**½/**** Image B Sound C Extras C+
starring Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel, Jena Malone, Maura Tierney
written and directed by Martin Hynes
by Alex Jackson Martin Hynes's The Go-Getter is a sweet but thin wafer of a movie. It isn't great art, it doesn't evoke an especially strong or complex emotional reaction, and it doesn't ask any difficult questions. It doesn't aspire to do anything more than pleasantly and efficiently eat up an hour-and-a-half of your time. That's the very definition of faint praise, but praise I'm offering it all the same. When I first saw the film at Sundance in 2007, I felt rejuvenated. This had come after a string of bad movies that nonetheless demanded a lot from me. The sheer frivolousness and good cheer of The Go-Getter was a kind of tonic that helped me remember why I love the movies in the first place. Still, I knew enough to only give it two-and-a-half stars, and my second viewing pretty much confirms that two-and-a-half stars is about right.
What does "two-and-a-half stars" mean? It means that it's better than a "two-star" movie and not as good as a "three-star" movie. When wading through the limited selection of festival fare or recent theatrical releases, this is an essential distinction--but when the choice is every other film currently available on home video, well, why see something "not bad" when you could invest your time in something "really good"? While watching The Go-Getter at home, it occurred to me that the potential benefits of DVD and, in particular, Internet rental services like Netflix are for independent films painfully shortsighted. I imagine that filmmakers tend to see this as a means of reaching a wider audience and overlook the fact that this model of distribution changes the context in which their work will be seen.
The Go-Getter was put into limited release on June 6th of this year, the same day the summer blockbusters You Don't Mess with the Zohan and Kung Fu Panda were released. It's worth noting that You Don't Mess with the Zohan and Kung Fu Panda are both very bad films and significantly less interesting than The Go-Getter--but relatively few people were put in a position where they had to choose between The Go-Getter, Zohan, and Kung Fu Panda. Far more people are going to have access to The Go-Getter on home video. And once it's on home video, of course, their options are going to be exponentially expanded. The Go-Getter will no longer be in competition with all the usual crap put out by Hollywood, it will be in competition with the entirety of film history.
Hynes pays explicit homage to Godard's Bande à part, implying that this is a film he loves. Does he actually expect audiences to watch his film when they can just as easily watch Godard's instead? I would think that any independent filmmaker who truly grasps this concept would give up the profession entirely. It's sort of the height of arrogance to believe you have something to express that hasn't already been expressed by somebody else better and more eloquently. I definitely can't justify wading through the deep unknown of independent cinema when I haven't completed THEY SHOOT PICTURES, DON'T THEY?'s 1000 Greatest Films list. Or Jonathan Rosenbaum's Top 1000. Or Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. Or Ed Gonzalez's "Top 10s" project. Or any other comparable film canon. At this point, I'm comfortable with the idea of movie production coming to an end; there is enough out there, seen and unseen, to sustain me for a lifetime1.
I guess we should talk about the movie. Would you mind if I recycled the plot summary from my Sundance capsule review?:
The Go-Getter is about a nineteen-year-old boy who missed a year of high school to take care of his dying mother. Feeling trapped and bored, he decides to steal a car and leave town, only later coming up with the mission to track down his estranged half-brother and tell him about Mom's passing. Meanwhile, he finds a cell phone in the car and remarkably begins to form a long-distance romantic relationship with the car's mysterious owner.
It's still ridiculous to me that the car's owner (Zooey Deschanel) would fall in love with the guy who stole it (Lou Taylor Pucci)--through a cell phone, at that. I underestimated the extent to which The Go-Getter is essentially a hollow male fantasy, though. Not only does the Pucci character sleep with Deschanel near the end of the film, he meets Jena Malone on his travels and gets to lose his virginity to her! It's less than sufficiently explained as to why these young women are throwing themselves at him. What's more, they are defined on his terms quite literally as the Mother and the Whore. Slutty, sexy Malone is the one who liberates sadsack Pucci and helps him enjoy life again. Yet because she's a Whore, she cannot be trusted and later betrays him as only a post-romantic, hedonistic free spirit can.
And so Pucci attaches himself to good girl Deschanel, who becomes a surrogate mother figure. We learn that she's a few years older than him and we're later treated to a scene where she maternally comforts him while he sobs. Most overtly, there is a dream sequence (?!) where Pucci sees that she is bleeding and tries to mop up her blood using the same Q-tips he used to wipe his mother's mouth with. Again, I wonder why exactly Malone would think that deflowering the virginal Pucci would be a worthwhile sexual adventure. (He ejaculates prematurely, which I suppose softens the "male fantasy" angle somewhat. He also understandably grows overly attached to her.) I ESPECIALLY wonder what the Deschanel character is getting out of this. Is she really that interested in playing Mom to Pucci for the rest of her life? Does she have any emotional needs of her own? We'll never know. She tells him she has known him for a long time and used to have all these domestic fantasies where they hung out and ate ice cream together. Um, yeah.
What I continue to like about The Go-Getter is its uncomplicated, almost weightless sensuality. A scene where our hero stops by a child pornography studio satirizes the pretentious anti-eroticism of Larry Clark. In Clark's Kids, Chloe Sevigny loses her virginity to a sleazy teenage lothario and contracts the HIV virus. She searches him out so she can tell him that he's infected but is coerced by a friend into taking some drugs at a party; by the time she locates the lothario, he has already claimed another victim. Distraught, she passes out on a couch. In the morning, another boy rapes her and he hypothetically contracts the virus as well. In The Go-Getter, our hero is given Ecstasy and deflowered by a trampy teenage girl...and nothing particularly traumatic happens. For him this is, on the whole, a rather pleasant experience.
It's been a while since I saw a film that made sex look fun. Not spiritual and not raunchy, but fun. Whenever the spirit of the sexual revolution is resurrected it always seems to carry a dark undertone, as though it were buried in Stephen King's Pet Sematary. We're always reminded that free love is hollow and fleeting and there will be dire consequences in the morning. The Go-Getter isn't exactly naïve or socially irresponsible. All it appears to be saying is that sex is great and being in love is even better. We move from Ecstasy to sharing ice cream cones, but we're staying within a value system that holds pleasure, physical and emotional, as the highest good. Some might feel I'm overstating the film's eroticism, as there isn't much nudity and the sex is rather chaste, but I find that whenever sex gets explicit it almost inevitably accrues a melancholy heaviness. Softcore porn is sexier than hardcore not because it leaves something to the imagination, but because it idealizes the sex act--makes it something better than it really is.
Ultimately, how much you enjoy The Go-Getter may rely on how much you appreciate, or at least tolerate, what Roger Ebert refers to as Semi-Obligatory Lyrical Interludes, or "Semi-OLIs." He defines these in his Glossary of Movie Terms as: "Scene(s) in which soft focus and slow motion are used while a would-be hit song is performed on the sound track and the lovers run through a pastoral setting"2. Hynes cannot get enough of these--virtually the entire film is composed of Semi-OLIs. There are some terrific sequences: the Ecstasy and sex frenzy in Reno; driving down the highway at dusk; playing cowboys on the beach; et cetera, et cetera. You can see how this could get tedious. The Go-Getter has a great trailer, but the film lends itself to adaptation in trailer form. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle had a great trailer, too, and that not only did not make it a good movie, that also came to serve as a tip-off as to why it was such a lousy one.
That said, I'm very partial to this sort of thing. I love musical montages. I love it when a director cuts from one image to another and you feel an electrical current running between the lines. The Go-Getter evinces a very basic love of filmmaking. You can sense the joy Hynes must have felt in seeing it come together in the editing suite, and it's infectious. But the style integrates itself with the subject, too. If the Semi-Obligatory Lyrical Interlude was popular to the point of becoming cliché, perhaps it's because it so thoroughly captures the reckless, nakedly sincere stupidity of being in love. Or at least of finally experiencing joy again after a long, dry stretch of deep depression. The Go-Getter is made up exclusively of goofy little moments, yet as Deschanel's ice-cream fantasy suggests, perhaps that's how Hynes defines great romantic relationships. Thought of that way, the film's frivolity becomes indistinguishable from profundity.
Peace Arch Entertainment's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD presentation of The Go-Getter preserves the picture's fashionably washed-out blues and browns and grain levels are usually appropriate, although combing artifacts indicate that this isn't a progressive transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio often drowns out dialogue in favour of M. Ward's score and we're cruelly not even given the option of English captions. Hynes and actor Nick Offerman record your typical jovial if highly self-congratulatory yak-track. There's plenty of fawning over the cast--Offerman actually calls Maura Tierney, who has a small role two-thirds into the film, "the thinking man's Pam Anderson." Hynes gives us a great moment where he points out a shot of Deschanel subtly processing through three or four separate emotions and humbly states, "You can't direct that." "20 Questions" (7 mins.) has Hynes playing the titular car game with his attractive female cast and producer. It's insult to injury for anybody who found The Go-Getter obnoxiously cute. "Test Footage" (5 mins.), narrated by Hynes and Offerman, somehow suggests it wasn't all that hard to make the film look as good as it does. Nor does it seem too difficult to find fresh faces: the stunning creature acting as Jena Malone's stand-in for the Reno footage was the Sparks police chief's daughter! Rounding out the disc are forced trailers for What We Do is Secret, The Babysitters, and Towards Darkness plus an optional one for The Go-Getter itself. Originally published: December 8, 2008.
1. I feel it's important to note that the theatrical experience, in itself, is more important to me than the film I'm watching. I don't know that I would rather see a bad movie in a movie theatre than a good movie at home, but if this weren't true to some extent, I don't think I would go to the theatre every week. return
2. Just in case I'm accused of misapplying my Ebert-isms, Ebert mentions that Semi-OLIs were common in the mid-'60s into the '70s, but were replaced in the '80s with Semi-Obligatory Music Videos, or Semi-OMVs ("Three-minute sequence within otherwise ordinary narrative structure, in which a song is played at top volume while movie characters experience spasms of hyperkinetic behaviour and stick their faces into the camera lens. If a band is seen, the Semi-OMV is inevitably distinguished by the director's inability to find a fresh cinematic approach to the challenge of filming a slack-jawed drummer"). Truthfully, the musical montages in The Go-Getter appear to be a hybrid of the Semi-OLI and Semi-OMV, or maybe they're a third species within the same genus. As far as form goes, while they share the relative complexity of a Semi-OMV, their lyricism and dopey sincerity puts them closer to Semi-OLIs in my mind. return