Sunday, December 13, 2009

Movie Log: How To Be

Robert Pattinson's extended audition reel to be a sparkly vampire -- moping about in the center of the screen for about ninety minutes -- is the main reason why people are watching How to Be, a small-scale dry British comedy about dysfunctional (or perhaps just British) families and one young man's quarterlife crisis. But the movie itself deserves better than an audience of Twihards checking out a time when their idols cheekbones weren't quite so chiseled and his soulfulness wasn't taken at all seriously.

How to Be focuses intently on Pattinson's Art, who wants to be a singer-songwriter, though -- as we see very early -- he's so far been let down by his lack of talent and his shoegazer-meets-folksinger stage demeanor. Art also works at a supermarket (for pay) and at some kind of residential center for retarded adults (for free), but he's not particularly invested in (or good at) either of those jobs.

To be blunt, he's the typical self-absorbed "artistic" young man -- and he doesn't get any less self-absorbed when his girlfriend Jessica (Alissa Arnah) breaks up with him and kicks him out of her London flat in the first reel. Art moves back in with his parents (Rebecca Pidgeon and Michael Irving), who are equally as self-absorbed, but in a much quieter and more British way.

Art is mildly annoying, though not as bad as his friend Ronny (Johnny White), which makes the audience like him better. And Pattinson does play him as essentially likable -- as a guy who wants to be a better person, even if he has no idea how to do that or even what really is wrong with him. (He keeps trying to get into angry-young-man-style arguments with his parents, which his father completely ignores and his mother smothers by repeatedly saying "Sometimes I wonder about you.")

So Art hires Canadian self-help guru Dr. Ellington, played with sprightly earnestness by Powell Jones. Ellington arrives in London, moves into the spare room, and follows Art around, spouting Dr. Phil-esque doubletalk with a huge smile on his face.

I'm probably not making How to Be sound very funny, but it is -- a dry, insinuating humor that encourages the audience to laugh at its characters for their foibles and problems, even as they don't realize that they're funny. I laughed out loud a number of times, and so I found this movie a success on that level.

The actual plot does get a bit muddled before the movie ends, though of course Art does end up finding a successful way to make himself a better person. How to Be is just a diversion -- but it's short, and quite funny once you get in tune with the tone and style of its humor. Three or four much worse movies are released every weekend, so I'd have to count How to Be as a success.

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