This Week in Movies You Missed:
Shia LaBeouf stars in an indie film he did not direct. The original title was The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman
and, honestly, I think that tells you everything you need to know.
But in case you haven't made a snap judgment and are willing to give this film a chance, here's more:
What You Missed
The eponymous Charlie Countryman (LaBeouf) is sad. Sad, sad, sad. He's sad because his girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza) left him. He's sad because his mom (Melissa Leo) is dying. Unable to face her last gasps, he runs out of the hospital room to sit forlornly with welling eyes, only to meet a ghostly vision of Mom, who instructs him to take a plane to Bucharest.
Why? Who cares? Charlie does it. His seat mate on the plane is an older Romanian fellow named Victor (Ion Caramitru), who attempts to cheer up Charlie with the ribald humor of earthy-peasant stock characters, then abruptly expires. While Charlie sits tearing up beside the corpse, Victor's ghost appears and orders the kid to tell his daughter something in Romanian.
Now, how many of you have already guessed that Victor's daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood sporting her best "Romanian" accent), is hot? And soulfully artistic? And plucky? And everything Charlie could possibly want in a woman? How many of you have guessed that the obstacle between her and Charlie is a sociopathic Eastern European thug (Mads Mikkelsen) who will beat Charlie up not one, not two, but perhaps half a dozen times while taunting him? How many of you have guessed that this film will involve a lot of musical montages?
But you may not have guessed that this feature directorial debut from Fredrik Bond also showcases a third former child star — Rupert Grint, aka Ron Weasley — tripping on Ecstasy and auditioning for porn roles. He, at least, does not cry.
For your perusal, the trailer:
Why You Missed It
Charlie Countryman had a one-week release in 15 U.S. theaters in November 2013. Now you can see it on Netflix and Amazon Instant, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.
Should You Keep Missing It?
I try to approach movies with an open mind. I confess, I did not do that with Charlie Countryman.
Not because of LaBeouf's recent, well-publicized antics — which I won't mention again here — but because of his oppressively soulful eyes on the poster, and the title's self-conscious gesture at universality (Charlie as the archetypal young American). Everything about that said, Take this seriously!
Of course I couldn't. But, frankly, the movie didn't give me much reason to.
In the hope that something good can come from this experience, I'll use Charlie Countryman as an opportunity to make a list of motifs and devices I would prefer never, ever to see in indie films again:
The flash-forward cliffhanger opening. The film starts with a scene in which Charlie hangs by one foot above a raging torment, apparently about to fall prey to Very Bad Guys, then goes back in time to show us how he got there. Combined with the title, this suggests that screenwriter Matt Drake (Project X) wants us to think he really is going to off his hero in the final frame. But if you believe that, you've never seen this kind of movie — or the many other films and TV shows that have used this device more successfully, such as the "Breaking Bad" pilot.
Boy meets a gorgeous, "troubled" girl whose problems are way out of his depth, but he must solve them because True Love. Look, if you're a sensitive kid built like a string-bean, and you find out that the girl you're crushing on is married to an abusive, stone-cold bad boy who looks like Mads Mikkelsen, my advice is Stop pursuing her and direct her to the nearest women's shelter.
Gabi actually gets in an early line where she sarcastically suggests that Charlie wants to "save" the tragic foreign girl. But that is the extent of this movie's self-consciousness about its tropes.
Romance is expressed via musical montages. Actually, everything is expressed via musical montages. Yes, Bucharest is a fascinating, romantically decayed cityscape, and I'd far rather look at it than at the lead actor tearing up again. Yes, Instagram-style filters make stuff look pretty. And, yes, montages are preferable to terrible "quirky" romantic dialogue (trying to make Gabi stay out all night with him, Charlie enthuses, "We could do anything! We could have pancakes!"). But still. Enough with the fucking montages.
Characters do stupid things because it leads to a "cool" scene. Late in the film, by unlikely coincidence, Charlie discovers an important piece of evidence of Mikkelsen's character's evil. He runs and blurts this out to Gabi, even though she's sitting right beside the villain at a sidewalk café. Maybe this scene was poorly staged, but it doesn't appear to make a lick of sense unless Charlie is an idiot. And if we think he's an idiot, we're not going to care if Hannibal Lecter tenderizes him some more, then perhaps serves him up to guests with nightingale's tongues and a nice Chianti.
Magic realism is used as a wish-fulfillment device. Charlie Countryman does have a couple of decent jokes. Everybody keeps telling Charlie he should go to Budapest, not Bucharest. Eventually, the ghost of his mom shows up and admits that she actually misspoke during their first conversation; she meant to recommend Budapest, too.
Mild snarking on genre clichés aside, however, the facts of the plot stand: Charlie finds the love of his life because dead people led him to her. The universe is just helpful like that, one giant serendipity machine. This is how magic realism got a bad name.
Verdict: Remember Garden State? If Zach Braff's puppy-dog-eyed, woe-is-me demeanor in that film didn't annoy you, you may be able to tolerate Charlie Countryman. Be aware, though, that this film makes Garden State look like The Graduate, which I would peg as the progenitor of all these latter-day sad-rich-boy-coming-of-age films.
That said, Charlie Countryman is such a florid train wreck and such a product of its time (We Millennials have angst, too!) that it could become a minor cult item. Whether the cult will be serious or ironic is the question.
This Week in Theaters
Holiday sequels for Dad and the kiddos: Horrible Bosses 2, Penguins of Madagascar
At the Roxy only, the Oscar-bait-y Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything
. At the Savoy only, the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour
This Week in Your Living Room
The Expendables 3, The Giver, The November Man, Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas, What If.