Sunday, February 28, 2010

Movie Log: Cold Souls

The greatest lines I've heard in a movie so far this year: "I still have five percent of my soul...I rented the soul of a Russian poet." Cold Souls is not exactly a comedy, but it has moments that made me cackle gleefully, and that's more than enough.

(The marketing for Cold Souls mostly proceeded under the assumption that it was a comedy, but I don't entirely agree -- I'd call it a dramedy, or a similar made-up term, like "seriocomic.")

Paul Giamatti plays...Paul Giamatti, a semi-famous American actor, who's preparing for a Broadway production of Uncle Vanya and having trouble. So, after hearing about a new company on Roosevelt Island that extracts people's souls and stores them -- via an article in The New Yorker, of course; how else would the New York elite learn about anything? -- he visits their offices and decides to deposit his soul.

That makes him happy -- well, happier; he's a depressive New York type and nothing will make him truly happy -- but it's hell on his acting. (There's a hilarious scene in which Giamatti hams it up so much that he seems to be channelling William Shatner.) He goes back to the soul place to try to work something out -- he doesn't want his own soul back, since that just made him morose, so he test-drives the soul of a Russian poet for a couple of weeks, which has its own problems.

That all is funny, but threaded through those scenes are the other side of the soul-storage business, with a female Russian courier (Dina Korzun as Nina) smuggling souls into the US, and hints of the economic pressures leading Russians to sell their souls (and the sad emptiness they feel without those souls). Giamatti's travails with his rented soul eventually lead to a collision with the other side of the movie, and a trip to Russia to track down his wayward soul. The I-can't-regulate-my-soul scenes resonate oddly with the souls-as-drug-trafficking scenes, and the movie doesn't entirely find an integrated point of view and sense of itself. (The figure who should be the nasty Russian crimeboss, head of the whole organization, turns out to be a slightly hotheaded legitimate businessman who's in thrall to his demanding bad-actress wife.)

So Cold Souls is a movie of parts, and not all of the parts entirely mesh with each other well. The dramatic stuff works pretty well, but the comedy kills. I suspect it was scripted to be more serious, and edited into its current form to emphasize the elements and scenes that were most successful -- but that's purely on the evidence of the movie itself. In any case, it's a decent independent movie that raises questions and themes that it decides it's not qualified to seriously examine, but that's OK -- a little ambition is a good thing, and knowing the limits of one's ambition is even better. For people who like their movies to be smart funny, this is definitely worth the time.
Listening to: My First Earthquake - Meat Pies
via FoxyTunes

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