July 6, 2006

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The Great New Wonderful (R)
About half a dozen people struggle earnestly to keep it together (against what? for what? why? eh, why not?) in The Great New Wonderful, a strange little film.

Strange because a lot goes on but nothing much really happens and because, like the title itself, the movie has a vague Sept. 11 connection that you can feel more than specifically point to and define. It (Sept. 11 and everything that's happened since) is never really mentioned by name. Like the holes in the skyline, its absence makes its presence known.

And so we get vignettes. Small stories of people who seem to be living entirely in interior monologue, none of which we hear. On the outside, they are calm and only occasionally give the impression that they are people who are barely holding on to things.

We get Emme (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a woman who designs elaborate and outrageously expensive cakes. She hungers to get the contract to build a cake for an overindulged teenager's birthday party and finally knock off rival Safarah (Edie Falco).

We get Allison (Judy Greer) and David (Tom McCarthy), parents of a clearly disturbed boy who can't seem to bring themselves to accept how messed up their son truly is.

We get Avi (Naseeruddin Shah) and Satish (Sharat Saxena), immigrants from somewhere on the Indian subcontinent who provide security for dignities. One is perpetually scowling and the other talks non-stop, festooning his opinions and observations with name brands and celebrities.

We get exceedingly mild office worker Sandie (Jim Gaffigan) who is undergoing a week of corporation-imposed therapy with Dr. Trabulous (Tony Shalhoub). Utterly calm, Sandie becomes increasingly more infuriated each time Trabulous diagnoses him with some sort of submerged rage. Is Trabulous instigating anger or is he right?

And then we get Judie (Olympia Dukakis), stuck along with her husband in a rut of television and household chores. Her attempts to break free are the movie's most "doing something" actions and yet even she doesn't clearly know what she's doing or what she wants.

At several points in this movie, you expect the characters to break down and scream or cry or both. When these moments of release finally come, even they don't seem like enough.

But what would be enough? The Great New Wonderful stays at a distance with these characters, so even once we know there story we don't even really know what's wrong or what they need. Like short stories written more for character than for plot, the movie gives us glimpses and moments (some of them funny, some of the poignant) but no real substance — icing, but very little cake. C+


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