremoniously chronicling the unremarkable fall and fall of an anonymous loser in the Big Apple, Sue dawdles, dozes, and mopes, in no great hurry to reach its despairing anti-ending. It’s something of a Mouchette for unemployed Downtowners, with a litany of tolerated woes as long as the smoking lines on Anna Thomson’s face. Thomson, who provided memorable bits in Talk Radio, Unforgiven, The Crow, and Angela, has always seemed ruefully smudged, but here she’s almost voluptuous, like a smudged Rene Russo. Still, you don’t cast the sad-eyed, droopy Thomson as a master of the universe; Sue‘s a faceless mass, and the most you can hope for is the blissful absence of a surprise
redemption. Kollek doesn’t let us down.

Sue is not only jobless (her inability to find even degrading employment, despite her résumé, suggests Kollek’s script is a few unedited years old), she’s behind in her rent, friendless, loverless, not too bright, regularly confronted by sexual predators (many of whom, like the old man in the park who asks to see her breasts, she simply gives in to), and so lonely she begs long-distance operators to stay on her line and listen. Still, her life seems on one level action-
packed: a belligerent slut she meets (Tahnee Welch) moves in for a while and initiates a threesome with a schmekel off the sidewalk, and a chance encounter with a
hunky writer (Matthew Powers) blossoms into a romance Sue cannot bring herself to enjoy or trust. Kollek sits still enough for the occasional empty moment to get under the skin, but it’s Thomson’s unrelenting and completely convincing downtroddenness that matters. Sue is hardly a world shaker, and it’s badly compromised by clumsy supporting perfs and Kollek’s cheap taste for local “color,” but it never betrays its sympathies.

Neither does Matt Mitler’s Cracking Up, but you wish it would. A 1993 indie making a timorous sneak into theaters years too late, Cracking Up chronicles the egomaniacal crash-and-burn of the most hyperactive, brutally extro-
verted stand-up comic you ever saw (played by Mitler, who also wrote, produced, edited, and catered). Intermittently crossing paths with the reality of the Downtown comedy scene, the movie is mostly just Mitler, as spasmodic child-man Danny Gold, breaking into one smelly routine after another. He’s not above doing Jerry Lewis while on his way to near-fame, coke, and a climactic redemption (performing shtick in the park dressed as Christ), but Cracking Up‘s best scene is pretitle: a reimagined On the Waterfront with Brando and Steiger in the taxi being constantly interrupted and commanded by a ’90s-style director until they end up acting like a miscommunicating Curly Howard and Pee-wee Herman. After that, it’s Mitler in your face, up your nose, and climbing through your ear hairs. It’s not pretty.