Friday, April 8, 2016

#2,062. Living in Oblivion (1995)

Directed By: Tom DiCillo

Starring: Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney

Tag line: "He only needs three things to get through the day ... an espresso, an aspirin, and a miracle"

Trivia: Tom DiCillo originally wrote this as a half-hour showcase for Catherine Keener

Director Nick Reve (Steve Buscemi) has the right people in place to ensure his low-budget film will be a success, from lead actress Nicole Springer (Catherine Keener), who’s gained some notoriety as of late for her brief appearance in a Richard Gere movie, to his somewhat pretentious but ultimately talented cameraman Wolf (Dermot Mulroney), who’s an expert when it comes to framing a scene. The assistant director, Wanda (Danielle von Zerneck), is on top of the shot list and keeps things moving along, while the presence of big-name actor Chad Palomino (James LeGros) should garner some attention when the film makes its rounds on the festival circuit.

But, try as he might, Nick can’t get through a single day’s shooting without something going wrong. A simple yet dramatically important scene is undone by technical problems, while yet another collapses under the weight of Chad’s enormous ego. To top it off, the fog machine brought in for the big dream sequence doesn’t want to cooperate, nor does the actor hired to play the dwarf (Peter Dinklage, in his screen debut). Can Nick battle his way through each of these mini-disasters, or will the curtain come down on his movie before he gets a chance to finish it?

Separated into three segments (each showing an attempt to shoot a different scene from the movie), writer / director Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion reveals what can happen to a low-budget production when things don’t go according to plan. Some of what transpires is just plain frustrating, like the opening sequence, which features a scene where Nicole’s character confronts her mother, played by an actress named Cora (Rica Martens), about a childhood incident. We watch as shot after shot is ruined by technical problems (boom mics hanging too low, poor focus, and noise in the streets). Forced to repeat the same lines over and over, Nicole slowly loses energy as the night drags on, and as a result some of her later takes are flat. Hoping to recharge her batteries, Nick recommends that she and Cora do a run through of the lines while the rest of the crew is on break. Well, thanks in part to a painful real-life memory that Cora inadvertently triggers, Nicole delivers her lines flawlessly, and with great emotion. It was her best performance of the night, but they didn’t get it because the cameras weren’t rolling. So, a few moments later, when Nick loses complete control of himself, we not only excuse his behavior, we empathize with it.

At times, Living in Oblivion is also pretty damn funny. The 2nd segment, where we’re introduced to Chad Palomino, is a hilarious look at how an egomaniac can bring an entire movie to its knees (his every “suggestion” is designed to make him the focal point of the scene). Yet, for me, the funniest moment occurs during the 3rd segment, when an exasperated Tito (Peter Dinklage) points out how filmmakers have no idea what real people actually dream about (ironically, this isn’t the only dream sequence that Living in Oblivion has to offer).

Featuring scenes shot in both color and black and white, and bolstered by some strong performances (particularly Buscemi, who perfectly captures the irritation and heartbreak that goes hand-in-hand with the creative process), Living in Oblivion is an entertaining and sometimes poignant look at the ups and downs of indie filmmaking.

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