Saturday, May 15, 2010

Movie with Abe: Multiple Sarcasms

Multiple Sarcasms
Directed by Brooks Branch
Released May 7, 2010

“Multiple Sarcasms” is the second film in as many years to feature actor Timothy Hutton sitting atop a toilet for a good portion of its run time. Unlike last year’s Meg Ryan vehicle “Serious Moonlight,” this time Hutton is not stuck in that position because he has been duct-taped to the toilet as a punishment for his adulterous actions and thoughts. Instead, he has marooned himself there as a way of dealing with a severe case of writer’s block and a mother of a midlife crisis, uncertain of how to be happy even though his beautiful wife and loving daughter should serve as all the happiness he needs. One man’s quest to find meaning in his life results in an intriguing if somewhat disjointed film.

Director Brooks Branch, making his directorial debut with this picture, admits that he himself has had “a million creative moments while on the toilet.” He stresses that Hutton’s character, Gabriel, is struggling because “your happiness doesn’t necessarily have to fit the world’s definition of what your happiness is.” Gabriel is caught between the wife who never quite appreciates him (Dana Delany), the best friend who supports him through it all (Mira Sorvino), and the daughter who is more mature than both of her parents (India Ennenga). Branch describes him as “in no man’s land, trying to find his path,” and cites that as the major reason for the film’s temporal setting: the late 1970s.

Watching the film is like traveling back in time to a New York from thirty years ago. Actress Dana Delany reminisces about growing up in the 1970s and how much films like “An Unmarried Woman” had an effect on her, and she loved how “Multiple Sarcasms” had a similar feel. Gabriel struts around in easily identifiable 1970s clothing, and Brooks describes 1979 as a time when “everyone looked like their yearbook photos, not knowing whether to be here or there.” Brooks emphasizes that the setting is crucial to the film, since a modern-day Gabriel would surely have a blog as a way of getting out his unfinished thoughts. Young India Ennenga, who at 15 has already found great success with a recurring role on HBO’s new series “Treme,” answers that she would have loved to live in the 1970s when asked about being the only cast member not to have actually been alive during the time when the film takes place.

One of the most intoxicating and thought-provoking aspects of “Multiple Sarcasms” is the play-within-a-movie that Gabriel strives to write throughout the film. He seeks to incorporate the women around him into his only slightly fictionalized world, and they are fully aware of his intentions to milk real moments for material. His daughter even yells at him at one point in the middle of a fight, forbidding him to insert the argument into his play. Brooks describes the extent to which the play was prepared and scripted, even though little of the finished product is actually retained in the final cut of the film. The film was written “in the tone of real life,” according to Brooks, and the play is a way of externalizing Gabriel’s thoughts and seeing how he perceives those around him. It is a chance to look at Gabriel twice, seeing how he acts and then how he interprets his actions and their effects on those he cares about, and those aspects of the play that do remain in the final cut are fervently interesting.

Relationships are complicated in “Multiple Sarcasms,” and it is not just the characters who have different takes on how two people should spend their lives. Mira Sorvino is married with three children and describes having a family as the biggest revolution in her life. She says she no longer cares about the business as much anymore and would not care as much if it went away since her family comes first. Delany, on the other hand, has never been married and candidly admits that it does not interest her. She believes that “it’s possible to have multiple soul mates in different parts of your life, and there are some people you just have mysterious chemistry with.” As a film, “Multiple Sarcasms” enables multiple points of view, and this is one film which posits interesting ideas through the lens of characters undergoing transformations and continuing to evolve in the course of one wild year at the end of the 1970s.

Please note: a version of this review was originally published in the Washington Square News.

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