Much of the independent film world has now become a frightening landscape of “Juno” clones, and Matt Aselton’s film “Gigantic” (co-scripted by Aselton and Adam Nagata) is proof of this.
Paul Dano—best known for his roles as the bitter depressive in “Little Miss Sunshine” and the fire-and-brimstone preacher in “There Will Be Blood”—stars as Brian Weathersby, who works in a bed warehouse. Early in the film, he is assaulted by a mysterious homeless man (Zach Galifianakis) who pops up now and again to attack him for no discernible reason. A high rolling customer, Al Lolly (John Goodman), buys a $14,000 bed, sending his flighty daughter Harriet aka Happy (Zooey Deschanel) to pay for it.
Much of the film centers on Brian’s self-described “obsession” with adopting a baby from China. Why from China, you ask? Because this is a quirky indie movie and that’s what people in quirky indie movies do. Apparently in the parallel universe of this film, a single man who by all available evidence is woefully unprepared—both emotionally and financially—for such a responsibility is a prime candidate for adoption. Such is the disinterest of this film in anything resembling recognizable reality or common sense. There isn’t a single actual character in this film; everyone is a walking collection of painfully unfunny idiosyncrasies. Brian’s father (Ed Asner) has a fondness for partaking of magic mushrooms while hunting with his friends. Brian’s coworker greets everyone with “What’s up? Not much.” At every point we are expected to take all of this at face value with no explanation. There are fantastical touches in the film, such as Al’s expulsion of a cancerous tumor through completely holistic methods, and one character that turns out to be a “Fight Club”-style figment of another character’s imagination. But these details prove to be narrative dead ends. Aselton’s strategy seems to be simply to throw all these weird-for-weirdness’-sake elements against the wall to see what sticks.
Dano and Deschanel, who usually shine when they are in films worthy of their appealing talents, do their best with the thin material they’ve been given. The adoption subplot is not only a lame contrivance, but downright offensive; when asked how he will care for the baby—since he isn’t exactly rolling in dough from his job—his answer is to the effect that Chinese don’t really need to eat that much. Later, when the prized possession finally arrives, one person remarks, “I’ve got to order me one of those,” as if the baby was an iPhone. Now these may be simply examples of the characters’ twisted sense of humor, but they also show the complete lack of humanity inherent in this scenario. That an unbearably annoying and offensive piece of junk such as this is given such a prominent berth, both at the Gen Art Film Festival and in Toronto (where it premiered), while so many other films far more deserving are left to wither in obscurity, says pretty much all that needs to be said about the sub-mediocre pseudo-art rampant in so-called “independent” film.
“Gigantic,” if you insist on checking it out, is still in several theaters now. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. And no, I don’t know what the title means either.