1998, NR, 82 min. Directed by Robert Byington. Starring Carmen Nogales, Jason Andrews, Damian Young.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Nov. 13, 1998
It's not just George Bush pere who lacks a firm grip on the vision thing. Fact is, people who really know what they want out of life are so rare they're often objects of intense fascination, even obsession for the rest of us. So it is with Bill and Ed, a pair of thirtyish sad sacks whose loserly existences are knocked off kilter by the decision of Mexican soap opera queen Olympia to quit acting and train to be an Olympic javelin-thrower. Ed (Young, previously seen in Hal Hartley's Simple Men and Amateurs) is Olympia's manager, a surly prick who actually appears to care for his former meal ticket on some level but who is dumbfounded by her sudden jockish compulsions. Ed's loss is Bill's gain. A paunchy, unmotivated slob who seems to have been fired from every job in his drowsy Rio Grande Valley hometown, his world changes forever when he finds Olympia, exhausted from her illegal border-crossing, hiding in his car. Despite Olympia's meager English, Bill (Andrews) soon discovers her purpose. Enthralled by the mysterious siren's gung-ho attitude and total focus, he manages to insinuate himself into her life -- and bring some purpose to his own -- by serving as her coach. This is a film with a sneaky, ineffable charm that's tough to describe. Character-driven in the extreme and shot in a utilitarian, quasi-documentary style, its story sort of maunders serenely along like a milk cow blocking traffic on a country road. Funny scenes abound, ranging from Ed's sulfurous rants to zany situational humor arising from the guys' responses to the truculent, single-minded Olympia (played with considerable raw charisma by model-turned-actress Nogales). Byington's writing isn't always inspired, but he has a fine Albert Brooksian flair for multi-layered comic effect in which absurd settings undermine his characters' overtly serious words and actions. In the end, however, it's hard to say what all these bright scenes' cumulative effect was meant to be. Olympia is too ornery and manipulative to be any kind of feminist heroine, and the obscure origins of her javelin jones make it tough to fully identify with her. Bill's modest personal growth, affecting though it is, hardly feels like the point of all that's come before. Honestly, I'd be very surprised if any profound themes or messages were intended here. Instead, this low-budget charmer is a classic example of indie film claiming the freedom to simply clear out space for good writers and actors (Andrews and Young both seem good bets for mainstream stardom) to develop characters through their own organic sense of story rather than screenwriting-workshop dogma. Olympia isn't the kind of movie everyone will love. Some may be actively put off by its slightness and oddly abrupt ending. However, if you're patient with its shortcomings, it definitely has -- as one of its characters says of Olympia herself -- “a certain je ne sais whatchamacallit.” (Director Bob Byington will be in attendance for a Q&A session following the 7:35pm screenings on Friday and Saturday.)