March 5, 2012
This almost slipped under my radar and I’m so very glad it didn’t. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’d had two margaritas and an espresso right before going to see this, so I was a bit overstimulated. That may have influenced my reaction a bit. So, without further ado:
THIS WAS SO AWESOME!!!!!!
Ahem. Well. Yes. Okay, where to even start. There’s a scene where our would-be, somewhat accidental supervillain is suiting up for his first heist, in his disabled abusive father’s old firefighting rig, with “Ziggy Stardust” playing in the background, and I thought: This is the closest thing to Wild Cards I’ve seen in the movies, ever. Real world characters, real world setting, consequences extrapolated. Also, the best extrapolation of how telekinesis might actually work. Like, what would teenage boys with teke actually do with it? (Hint: you probably won’t guess right, unless you’re a teenage boy.) Some great effects in there.
It was an entire day later I started thinking about tropes and predictability and all that, because the story here is pretty inevitable, pretty predictable, but it’s a good example of how handling familiar tropes in a competent and stylish way makes them fresh again. This movie doesn’t have a wasted second. No long scenes of angst, nobody explaining anything that everybody already knows. Rapid jumps between scenes, late in/early out, and the audience is expected to keep up. And you do, because it makes sense, and the film’s not going to insult your intelligence by explaining tropes that it knows you already know. It’s short. It’s punchy. It doesn’t have a studio committee’s fingerprints all over it. Hallelujah.
Some people are calling this a “found footage” movie, but it’s not, really. There’s no opening scroll describing how this tape was “found” and how what you’re seeing is “real.” The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield are the two examples of “found footage” that I’m most familiar with, and the limitations of the technique are painfully apparent in both — the contrivances they have to go to tell an entire story from a single camera’s point of view, especially long after a panicking cameraperson in the real world would have just dropped the damn thing and run. Chronicle is aware of those limitations, and so jettisons them: it’s “natural” footage, not found. It doesn’t limit itself to one camera. We have a video blogger’s footage, various security footage, news footage, police interrogation footage, all of it built into a collage that gives the movie the feel of a documentary. And the primary camera, Andrew’s camera, is an extension of Andrew himself, and becomes our omnipotent narrator when Andrew’s powers grow epic. The first time we see Andrew, he’s standing in front of a mirror, with the camera — we meet them both at the same time. Which is great, because when else in a found footage movie do you ever get to see the camera? So both sets of eyes are reflected in the mirror, looking right at us, and Andrew says, “From now on, I’m recording everything,” and this tells you that Andrew’s mental breakdown has already begun, before the superpowers actually come along. The superpowers are almost incidental, and like all great superpower stories, this isn’t about the powers — it’s about the characters. The powers force the characters in the alignments they were already headed toward in the first place.
I was in tears at the end of this, not just because of the melancholy finish, but because my faith in interesting cinema has been restored. I totally didn’t expect that.
(Since writing this initially I’ve learned that screenwriter Max Landis is, in fact, John Landis’s son. John Landis, who wrote An American Werewolf in London. Good writing isn’t genetic, but it does make me go huh.)
I find myself wanting to see this exact same movie, but with three girls, because I don’t think it would change very much. At least, if I were going to do it with three girls I wouldn’t change it very much. Wouldn’t that be fun?