Good Dick Dir. Marianna Palka

[Morning Knight/Present Pictures; 2008]

A title like good Good Dick may be an immediate turn off for some. It seems to suggest either a poorly written teenage comedy or, of course, a porno flick. But Marianna's Palka's film instead explores the complexities of a relationship that is constantly challenged by its female protagonist's complete disinterest in getting intimate. Similar to Garden State, Palka is the writer, director, and lead actor, substituting for Zach Braff as the insular and socially inept character who has long since given up on interacting with people. But where Garden State was extremely polished and ready for mainstream audiences, Good Dick has a do-it-yourself feel, much like the films in the emerging lo-fi film movement that has, unfortunately, been dubbed "mumblecore." Many scenes, for instance, are shot on location at Palka's LA apartment complex or at Cinefile, the local video store she frequented while writing the script.

Good Dick thrives primarily on solid performances by its two unnamed protagonists, a lonely video store clerk (Jason Ritter) and one of the store's regular patrons (Marianna Palka). Through her cold body language, biting one-liners, and glassy stare, Palka nails her character's reckless and despondent core. Meanwhile, with his puppy dog eyes and sheepish smile, Ritter, Palka's real-life partner, slips effortlessly into his role as the dedicated, charming guy who will stop at nothing to win over the object of his affection and fascination. Whether Palka's character is having an explosive fit at the invasion of her private space or is actually showing signs of opening up and living life, the two protagonists are compelling to watch.

Between Palka's character's predilection for bad ’80s porn and the all-male cast of video store employees' sophomoric chatter, discussions centering around both male and female anatomy are common. But the film's dialog is more explicit than the actual visual content. Instead of resorting to casual nudity, as many contemporary, low-budget films have done, Andre Lascaris, the director of photography, sneaks in subtle moments of cinematic beauty -- the sunlight breaking in through Palka's car window in the opening scene or the wind gently inflating the makeshift plastic covering the broken window above her kitchen sink, as if the apartment were living and breathing.

The music, too, aids the film tremendously. Don't expect to find any tracks by Coldplay or The Shins here. Instead of including the latest hype bands, the soundtrack is comprised heavily of instrumental pieces that help to establish the underlying tone of the scenes without the presence of lyrics to distract from the dialog. Echoing the female protagonist's tendency to return to her cold, indifferent ways of old, the music occasionally loops back on itself at moments when change seems possible, both reincorporating and expanding earlier melodies and arrangements.

Good Dick has its weaknesses, too. Its ending is abrupt and unrealistic, and most viewers will question the basis for the store clerk's attraction to the patron in the first place (personal hygiene and amiability are clearly not her strong suits). What remains indisputable, however, are the duo's on-screen chemistry and the film's overall execution: it's all very naturalistic. Even the gang of actors who played Cinefile clerks worked shifts at the store to prepare for their roles in the film. With all it has going for it, Good Dick is a solid film and a promising directorial debut.

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