Written by: Ellen Tremiti, Special to CC2K
Fanboy Comics Contributor Ellen Tremiti shares her thoughts on another one of the many films she previewed at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Everyday life in the ‘burbs comes with its fair share of mundane problems. Just don’t sweat the small stuff, right? Unfortunately for the characters in The Details, they fail to let go of the small stuff and, before they know it, their suburban life is on the edge of complete disaster. Jacob Aaron Estes, director and writer of The Details, reminds us just how absurd these suburban issues can be with an exceptional cast and a darkly comedic plot that entertains but doesn’t really bother to go past the superficial.
Tobey Maguire (Spiderman, Pleasantville) and Elizabeth Banks (Wet Hot American Summer, The 40 Year Old Virgin) star as unhappily married couple Dr. Jeff and Nealy Lang. They decide it’s time to expand their family and have another child. Jeff takes this opportunity to focus on landscaping his backyard in a mission to create the perfect backyard lawn. He puts down new sod one day, and, the next, he wakes up to a catastrophe: raccoons have torn up the grass. Thus, this wildly absurdist film begins, and the actions Jeff takes to rid himself of the raccoons simultaneously mirror and enhance his problems.
As the story unfolds, we are introduced to an entertaining cast of characters, including Laura Linney (The Truman Show, The Squid and the Whale) as the crazy next-door neighbor cat lady, and Ray Liotta (Good Fellas, Revolver) as another neighbor who Jeff betrays. Linney’s mascara-smeared face and crazed energy create some of the best laughs in the movie, while Liotta does what he does best: scare and intimidate. Liotta’s roll in the film helps us realize what kind of a man Jeff really is and the answer is not impressive. Toby Maguire’s deadpan portrayal of Dr. Jeff Lang has its moments of pathetic hilarity. His misfortunes are satisfying since he deserves every ounce of what he gets, and yet, he maintains his role as lead protagonist.
The characters are the strength of this film while the colorful plot builds with some predictability. Small absurd moments give way to increasingly more outrageous and dark-humored ones, and, while the story reflects suburban issues, it doesn’t feel totally fresh. Suburban life and its issues may not change much—there are the staples: adultery, nosey neighbors, blackmail—but The Details doesn’t quite succeed in presenting these issues in a new light for 2011. It seems the film doesn’t really have the time to stop and create meaning from all its wackiness.
The Details is a fun film and it definitely pops when lined up against other Sundance films. It leans heavily on its absurdist humor so much so that any real message is left somewhere between one ridiculous event and another, but it still entertains. The film is not as deep or lofty as American Beauty, and it is not as light as Pleasantville, but it is 100 percent over-the-top. If you enjoy black humor, it is a unique film to watch out for this year.
Ellen Tremiti is a Contributor for Fanboy Comics, an independent comic book publishing company based in Los Angeles, CA. For more interviews, blogs, and reviews by Ellen and the FBC staff, check out the Fanboy Comics website at FanboyComics.net or sign up for the e-newsletter, The Fanboy Scoop, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.