July 1st, 2002
In an empty storefront In Olympia, Washington, nine caucasian women of various age, class and sexual preference gather once a week for twenty-one weeks for group therapy, led by Ruby, the older gray-haired therapist. These women have come to this group via fliers left in area coffee shops, which promises a queer friendly open space for all to speak.
This is the basis for Group, one of the plethora of new movies that have sprung forth in the past year thanks to the technological "advances" made in digital cinematography. Unlike a Richard Linklater or an Ethan Hawke, this film was made by people who has a passion to tell a story but lacked the financial means to shoot on film, rather than established artists screwing around with new toys. What these filmmakers do share, however, is a general sense of being more consumed with showing off how clever they can be with their new toys instead of worrying about engaging the audience with something new to say.
The intentions of filmmakers Marilyn Freeman and Anne DeMarken are clear. They wish to make their audience think about all the bad things that humans do to one another, with special emphasis on how bad men are. The most outwardly screwed up of the group is Pipi, the obese, one-legged punk with blue hair, who was raped at the age of eight at a hospital while recovering from her leg amputation due ot cancer. Pipi is a ball of confusion, and the most active participant in the group. Joining Pipi in the group are Rita (the annoying, cursing, multi-tattoed lesbian), Clansey (the blonde born again Christian), Violet (the older, redhaired secretary), and four dark haired twentysomethings (Grace, Claire, Rachel and Tody), all of whom are sad, but I really can't remember much of a difference between any of them except one of them is pissed off her father is dating a girl younger than she is. And in the midst of these sessions are seven digital cameras following every word, every sigh, every tear.
After the opening titles, which are laser printed onto pieces of paper taped onto windows of coffee shops and shot in a jittery zoom in zoom out what does this knob called "focus" do? style more at home in a Michael Bay movie, and a card introducing the first scene opening, stolen from Clerks (replete with a single pseudo-intellectual concept of "Seven"), we are thrown straight into the middle of the first session. No setup, no character introductions, just BANG! there we are in this empty storefront with a bunch of white chicks who are already getting on each other's nerves. The screen splits into six separate shots, some watching the main focus of any moment, while others shoot the reactions of the other participants. Rita, the sassy lesbian, senses an uncomfortability in Violet, and brings that initial problem to the forefront. After a short tete-a-tete, the screen fades to black from the group and comes back in on Pipi, now in single screen and walking her dog. Some chick-centric song plays on the soundtrack while Pipi plays and shares a sandwich with her large puppy. She meets up with no one, not one word is exchanged, and after a moment, the scene fades to black again. Soon we are back to the multi-camera setup, where another session is in progress.
And this is the basic concept the film follows for its running time. Title card with a concept (Dolphins, Virginity, What Is Your Problem?, Judgment, Authority) which will be touched upon in the footage we are about to see, a short vignette with the group in multi-camera format, fade to black, follow the lives of one of the ladies doing not much of anyting (crying in a coffee shop, getting her hair done, walking and smoking in a park, smoking and playing a guitar in the park, driving around) in single camera format while some low-rent chick band plays on the soundtrack, and back to the title concept card.
The major problem with this film is that, despite the best intentions of the filmmakers and actors, whatever character definitions were worked out during preproduction never come through on screen. The four dark haired twentysomethings easily could have been one of two characters. Claire, for example, is rarely seen or heard for the entire first hour of the film. Only in the closing section of the film do we see her character become active onscreen, when she simply rocks back and forth in her chair while Pipi cries about the possibility of her having cancer again. Finally, after ten minutes of just rocking in her chair, the therapist asks Claire if she would like to share what she is feeling. She too starts to cry, states she does not wish to share, and just keeps bouncing around in her chair. Why she is there, paying for the privledge of not participating, is never made clear. Rachel, we discover also towards the end of the story, is really there because she is pregnant by her lover, who wants nothing to do with her because he already has a wife and kid. Grace is a control freak, if I remember correctly, but for the most part just sits there. And Tody, I have no recollection of at all.
The other, more memorable, characters are so not because of their problems but because of their differences from the dair haired twentysomethings. Rita sticks with the viewer because she is this loud, obnoxious New Yorker with a severe attitude problem, always saying something to provoke others. Pipi, one cannot forget because she is an obese one-legged punk with blue hair. Violet is the oldest of the group, and Clansey... she sticks out because she's blonde. I have nothing to say about the characters of any of them outside of the loud lesbian, because the characters are that interchangeable.
How many more times will the next wave of independent filmmakers subject us to boring, self-important stories of how horrible we are to ourselves and each other, before they realize that concept without execution is a recipe for utter and complete boredom? Okay, well... utter and complete boredom for more well-adjusted people who will want to scream "Get over yourself, already" to the majority of the characters who bitch and moan and whine and cry about their situations, instead of just doing something about their circumstances.
I give this manipulative attempt at the betterment of mankind a C for effort and a D- for execution.
My rating: D-