It's a bit heavy on the metaphors, a few fun supporting players prematurely vanish and there are tonal issues (what's with the homeless assassin?), but the offbeat comedy "Gigantic" remains quite the confident juggling act. First-time feature director Matt Aselton, who co-wrote the darkly funny, well-observed script with Adam Nagata, has crafted a disarming tale that's one of the better independent films in recent memory.
Paul Dano stars as Brian Weathersby, a circumspect, 28-year-old mattress salesman with well-off, elderly parents (Ed Asner, Jane Alexander), two self-possessed older brothers (Ian Roberts, Robert Stanton) and a lifelong dream of adopting a Chinese baby.
One day, Brian meets the sexy but rudderless Harriet "Happy" Lolly (Zooey Deschanel) after her boorish father, Al (John Goodman), a wealthy eccentric, buys a pricey Swedish bed from Brian. A tentative romance bubbles up between Brian and Happy, who seem an unlikely match until you realize just how similarly they've been affected by their idiosyncratic families.
Aselton is blessed with a wonderful cast who inhabit their distinctive roles with hand-in-glove precision. Dano and Deschanel are tops, but watching pros such as Goodman, Asner and Alexander, along with TV veteran Mary Page Keller (as Happy's estranged mom), mine the possibilities here is particularly rewarding.
-- Gary Goldstein "Gigantic." MPAA rating: R for language, some sexual content and violence. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At Landmark's Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 281-8223.
Bit of a stain on 'Butterfly Tattoo'
Before the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, British author Philip Pullman wrote a young-adult tragedy of first love and disastrous mistrust set in contemporary Oxford called "The White Mercedes." Subsequently renamed "The Butterfly Tattoo," it has now been adapted into a handsomely shot low-budget film, flush with the moody pull of adolescent romance but as sputtering as an awkward teen in how it lays out its second-rate thriller elements.
Lighting company employee Chris (Duncan Stuart) and beautiful runaway Jenny (Jessica Blake) meet at a posh ball that he's working and she's gate-crashed. Drawn to each other's differences -- recessive middle-class boy, brash Yorkshire girl -- the world they fear starts to seem less harsh.
Director Phil Hawkins errs on the side of sensualist overkill in depicting Chris and Jenny's budding infatuation: drowning us in dimly lighted close-ups and emo music, which admittedly help mask the attractive leads' shaky characterizations.
But when the film requires a surer narrative touch to blend in the shady past of Chris' jovial boss (Aidan Magrath) and a banal vengeance plot, "The Butterfly Tattoo" begins to feel like a genre home invasion rather than the Shakespearean-inflected mixture of passion and destiny it imagines itself to be.
-- Robert Abele "The Butterfly Tattoo." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. At Laemmle Grande 4-Plex, 345 S. Figueroa St., L.A., (213) 617-0268.
In a knot over yoga's benefits
The fact that you don't need to know much about yoga to appreciate director Kate Churchill's documentary "Enlighten Up!" speaks to both the film's strength and weakness. Although this look at journalist Nick Rosen's experimental immersion into the various disciplines of yoga is an entertaining chronicle, Churchill doesn't provide the kind of nuts-and-bolts take-away on the popular practice that would turn the movie into something richer than what's essentially a high-minded reality TV turn.
Churchill, a longtime yoga devotee, turned her cameras on yoga newbie Rosen hoping to prove the practice's transformative powers. The bright, slightly rakish Rosen makes for an appealing subject as well as a credible guinea pig; the 29-year-old is open-minded enough to commit to Churchill's six-month, globe-hopping endurance test but objective enough to channel any viewer skepticism about yoga's often ambiguous effects.
Rosen's journey, which exposes him to an intriguing array of yogis, teachers and mystics from across the U.S. and India, nicely juxtaposes yoga's Western emphasis on physicality with the East's more spiritual, ascetic bent. Unfortunately, when Rosen, despite best efforts, can't get past a kind of yoga neutrality, Churchill's initially jaunty approach turns prickly, making one wonder just how "enlightened" the filmmaker truly is.