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After watching The Square, the new film from writer/director Robert Ostlund (he previously gave us the cheeky Force Majeure), I have to say I’m not exactly sure what point he was trying to make. At the same time, it was so entertaining and involving, I guess I’m not exactly sure I cared.
The story revolves around a man named Christian (I doubt Ostlund randomly drew the name out of a hat), the curator for a modern art museum in Sweden. The museum’s newest installation is, well, a square. That’s it, a square, with some wording about what the square means (though after hearing the words a few times, I’m not sure I knew exactly what that was).
I think it has something to do with the idea that whoever is in the square is supposed to be treated as equal to anyone else, a safe place where they are protected from harm.
Which may also be the movies way of accusing the art world of being out of touch, of basically ignoring the numerous downtrodden that appear on a regular basis throughout the film; that their art isn’t serving society in a way that it should be.
Of course, whenever I run across a filmmaker who posits such an accusation, I always want to ask him when was the last time they gave to someone on the street.
Still, I could be absolutely in error and The Square could mean something else entirely, or perhaps nothing at all.
Where the film does work is not so much as a satire of the pretentiousness of art and the patrons who pretentiously support it. The real effectiveness of the movie lies more in a character study of a man who tends to act without thinking things through and ends up embroiled in situations that overwhelm him.
He does this so often in fact, one does tend to wonder how he ever got the position of curator in the first place.
Still, it’s fun watching him squirm and mire himself deeper and deeper until he completely loses control of his life and everything around him. And Claes Bang, with his impish eyes giving looks of constant confusion and uncertainty, almost always on the verge of sweaty panic, gives a strong and charismatic, and very funny, performance in the lead.
In addition, the movie is filled with some delightful directorial flourishes, especially a scene where Christian and his two little girls rush up a Vertigoien staircase that never seems to end, another example of people trapped in a square.
With some nice cameos by Elizabeth Moss as an interviewer who perhaps gives the shortest interview on record and causes consternation for Christian by overstaying her welcome, and Dominic West, an artist whose Q&A is constantly interrupted by an audience member with Tourette Syndrome.
It was not a good experience. Unlike the terrible films by Ed Wood, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, which are actually kind of, but barely watchable, The Room is little more than a couple of hours of pure pain and torture, something I would only wish on my worst enemy (because, c’mon, they’re your worst enemy so they do kind of deserve it).
I suppose we do have one thing to thank The Room for and that is The Disaster Artist, a comedy of infinite jest that is probably the best work that the writers Scott Neustadter and Michael W. Weber have given us (their previous high point is their first film (500) Days of Summer), and the best work James Franco, as director and actor, has given us.
In fact, Franco is somewhat of a revelation here. I have rarely found him effective as a performer. Most of the time, Franco tends to just be himself on the screen, using his basic persona to create his character. And for me, it almost never works and he ends up being somewhat bland and boring (in contrast, Kristen Stewart is an actor who is most successful when she is basically being herself on screen).
However, like many actors who are ineffective when they are just being themselves, if you give them an accent and make up and do everything you can to distract them and not let their basic personas get in the way, they can be incredibly effective (like Robert Pattison who is more effective in such films as Good Time and The Rover, rather than in films like Cosmopolis).
I can do little but give praise to the film. It’s a movie that manages to both ridicule its main character while also giving him his due and suggesting that he is more than a clown to be laughed at.
It’s well directed and strongly acted by a never ending parade of easily recognizable actors playing their small rolls with grace and ease (part of the fun of the movie is recognizing who is who).
But why quibble with such an enjoyable bit of tomfoolery about an unenjoyable bit of tomfoolery?
With Dave Franco as Wiseau’s besty friend Greg.