The Austin Chronicle

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

Not rated, 80 min. Directed by John Krasinski. Starring Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Josh Charles, Dominic Cooper, Frankie Faison, Will Forte, Benjamin Gibbard, Timothy Hutton, John Krasinski, Chris Messina, Max Minghella, Christopher Meloni, Lou Taylor Pucci, Ben Shenkman.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 13, 2009

They’re not all hideous, the men who sit for interviews with a graduate student (Nicholson) and unload their dirty laundry. Sometimes they’re just feckless, or crass; some are even pitiable. They are also superarticulate, but how could they not be, coming from the pen of the late David Foster Wallace, a masterful writer given to great pile-ons of words? In his directorial debut, Krasinski (best known as the everyman Jim on The Office) adapts Wallace’s three linked stories, all called “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,” from a collection of the same title. In the book, the interviews are one-sided – monologues, more or less – with the interviewer’s questions shorthanded to a brusque “Q.” In the transition to screen, Krasinski has turned that Q into an actual character – Nicholson’s Sara – but made her no less unknowable. Via what can only be called a structural hash, Krasinski frames Sara during sessions and at psych department socials, where she drifts around the periphery, her mouth set in a rigid horizontal line. In flashbacks, there are flickerings of an old boyfriend (played by Krasinski) who has since jilted her; later he’ll show up to deliver the final, killing interview. Curiously, Krasinski, the actor, is one of the least effective at wrapping his mouth around Wallace’s distinctive, almost stilted-sounding rhythm and diction, but he does have an eye for casting: Charles, as a serial monogamist going through the paces of his exit speech, and Cooper, as one of Sara’s students, make especially jazzy work of their limited time onscreen. But the first-time filmmaker’s stylistic tics bungle the good stuff. He chops up Cooper’s thread both spatially and temporally to confusing effect and abruptly cuts takes of the interviews, eliminating the space in between lines of dialogue where the actor would breathe or react or reflect (seemingly the whole reason for bothering to transpose Wallace’s words to the screen: for the dimensionality of what an actor brings to the text). Krasinski re-creates the interviews using Wallace’s original, but this isn’t exactly a letter-of-the-law adaptation – he tightens the interviews and defangs some of the language – and in that tinkering, he loses the spirit of the source, too. Wallace was an exacting wordsmith, and when he wrote about a woman’s body being “blown out,” you can be sure those words were chosen for maximum visceral effect. Krasinski strips them from the film, and where there was once a shuddering quality, what’s left is little more than a boy-feminist frown. (Krasinski will be in attendance for a Q&A following the Friday and Saturday screenings at 7pm and 9:45pm, which are currently sold out.)

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