Thursday, August 01, 2013

cinema obscura: Marc Klein's "Suburban Girl" (2007)

A sense of discovery, what used to be among the more simple pleasures in one's moviegoing life, has become such a rare and fleeting event nowadays that it is unappreciated and often misunderstood.

We've been conditioned to assume that any film - either a mainstream monstrosity from the studios or an indie darling from the festivals - that isn't hyped is suspect and must be bad. And must be avoided.

Marc Klein's first feature as a director, "Suburban Girl," went missing back in 2007 when it somehow fell off the fillm-fete assembly line and disappeared.  It played Cannes and the Tribeca Film Festival and all of the major markets in Europe but never quite made it back home.

Klein, a screenwriter whose credits include "Serendipity," "A Good Year" and, more recently, "Mirror Mirror," has fashioned a bittersweet relationship film (not to be confused with your standard romcom) about a young woman with some minor father issues who becomes involved with an older man with major daughter issues. He based it on two short stories, "My Old Man" and "The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine," from Melisa Bank's "The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing," which was the film's working title. ("Suburban Girl" is a most unworthy moniker.)

Set in Candace Bushnell's New York, Klein's film is what one would expect from an episode of  "Sex and the City" written and directed by Woody Allen:  It is observant, literate, occasionally witty and quite tart.

And in the lead roles, Sarah Michelle Geller and Alec Baldwin do alert, deeply shaded variations on the Carrie Bradshaw-Mr. Big duet, adding some fascinating new wrinkles to an all-too-familiar theme. 

Geller, a solid actress who operates too often under the radar, is Brett Eisenberg, an associate editor whose talent and ambition are being smothered by her new boss at the publishing house where she works. 

Baldwin is Archie Knox, the Mailer-esque author - part writer, mostly womanizer - who wants to seduce and mentor her at the same time, forgetting that Brett is neither his mistress nor his daughter, but his equal. 

While this is very much Geller's film, which she carries with exquisite, attractive ease, Baldwin is commanding, both suave and sexually intimidating - and also touching - as an older man who is also an aging lothario.  Baldwin, whose life as a promising leading man in movies self-aborted, found his second act in Jack Donaghy, a character that, for better or worse, has invaded some of his other recent performances.  But not here.  Archie Knox is a character/performance that stands very much on its own, free of any Donaghy/Baldwin, Baldwin/Donaghy tics.

The large supporting cast includes turns by James Naughton as Brett's beloved father, Maggie Grace as her BFF/confidant and Mirian Seldes (Mr. Big's mother herself!) as a tony literary critic.

My theory on why this film fell through the cracks:  It's not really an indie and it's not really mainstream either,  which poses a marketing problem.  Klein, I suppose, could have easily made this for a major studio, but it's doubtful if either Baldwin or Geller would have been the leads.

Which would have been a loss. 

The difficult-to-see "Suburban Girl"  can be found these days on the fringes of cable TV, usually Showtime.  Check it out or (given the inconvenient hours that it's usually shown) record it. You'll be suprised and gratified.

I hope.


Jane said...

Love how this films sounds. Wanna see it!

Andrew said...

I saw this at Tribeca and liked it. Seriously downbeat and successful in its depiction of edgy relationships in a way that "Sex and the City" isn’t.

wwolfe said...

I've wondered whether anyone other than me enjoyed this movie. I'm happy to see you did, and I appreciate your perceptive look at it. The generic title hurt it by giving it an air of off-the-rack cheapness, while also preventing fans of the book from knowing the source of the movie. I was definitely surprised in a happy way when I gave it a look late one night.

Nicolas said...

I saw this and liked it. I was really impressed with Baldwin. After having put up with his "antics" on "30 Rock" longer than I should have, I found him lovably inert and appealing here.