Saturday, September 15, 2012

Jersey Girl, Part II - Mike Binder's Recreation Of Kevin Smith's Character And Mood In Man About Town

The Good: Decent acting, Good plot, Interesting characters, Excellent pace
The Bad: Not an original performance by Affleck, Most of the other actors not given enough room
The Basics: With a strong, if underused, cast and a good, if derivative, performance by Ben Affleck, Man About Town still surprises as a smart drama about introspection and extortion.

I'm a fan of the films of Kevin Smith and I have no real objection to Ben Affleck in some of the movies that actor has been in. My experiences with watching Affleck is that writer-director Kevin Smith is able to bring out the best in the actor who might not otherwise be anything remarkable as far as acting talent goes. Two of the best performances Affleck gives in his career are in Dogma (reviewed here!) and Smith's underrated Jersey Girl (reviewed here!). When I found Man About Town on the shelf, I was surprised I had never even heard of the movie and I picked it up.

Jack Giamoro is a talent agent who sits down in a journal-writing class to grow as an individual. At a place where he can no longer deny the realities of his life, he begins to write his confessions under the understated guidance of the class's professor, Dr. Primkin. Jack's life soon falls apart as the affair he suspects his wife is having is revealed, he is mugged by a wannabe client, and his journal is stolen by a vindictive would-be client at his agency. Jack's life spirals out of control as he falls into cycles of hate and potential violence and he is forced to depend on others to try to recover the journal and restore his life to what he wants it to be.

Man About Town is a pretty solid drama with moments that are amusing, though this is by no means a comedy. The reason I deny that this is a comedy is that the primary emphasis of the story and the storytelling is not funny, nor is it supposed to be. Jack's struggle is in some ways horrifying; what happens when your quest for personal growth ends up being exploited by those who would simply use your words for their own personal gain? This is the central question of this movie.

The execution of the concept is very well done. When Jack opens himself up to the questions that his marriage and life pose to him, he finds himself digging deeper and finding himself in very uncomfortable places - like admitting he cannot remember loving his wife. There are certainly realms more than could have been explored, but for a 96 minute movie, this packs in a lot of heavier concepts than are usually dealt with in such a movie.

The central character, Jack Giamoro, is empathetic and this is clearly his story. This is so much his story, in fact, that the other characters are only truly presented in ways that interact with his character. So, for example, it's hard to see what Jack is returning to when he contemplates his marriage to Nina. We have snippets of them happy together, we have flashbacks that show they were once happy, but we also see him very tired with the relationship and the trauma her affair brings to him. This is his story and all of the other characters are peripheral to him.

This leads to two real problems with Man About Town; one plot, one acting. The central plot problem is the pace and idiocy of the adversary here. Jack is locking wits with someone who has stolen his journal. Barbi Ling, this is not a surprise and comes out rather early in the film, so it's not a spoiler, is the one who orchestrates the mugging and theft of Jack's journal. Once Jack begins to attempt to get it back, Barbi's character becomes ridiculous and lacking in any sense. First, after the first attempt to recover the journal, she does not make a copy of the document. Second, she seems to be taking her sweet time in reading it - i.e. several days. These two things seem like common sense under the circumstances; make the artifact useless by replicating it and/or getting what you need from it.

More serious is that Man About Town is populated by a wonderful cast that is largely underused. John Cleese, who received third billing, is essentially a cameo role as Dr. Primkin. Jerry O'Connell, Kal Penn, Adam Goldberg, Howard Hessman, and Ling Bai serve only to interact with Ben Affleck's Jack, which gives them almost no screentime to develop their characters beyond the flat interpretations Jack might have of them. Especially sad is how Gina Gershon is neglected. Gershon plays Arlene, Jack's coworker at the agency. She has almost no screentime and her acting talents are wasted in a role that is never truly fleshed out.

Rebecca Romijn is surprisingly good as Nina Giamoro. I believe I've only seen Romijn in the X-Men films, so seeing her in a starkly dramatic role was wonderful. While the movie trades on her looks - her character begins as a model - she is forced to bring some dramatic heft to scenes where she is interacting with Affleck and essentially pleading for her character's marriage. And she is believable and interesting to watch.

The movie rests on Ben Affleck, though. Affleck gives a truly wonderful performance. The problem is, it's nothing new. Affleck is essentially playing the character he had in Jersey Girl (certainly the beginning of that movie) and as such there's nothing extraordinary about the heft with which he is portraying Jack. Affleck creates nothing unique or different about Jack to make him distinct and all through the film, I found myself feeling like I wanted more from Affleck, even while acknowledging he was doing a good (if derivative) job.

This is my first experience with a work by writer-director Mike Binder and I have to say I'm fairly impressed. The movie is well-presented and well directed. Despite the inherent problems with the acting and the plot, this is still better than most movies out there and I'm likely to check out more works by him.

Either way, this is a good use of your time and a movie that could open up some decent discussions.

For other works with Bai Ling, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Angel - Season 1
Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith
Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow
Southland Tales
Lost - Season 3


For other movie reviews, be sure to check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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