Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cannes '12 Review: "Reality" [Competition]

Satirizing the cultural effects of reality TV isn't exactly new at this point, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to say something fresh about obsessions with shows like Jersey Shore or, as in Matteo Garrone's Reality, Big Brother. Sadly, the Italian director, who was last at Cannes with the acclaimed crime drama Gomorrah, has a bit of a misfire on his hands with his attempt at the subject matter. Despite some nice performances and a handful of good scenes, Reality is ultimately a bit of a dull, empty slog to sit through.

Opening with a shot of a baroque carriage driving down a city street (I won't call it Felliniesque, since everyone's done that already), Garrone gets off to a decent start with a lavish wedding where we're introduced to Luciano (Aniello Arena) a Neopolitan fishing merchant. Performing in drag, he has an encounter with local celebrity Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante), who earned his 15 minutes on Italy's Big Brother. Pushed by his family to try out for the show, Luciano soon becomes a little too involved in the process, becoming paranoid that the show's producers are watching his every move to determine whether or not he'll go on the show. 

Yet even though the wedding is enjoyable, and the reveal that most of the family members live in the same cramped, crumbling apartment complex work very well, the film quickly declines. At just under two hours, Garrone fails to really focus the narrative, which leaves Luciano's escalating paranoia poorly served by the plot. By the time it reaches its conclusion, which isn't nearly as meaningful as it ought to be, you merely want to get the hell out of the theater. Not helping matters is the fact that the supporting cast, consisting mostly of Luciano's aunts and cousins, are all broad, indistinct stereotypes.

Contrast this with Aniello, who does a strong job of conveying Luciano's mental transformation, and you start to realize  what a missed opportunity Reality really is. Like 2010's Biutiful, Reality has a strong performance at its core, yet one has to endure the sluggish movie around it in order to experience said performance. And like Inarritu's film, Garrone's work isn't really worth slogging through, as good as Aniello is. Alternating between too-soft satire and straight up drama, it winds up being unsuccessful at both. Aniello is strong, as is the slightly sentimental score by Alexandre Desplat, but the movie around them is so thoroughly blah that they can't elevate Garrone's film, let alone make it worth checking out.

Grade: C-

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