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Living in Oblivion

Rated R, 90 min. Directed by Tom DiCillo. Starring Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, James LeGros.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 1, 1995

Hollywood's always had a bit of a love/hate affair with itself, but no more so than in the spirit of the independent filmmaker: Constrained by miniscule budgets, production delays, and occasionally inept crews (not to mention caterers from hell), the independent sets itself up for failure, and somehow, seemingly against all odds, succeeds. Or maybe not. DeCillo's second feature (his first being the underrated Brad Pitt vehicle Johnny Suede) is a caustic, witty, nightmarish look at what goes into the making of an indie film, from the endless screw-ups that transpire as the crew battles with backbiting, egomaniacal stars run amok, sexual politics on and off the set, and all the little horrors of day-to-day filmmaking on a shoestring budget. And it's pretty funny, to boot. Buscemi is Nick, the director of the titular film Living in Oblivion, a sensitive, Nineties drama, a “serious film” that just doesn't seem to be going right at all. Alternating between being maddeningly conciliatory toward his feuding leading man (LeGros, wonderfully ridiculous here as Chad Palomino, the Gen X heartthrob whose only come-on seems to be “So, do you like jazz?”) and leading lady (the equally brilliant Keener) and exploding in a manic rage, Nick is a harried director pushed nearly to the point of collapse (even his downtime is spent wrapped up in nightmares of endless foul-ups) by cast and crew alike. DeCillo keeps the film moving with the kind of frantic energy you find on a real film set, alternating between judicious use of black-and-white and garish color, all the while keeping both frazzled director Nick and the audience just a little off balance. It's a hilarious, scathing look at one man's attempt to get a film made, “whatever it takes,” and it may be the most relalistic depiction of that struggle so far.
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