Of late there has been a movement of young American independent filmmakers to gravitate to a style of film making dubbed, “Mumblecore.” Usually surrounding the realistic and mundane lives of disenchanted twenty-somethings it functions as an update of Italian Neo Realism for the 21st century. However instead of the struggles of the impoverished victims of a war torn society Mumblecore typically focuses on the pseudo problems of middle class post graduates wallowing the miasma of their tedious lives. Unlike Antonio Ricci in De Sica’s seminal work, “The Bicycle Thief,” one rarely feels for any of the characters in these pictures, but would rather reach through the screen and punch them in the face. This is the overwhelming feeling that came over me watching the newest Mumblecore opus, Aaron Katz’s “Cold Weather.”
In the first scene we are introduced to siblings Doug (Cris Lankenau) and Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) as they have dinner with their parents. The scene is confusing at first because the parents do not seem to have any interest in Doug, his life, or really why he has moved back to Portland after dropping out of school in Chicago where he was studying forensic science. The relationship between all four seems to be that of a guy meeting his new girlfriend’s parents for the first time rather than a family meal, and if both Doug and Gail had not been calling them Mom and Dad there would have been no clue.
The opening scene’s awkward pacing, poor relationship dynamics, and overall setup are the first bad notes in Katz’s off-key symphony. The subsequent scenes find Doug and Gail hanging out, talking, going the beach, and generally living their lives. The problem is that their lives are just as boring to watch, as they would be to live. The two generally get along, and without any tension between them nothing really happens. The long drawn out scenes of Doug and Gail whale watching in the rain try to have a meditative feel, but come off as simply trite and dull.
The siblings are joined in their drudgery by Carlos (Raúl Castillo), Doug’s friend from the ice factory, and Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), Doug’s ex from Chicago. When we first meet Rachel she and Doug are going out for coffee. The awkward conversation serves as a way to set up the mystery that takes over the second half of the film, but gives no insight into the characters. Again, they get along, and we get no sense of their history, why they broke up, and why this girl would ever go out with this lumbering oaf.
Had the casting been better the film may have had more chance of success, but as is Cris Lankenau’s Doug is the kind of shlubby loser that could only be described as underwhelming. Looking like Mark Ruffalo’s Asperger’s afflicted brother Doug is the kind of guy that does not swing his arms enough when he walks, giving him a bizarre physicality that is unsettling with a personality to match. When he and Carlos are working Doug’s past in forensic science comes out. “You mean like ‘CSI?” Carlos says. “More like Sherlock Holmes,” Doug responds. Mentioning the Holmes connection would have been enough, but the film becomes obsessed with the subject, rendering the main character’s scholastic history redundant. A detective film about a forensic science dropout who solves a mystery is one film. A detective film about a loser who is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes is another. Both in the same picture is just overkill, and is one more sign that Katz’s whole film is less than half-baked.
And the same goes for the mystery itself. In a film predicated on realism, the mystery aspect is wildly unrealistic. When Rachel fails to show up for one of Carlos’ DJ gigs he convinces Doug that something is amiss. Reluctantly Doug agrees to go with his friend to Rachel’s hotel room. The whole conundrum hinges on Carlos’ insistence that there is something wrong, however no real person would automatically jump to those conclusions. “I got this weird feeling when I was standing outside of her hotel room,” is his convenient excuse. Had Katz added some detail to their friendship from the beginning it might go to explain Doug’s acceptance of such a flimsy reason, but without any effort to create depth in the characters it comes off as forced.
From this point the film actually choses a direction in which to go, but still flounders, lazily meandering at times, rushing through “noir” conventions at others. Most scenes are still chock full of pointless conversation, interspersed with Doug doing some inspired code breaking using some baseball stats and a pencil rubbing. For all the talk about his training, Doug uses no forensic science throughout the picture, and as a result makes all of the discussion during the first half of the film seems like a gigantic waste of time.
Eventually we find out that Rachel is not in Portland on business for the law firm she works for, but rather one of the stars of an erotica website. The casting of Rikoon makes sense when she is just Doug’s ex-girlfriend. She is cute enough to be just out of that guy’s league, but not enough for the audience to question it. When, all of a sudden, she is an Internet porn star, the oxymoronic casting decision rears its ugly head.
But casting is not all to blame. Katz’s script is an attempt to play with genre conventions, and it is his missteps that cause most of the film’s problems. When making a “detective” film with out a real mystery there needs to be something else as the backbone of the picture. Be it the relationship between Doug and Gail changing over the course of the movie, or Doug coming into his own as a person as a result of this adventure, there has to be some arc if the audience is to not walk away unfulfilled. “Cold Weather” has none of them.
Had the film been put together differently it may have helped, but the end result is a structurally mismanaged mess. As director, writer, and editor Katz overloads the first half of the picture with nonsense dialogue, then tries to crowbar a plot into the second half, throwing the pace of the film all out of whack. When the final credits roll the film feels unfinished, having forgone a third act in favor of a bloated first. As “Cold Weather” is winding down it actually feels like it is ramping up, the most tense sequences coming toward the climax of the film, even though they feel like they should be somewhere toward the beginning. In particular a scene in a storage facility is well done, but it comes as a case of, “Too little too late.” It is apparent that Katz feels this truncated feeling to the picture adds some sort of intellectual credence to the movie, but in the end it seems neglectful.
Some lush photography aside, courtesy of Andrew Reed, “Cold Weather” is something of a missed opportunity. There is a good set up in Doug’s undeveloped potential finally coming to fruition through a fairly run of the mill noir scenario, but Katz fails to capitalize on a good idea. Some of this could be overlooked in the work of a first time filmmaker, or even due to limited budget or resources, but this is Katz’s third feature, and one expects a little growth. In the hands of a more talented film maker there could have been a good movie in there somewhere, but as it is the whole picture seems devoid of effort, lacking wit, and totally unfun.
El Luchador Rating:
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)