Jordan Hoffman September 11, 2012
Kristen Wiig is a national treasure. Her comic timing is virtually unmatched among her peers. It’s the looseness in her own skin. She knows when to go broad and when to underplay, and little reaction shots and bounced moments that add extra color to the story are as much to be celebrated in “Imogene” as anywhere else. Unfortunately, there’s a movie surrounding these little bright spots, and that movie is hollow, uninteresting and false.
We open with Wiig as a wealthy Manhattanite surrounded by fabulous friends. She doesn’t quite fit in, though. Her makeup isn’t perfect, she stumbles a bit in conversation and she neither went to Andover or Spence — she’s from New Jersey. Her cold boyfriend dumps her in a cab, though it is tough to see why he’d have ever moved in with her in the first place. After a fake suicide attempt that doctors think are real, we discover something: she’s “quirky.”
It’s not just she who’s quirky, it’s the whole family. Mom Zelda (Annette Bening) agrees to take her into observatory custody, so it’s back to Ocean City (the town one removed from Atlantic City, but twice as tacky) to a home with a flag that reads, “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere.”
That’s where we meet Zelda’s boyfriend George Boosh, a pretend CIA agent played by Matt Dillon; Lee, a handsome young boarder in a Backstreet Boys cover band played by Darren Criss; and Imogene’s brother who never bothered to move out, Ralph, played by Christopher Fitzgerald. A character like Ralph is everything that is enraging about the so-called indie film. Rather than write real jokes or develop real moments, junk movies like “Imogene” will just let someone act like they’re mildly retarded. 900,000 indie film characters behave this way, but no one in real life is this wide-eyed, this clueless, this obsessed with something wacky (a giant mechanical crab shell!) and also filled with deus ex machina-ready wisdom.
When Imogene comes home, you know it is only a matter of time before she finds the true value of family. Hopefully, there’ll be some laughs along the way, right? There, indeed, are a number of laugh-out-loud moments, but they’re all derived from the performances. Wiig, Dillon and Bening (and, later, Bob Balaban) are genuine pros. The thing is they brought the value. The moments of levity are all gravy, all asides. They aren’t evident in the script and, frankly, I doubt they were drawn out by the middling directors, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, whose work has always been shallow, despite some nice moments in 2003′s “American Splendor.”
An important thing to do when you watch one of these quirky family films is this: ask yourself if you’d care if they weren’t celebrities. Yeah, it’s fun to laugh at that dude’s hair because that dude in Matt Dillon. Would it be as engaging if it was the guy who brought you your dinner last night? Sometimes it is, and that’s when we all cheer. But in “Imogene,” it isn’t, and that’s when I shake my fist at the screen.
The film concludes with a preposterous group tie-up of loose ends and a song on the soundtrack that opens, I swear, with the line “In the movie of our lives, would Woody Allen write the screenplay?” Poor, poor “Imogene.” Why even do that to yourself?
Categories: ReviewsTags: Annette bening, Bob Balaban, Christopher Fitzgerald, Darren criss, Imogene, Kristen wiig, Matt dillon, Review, Toronto International Film Festival