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Here’s what I scribbled in my notebook while I was watching Gigantic: “A mild comedy-drama with a quirky but not abrasive sense of humor. I have no idea where it’s going but I’m perfectly happy to sit still and look at it for an hour and a half. (This is not true of all movies—there are far too many of them where my brain has to wrest control over my body, which wants to move somewhere else.)” I wrote that under the unconscious but standard assumption that, by the time the movie was over, I would “understand” it—I would have some idea of its purpose and aims. This was not the case: By the time the end credits rolled and I was learning who performed the numerous tuneful songs on the soundtrack, things that were unclear to me had not been clarified. Okay, thought I, this movie is apparently deeper than the quirky indie romantic comedy I took it for. Pondering it overnight brought no clarity, and so I went to the promotional materials they give to the press to seek some interpretation. I’m sorry I did. It seems that what I took for odd incongruities were not the result of my inattention. Filmmaker Matt Aselton says that he was only interested in what his characters were doing in the moment rather than keeping true to what they might have been in the past or will be in the future. (The movie opens with a scene of lab rats struggling not to drown in a tank of water. This turns out to be less a metaphor for the experiences of the characters than the director’s attitude toward the viewers.) There are movies where characters can be treated that way: This is not that kind of movie. It is not an absurdist movie, but rather a relatively standard rom-com with dollops of absurdism slopped on it like anchovies on a wedding cake. I like anchovies; I like cake; but not together. To describe the plot is to fall into a trap of leading you to expect the movie to be something it is not: For the record, it is set in Manhattan and it stars Paul Dano as a young single man with an unfulfilling job who yearns to adopt a Chinese baby; John Goodman as an overbearing rich guy; Zooey Deschanel as Goodman’s daughter, who becomes Dano’s lover; and Ed Asner and Jane Alexander as Dano’s parents. Aselton lets them do as they will, and the cast is reason enough to see the movie, particularly Deschanel and Goodman. I enjoyed Gigantic, really, and may even watch it again. I just won’t lose any sleep when I do over the parts that don’t seem to make any sense.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Gigantic

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