The Great New Wonderful

"Very Good"

The Great New Wonderful Review


The Great New Wonderful represents a major departure for director Danny Leiner in that it doesn't feature two perpetually stoned young men having outlandish adventures - or even one, for that matter. But the characters in the new film from the guy who made Dude, Where's My Car? and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle are, at least, walking around in a haze. They're all New Yorkers trying to get by in the wake of September 11, 2001, casually crossing paths in a series of stories that take place about a year after that devastating day.

These stories are not particularly confrontational, though they have their share of breakdowns and even occasional violence. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Emme, a rising star in the obscure but apparently high-stakes world of designer cakes; Sandie (Jim Gaffigan) is a World Trade Center survivor who's meeting with a corporate therapist (Tony Shalhoub); two parents (Judy Greer and Thomas McCarthy) bicker about their antisocial young son; an elderly woman (Olympia Dukakis) flirts with escaping the dead-silent routine of her long marriage; and a pair of bodyguards (Naseeruddin Shah and Sharat Saxena) traipse around the city for an Indian political figure. If any of these stories sound like they could be stripped-down plays, with many characters standing neatly in pairs, it's probably because writer-actor Sam Catlin developed some of these ideas on stage.

The mere fact that Leiner and Catlin's film is a human-scale comedy-drama with echoes, not recreations, of that tragic day, allows for graceful reflection; it's a relief to see filmmakers tackling the tragedy without blatantly charged imagery (it also makes a lovely companion to the immediacy of United 93). But the film's low-key approach can be curiously indirect, to the point where many scenes or even entire plotlines prompt the question: What - specifically - does this have to with 9/11?

The film doesn't make a convincing case, for example, that the Dukakis character has terrorist attacks in mind as she sadly prepares dinner for her sedentary husband. It's hard to see 9/11 with so much familiarity blocking the view; half of a long-married couple feeling deadened by routine has become an indie-movie routine of its own. That is to say, there's a difference between subtlety and expecting an audience to recontextualize based on a title card that says "September 2002." You can see that the filmmakers went with a one-year-later setting to keep a balance between awareness of and removal from the famous events. But apart from the dramatic familiarity of "one year later," Wonderful's setting causes peripheral awkwardness: it places 9/11 close enough for some connections, but far enough away to cause some reaching, too.

Then again, it's hard to fault a film for being too subtle - especially when it pays off in many of the stories, often hinging on anxieties building to small but vital outbursts. The filmmakers snap an affecting group portrait of these catharsis-starved New Yorkers, composed of countless small moments: the eye contact between troubled mom Judy Greer and her son's principal (Stephen Colbert); the testy small talk between bodyguards Shah and Saxena, about Planet of the Apes and Laurence Fishburne; Gyllenhaal's whole, sharp etching of a woman experiencing a nigh-invisible crisis of conscience. The latter may be the film's most satisfying segment, as it pits the powerfully superficial side of New York culture against an equally relentless force of mourning and sadness.

In shepherding so many fine performances, and showing a preference for odd laughs over tearjerking, Leiner shows surprising facility for the tricky ensemble-dramedy form, just as Harold & Kumar surprised me with its improvement on the stoner farce of Dude. It's a shame that The Great New Wonderful occasionally strains as it reaches all around New York, searching for touched lives and subtext; it's an overachiever already.

Hit 12 for me.



The Great New Wonderful

Facts and Figures

Run time: 87 mins

In Theaters: Friday 22nd April 2005

Box Office USA: $39.7k

Distributed by: First Independent Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 30 Rotten: 11

IMDB: 5.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Leslie Urbang, Matt Tauber,

Starring: as Judy Hillerman, as Sandie, as Allison Burbage, as Emme Keeler, as Davie Burbage, Sharat Saxena as Satish, as Avinash aka "Avi", as Dr. Trabulous, as Principal Peersall, as Jerry Binder, as Danny Keeler, as Clayton, as Lainie, Julie Dretzin as Julie Driscoll, as Safarah Polsky, as Justin

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Advertisement
Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Sing Movie Review

Sing Movie Review

The quality of the animation in this musical comedy may not be up to Pixar...

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.