What the #$*! Do We Know!?
2004, NR, 108 min. Directed by Mark Vicente, Betsy Chasse, William Arntz. Starring Marlee Matlin, Elaine Hendrix, Robert Bailey Jr., Armin Shimerman, Barry Newman.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 10, 2004
There’s nothing so annoying as a film that resolutely strives to be classified as "cult." Part metaphysical treatise, part educational primer, and part dangerously goofy self-help manual for the New Age set, this bizarre and not unentertaining documentary strives mightily to teach the lay audience everything there is to know about quantum physics in 108 minutes. It employs a vertiginous collection of interviews with 14 members of the scientific (and, at times, devoutly unscientific) community, which are then intercut with a fictional narrative to underline and hammer home their points. Matlin is here as Amanda, a deaf photographer who’s suffering from a recent split with her cheating husband – she pops anti-anxiety medicine like its going out of style, has panic attacks left and right, and is generally a walking advertisement for the benefits of Zoloft and/or a good belt of scotch. The film sways from straight-ahead science into the thoroughly quantum realms of intent and possibility, without ever seeming as if it knows exactly what its trying to tell us. Amanda – a character bordering on the insufferable – has emotional and mental revelations at a wedding she’s been assigned to shoot, fantasizes that her ample hips are out to get her, and dances around with tiny animated peptides, pink and green bouncing blobs that recall nothing so much as, it has to be said, Flubber. There’s plenty of good science wrapped up in this messily ambitious film; a number of the talking heads nattering on make genuinely interesting points regarding the very strange and very fascinating world of quantum science, but the film’s intent is undercut by its far-too-daffy approach, which leaves it feeling something like an ABC Afterschool Special for the bastard offspring of mad scientists and California desert shamans. Matlin, for her part, gives the role of the photographer (who is, by definition, the audience’s surrogate) her all, chewing scenery as though it were made out of tofu and emoting with wild abandon. That matches the whole tone of the project, actually: From its unmarketable title on down to its occasionally silly use of computer-animated anthropomorphic peptidians, What the #$*! Do We Know!? is akin to finding yourself in an argument with a drunken hippie on a Matrix bender. To be sure, there are a lot of interesting things to glean, but after a while you just wish he go away and stop enthusing at you.