I've got mixed feelings about ensemble character pieces. Movies that are more about studying characters than about story. Story's difficult! The mechanics of plot are a pain in the ass. But it's part of storytelling. The ultimate goal is to tell a compelling story populated with compelling characters.
The mantra/pitch for the script I've been working on has been "The Breakfast Club Massacre"—and I've been trying to strike the right balance between "Breakfast" and "Massacre", so I recently revisited THE BREAKFAST CLUB
, for inspiration.
An iconic movie from the childhood/adolescent years of my generation -- children of the 80s. I'm not certain how many times I've seen it over the years, but I've seen it a lot. And yet, I found it jarring watching it again. I was surprised at how little happens, in terms of plot. It's much more like a stage play than what would seem appropriate as a movie.
But the basic thrust is, 5 kids from disparate social cliques are forced to spend a Saturday together in detention. Really, 5 kids and 2 adults (a principal and a janitor). They all start out as archetypes/stereotypes. Then, through the course of the film, they all reveal themselves to be a little more
than they seemed. That is the entirety of it. There are two or three dance sequences and a few improbable scenarios, but mostly it's just characters talking and opening up.
Which is sort of refreshing and disarming. The simplicity of it. It's a bit goofy and a thin gauze of nostalgia allows you to forgive it for how it's dated. I remember when I started seeing commercials for it back in the day, I thought it looked like some corny ass shit. But it started getting good reviews. A surprisingly thoughtful teenage dramedy. And it was
some corny ass shit. But you just didn't see modern teenage characters this nuanced before this.
Another thing that's lovely about BREAKFAST CLUB is that it was a completely modern story, and yet it's matured into a period piece. A perfect pop-culture time capsule of the mid-/late-80s.
Which is sort of a long, circuitous way of taking a look at DIGGERS
. A movie from Katherine Dieckmann
, the director of "Stand"—the R.E.M. video
, not the Stephen King miniseries
. Written and co-starring Ken Marino
from "The State". A rumination on the lives of a group of Long Island clam diggers in the late 70s. A period piece, though the period is delicately colored. A character piece, featuring an ensemble of charismatic character actors.
I like Ken Marino
. His scenes with Sarah Paulson feel the most organic, and they've got a really good "Long Island married couple" chemistry—without becoming broad and grotesque, as you might expect from someone who gained popularity in a comedy troupe. And I respect that this was a personal story for him, as the writer. The movie as a whole feels like one of those special projects that everyone involved cared about deeply...So, what's wrong with it, Malice? Stop pussyfooting around it!
It's just a bit too quiet, okay? The Independent Movie World is lousy with ensemble character dramedies! I need a stronger hook to wake me up. It is a sweet film with good intentions. If it were a girl, I'd want to go steady with her. But a movie is a poor excuse for a girlfriend. And "Diggers" never quite lets you get to third base
It's not a piece of undercooked garbage like "Spider-Man 3". And I feel bad speaking critical of it because it's a small movie and blah blah blah...
But I watch a lot of shit. I've always watched a lot of shit, but it feels more like my responsibility to watch a lot of shit now, just to see what other people are doing. And this actor-centric shit really doesn't do a lot for me...
BREAKFAST CLUB is actor-centric. Some of that movie feels like John Hughes stuck those actors in that library set and just had them improv around. But I think BC represents a special confluence of talent that renders a piece of pop-candy that is greater than the sum of its parts.
But more importantly, BC is small and focused.
"Diggers" wanders. I might've missed a line somewhere, but it took me a while to realize that Paul Rudd and Maura Tierney were supposed to be brother/sister. I had trouble finding any one character that I really cared about.
There's some good talent on display, but it seems here that the sum is less than the parts. A tepid movie that never quite cooks. A movie that might gain a following on IFC or the Sundance Channel. The type of movie that might play best when you catch it at 3 in the morning, on a night when you just can't sleep...