The offbeat humor and dry performances are what keeps the film moving forward, but it’s the absolute perfection of this strange love story that captured me. There are a lot of men out there (and I’m sure more than a handful of women as well) who are well aware of the hypnotic powers of Zooey Deschanel. She is quirk personified, but she’s also strangely beautiful and seems like just about the coolest gal on God’s earth. Although I’d seen her in films like ALMOST FAMOUS, MANIC, and THE GOOD GIRL, it was her stark and hypnotic performance in David Gordon Green’s ALL THE REAL GIRLS where I knew I needed her to be my special friend. There’s simply no way you could watch her in that film and not fall in love with her with everything your sad soul has to offer. Since then, she became the Quirk Girl in such films as ELF, WINTER PASSING, LIVE FREE OR DIE, and most recently in YES MAN. She’s even made crap–how she landed up in THE HAPPENING will remain an eternal mystery to me. And based on what I’ve heard about her summer release (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, she’s going to invent new ways to capture my heart.
Until then, we have GIGANTIC, a tiny and perfect love story from first-time writer-director Matt Aselton, in which Deschanel plays a young woman named Happy, a spoiled rich girl who possesses none of the cliché trappings of said rich girls but does have some of the cluelessness about what to do with her life. Her father (John Goodman) will never let his little girl suffer, so about once a year when she changes her mind about what career she’s like to pursue, he indulges her. I haven’t felt this way about Goodman outside of a Coen Brothers movie, but he is the absolute greatest thing about this movie, delivering off-handed, stone-cold killer remarks that capture the very essence of every insufferable person he comes into contact with, including his own beloved daughters.
Gigantic actually focuses on Brian (Paul Dano from LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and THERE WILL BE BLOOD), a mattress salesman, who also comes from wealthy stock (his elderly parents are played by Ed Asner and Jane Alexander). He has two much older brothers, both of whom are extremely successful, but Brian is a little less secure because instead of finding ways to improve his lot in life, he spends all his free time focusing on his life’s passion–to adopt a baby from China, which somehow manages not to be as creepy as it sounds. When Brian and Happy meet, it’s clear that these two not only have very little in common, but their approach to living is the exact opposite. Happy seems willing to try or see anything; Brian seems less capable of simply going with the flow or being spontaneous. Yet they work well together, filling in each other social blanks. His long-term commitment to the adoption process is something that she admires and is terrified by because she has never held onto a dream (or a job, for that matter) for nearly that long.
As much as the film is filled with varying degrees of eccentric characters, it doesn’t feel like an attempt to pummel you with wackiness. The strange qualities of these people have been carefully woven into their fabric rather than worn on their sleeves or on their heads, like a funny winter hat with floppy earflaps. What I found most impressive about GIGANTIC was the subtle degree of sophistication that director Aselton shows. What starts out as a movie about Brian’s largely uneventful live (punctuated by seemingly unprovoked attacks by a homeless guy) turns into an examination of Happy’s far-too-fluid lifestyle. And the closer Brian’s baby reality becomes, the more Happy withdraws. It’s a fascinating dynamic to watch, and these two great young actors really pull it off. Dano continues to be a fun and unpredictable actor to follow since his early work in L.I.E., THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, and THE KING. I’m never sure what approach he’s going to take or how truly trippy he’s willing to get. Here, there’s a power to his commitment to both his adoption and the relationship. It’s a workman’s effort to keep up with both near-impossible situations, but he handles it with style and without feeling overly noble about either pursuit.
GIGANTIC is a very different kind of young love story, compared to something a little more traditional, but no less fun, like NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST, but it’s impossible to take your eyes off of these people and their adventures together.