I met Marianna Palka at the Off Camera festival
in Kraków, where both our movies were screening; but I didn't see her Good Dick
until it opened in NYC on October 17 at the Sunshine Cinema. I told Marianna I'd write her with my reactions - but, instead of clicking the send button, I decided it would do no harm to post the email here.
Cześć, Marianna! (I miss Kraków in the worst way.) As promised, here are my reactions to Good Dick
; sorry I didn't write earlier, but I imagine you've had enough business to attend to this week.
I enjoyed your film quite a bit. I appreciate films that move into sexual areas that we still find uncomfortable, and still relate the sex to our public, everyday selves. (I'm not talking about the abuse theme, which I think audiences actually know how to relate to; but rather the casual use of sex language and gesture in a mundane, non-eroticized context.) And I like the sense of mystery in the writing, the willingness to bring up material that is never developed, that points to a fuller world outside the world of the movie. One example I really liked is the brief argument about whether the boy is interested in the girl's money: it's resonant and could have been exploited further, but I like it better because it's shown as just one more defense mechanism. Likewise, it's cool that you don't return to the subject of the boy's past drug habits: most filmmakers couldn't have resisted.
I have one reservation about the film, which is more a question at this point than a hardened reservation. I felt as if there were two different emotional currents in the film, two different ways of orienting ourselves to the sexual subject matter. I actually liked both currents - there wasn't any point in the film where I wasn't enjoyably engaged - but I'm not sure whether the two currents work together smoothly.
One current is a contemplation of the mystery of the way sex expresses itself in the characters' personalities. This current easily lends itself to comedy, and in fact a lot of the pleasure that the film gives is in the comedy-tinged strangeness of your character's presentation: she seems so unknowable at times that we throw our hands up. One aspect of this current is that it easily generalizes to a view of the human condition in general: after a while we begin to see ways that we are like the character instead of different from her, and our comic reaction to her is connected to an acknowledgment that all sexual expression is mysterious and potentially disorienting. Another aspect of this current is that it is easy to turn the same light on Josh Ritter's character. His dogged persistence in trying to overcome the girl's extreme reluctance is so unusual that it seems a little pathological; and his love leads him to an unusually passive and subordinate sexual mindset (or perhaps is the result of such a mindset). And of course we note his junkie past, his homelessness, his dysfunctional secrecy among his group of friends. Your character is not the only damaged one in that relationship.
The other current is a therapeutic one, in which the character's sexual difficulties are seen as the result of trauma. The motion of the film in this current is the characters summoning the strength to confront their problems and arriving at a healthier (and presumably less sexually complicated) place. I found the scenes in the last part of the film quite moving: the big confrontation of your character with her father has an admirable compression that is the result of your using tiny details to suggest major emotional themes that could have taken up big chunks of another movie. And the lovers' reunion on Santa Monica Blvd., with its simplicity and lack of demonstration, gets its power, not from big emotionality, but simply from having no precedent in the couple's previous relations.
Still, I haven't recomciled the two currents completely. The pleasure I get from seeing the couple's sexual problems as representative of the human condition, and in a half-comic light, is hard for me to square with the pleasure in seeing those problems as an illness to be healed. And the therapeutic current also focuses pretty much entirely on your character, which left me with questions about whether the boy needed a bit of healing as well. Will he like the girl as much if she sheds some of her psychological symptoms?
I hope my admiration for your film comes across despite my having framed this discussion in terms of these questions. Have you ever seen Hitchcock's Marnie
? It's the closest film I can think of to yours, in terms of theme and character structure.
Labels: reviews, screenings