Director: Martin Hynes
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel, Jena Malone, Judy Greer, Maura Tierney, Jsu Garcia, Bill Duke
Running Time: 94 min.
***1/2 (out of ****)
One of the greatest gifts a movie can give is to make a promise, then actually keep it. Martin Hynes’ The Go-Getter makes two promises and not only delivers on both, but exceeds our expectations. It’s one of those films that when it’s over you’re not exactly sure what you’ve seen or what you thought of it but you know it was different and special. The story it tells is straightforward and really rather simple but the way it’s told is anything but. All of it is presented in a fresh and interesting way that we’re not used to, almost like a bizarre, surrealistic fusion of Into The Wild and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And it’s unlike anything you’ve seen in terms of its performances, cinematography and music.
While it runs just over an hour and a half it feels much longer, and that’s a compliment. It’s filled with so many great ideas and is so ambitious that it feels epic in scope, bursting with moments of beauty that almost can’t be contained in a story so small. Yet somehow, Hynes (making his directorial debut) not only contains it, but guides it with care and intelligence the whole way through. Because it’s so unusual you may be fooled into thinking it’s better than it is, yet because the story it tells is so basic you could also be fooled into thinking its worse. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
When it was over I wanted to watch it again. Instead of asking people whether they’ve seen it the more appropriate question would be: “Was it your first time?” This takes multiple viewings to fully process, but I’m still trying to sort out the first one. I do know that with lesser talent involved this wouldn’t have been nearly as effective. One actor gives a surprisingly lived in lead performance and an actress, already among my favorites working today, continues to amaze. And she does it without even being on screen for over half the film.
19-year-old Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci) lonely and reeling from the recent death of his mother impulsively steals a car from the local car wash and embarks on a road trip to find his long estranged older step-brother Arlen (Jsu Garcia) and break the news. Along the way he has a series of bizarre encounters with a hippie (Judy Greer), a pet-shop owner (Maura Tierney) and a porn director named Sergio Leone (Julio Oscar Mechoso), finding out from them that his long-lost brother may even be a worse guy than he thought.
Most memorably, Mercer reconnects with an old middle school crush, Joely (Jena Malone) a slutty, drugged-out vixen who travels with him to Reno. Malone plays her as more than that broad description implies. He thinks she’s what he wants but who he really needs is on the other end of a cell phone. It’s the stolen car’s flirtatious owner Kate (Zooey Deschanel) and in a neat twist she isn’t the slightest bit upset. Actually, she thinks it’s kind of cool and wants frequent updates on his journey.
There are many beautifully shot, creatively edited sequences such as Mercer trying to imagine what Kate looks like and a cowboy shootout dream sequence on the beach. The purpose of Mercer’s trip may be to find his brother but as the film progresses that’s not the encounter we’re most interested in. It’s him coming face to face with Kate, who just may be as lonely a soul as he is. He’s found his perfect match, but the closer he gets the more frightened he is that he’ll lose her. We see how he would be. By the time they do meet their relationship has come a long way since that first phone call.
A lot of reviews of this movie, a modest hit at Sundance last year, have slammed it for being soaked in indie film clichés. The road trip as a metaphor for self-discovery. The insecure man-child. The quirky girlfriend. I see the point, but that’s more a testament to the amount of independent dramas released in the past couple of years than any particular failing with this one, especially when the approach is this fresh. The sun-drenched photography by Byron Shah gives the film a unique look, almost as if it were made in another era. In fact, if I had just been blindly shown the film completely unaware of its release date I’d probably think it came out of the ‘60’s or‘70’s.
Why is it that films shot on a shoestring budget often seem to look better and more realistic than the most expensive big budget studio offerings? I have a theory that with less money the filmmakers are forced to come up with more inventive ways to use what they have, which can only make the film better. That’s exactly what Hynes does here and the look of the picture fits its story perfectly, as does the score provided by singer/songwriter M. Ward. Ward, best known as the “Him” in the folk duo She and Him with Deschanel, also briefly appears at the start of the film. This is one of those soundtracks where you don’t realize just how good it is until the movie’s conclusion because it never needlessly calls attention to itself.
Pucci, last seen atop a flying ice cream truck in my favorite film of 2007, Southland Tales, gave no hints in his few scenes there that he was capable of a performance with this much depth. It’s calm, soulful and restrained, lacking any deliberate attempts at pulling on the heartstrings. You’d think Hynes paints himself into a corner creating a character as interesting as Kate and trusting that when she’s revealed the actress will play her to meet expectations. That would be an issue if that actress were anyone other than Zooey Deschanel, who it seems was born to play this type of character. And this may be the first film she’s starred in that’s as quirky as she is. She’s not only what we imagined Kate would be from the phone conversations, but a whole lot more. It's getting to the point where I'm starting to wonder if Zooey is even capable of starring in a bad movie (no The Happening jokes please), and if she did, whether I could bring myself to acknowledge it. The mere presence in a film pretty much guarantees a certain level of success.
I think Hynes missteps a little as a writer in the third act by trying to provide too much of an explanation as to why Kate is so invested in Mercer’s journey. It feels a little contrived but that doesn’t make the outcome any less satisfying. The eventual encounter with Kate and the resolution to the story about his brother both pay off in a big way.
e all know the drill by now. An independent film is released that I tell everyone they should check out, they tell me they will, and it falls to the bottom of their queue, never to be heard from again. But this is different. It isn’t a hyped up independent film that insiders at festivals gushed about to sound cool but was met with widespread indifference when it landed in theaters. This has no buzz so there’s no possibility for disappointment.
While the film is far from easily accessible and not for everyone, even those who don't care for it would agree it isn’t forgettable. You just need very high tolerance for deeply personal, emotion-filled films to get on board. Yes, it’s self-indulgent and contains some very familiar elements but who cares when it looks and feels this good? You don’t watch a movie like this for the story, but for the experience. On that front it delivers. Hynes will probably go on to bigger and better things but with the Go-Getter he succeeds where other films have failed in showing us that life is about the journey.