OSLO, AUGUST 31ST.
It’s a big deal for any director and crew to premier a film at Sundance. You want to fill theaters, get standing ovations, generate buzz, attract buyers or distributors and so on. Last thing you need is some nobody like me panning your work on social media networks. (I sent out my first tweets as the crowd was still leaving the theater after the premier.)
Maybe it’s because I went through a depressive period myself the last half of December and can’t relate to a downer story (or can relate all too well and don’t want to). Or maybe it’s because I like a story with a long arc—i.e. where the protagonist starts one place and ends up somewhere far away, emotionally speaking. Either way, I felt that OSLO was a waste of good acting, directing and screenwriting, a downer film that goes nowhere.
In a nutshell, the main character starts in a very negative place, passes up opportunities he has, fails to connect with people he’s trying to connect with and ends up where he started. Only more so.
I could not find any message or point to the story. The director and lead actor’s Q&A afterward did little to convince me that there was a message. The only thing I could read out of it was that some people just blow it in life, never get their shit together and that’s all there is to it. Maybe the message is: just be glad you’re not that guy.
On a scene by scene basis, the screenwriting was at times deft. There is a scene (minor spoiler alert) where the main character goes to a job interview for an assistant-editor position at a magazine. Earlier we learned that he was only doing it as a required part of an in-house rehab program. At the beginning of the interview scene, we’re easily led to expect a totally awkward moment as he reveals himself to be totally unprepared for the job. But, then we’re tricked when it turns out he’s quite bright, literate and probably over-qualified for the job.
I’d been hoping for something like this at the end. Somewhere past the halfway point, we can (and do) easily predict the ending. This is the disappointment. I kept waiting for that sudden somersault in the plot, where our expectations and assumptions about the character and real-life people in his situation would be thrust in our faces. But, no, the story just grinds along till the predictable end.
I don’t need stories to have happy or positive endings. To make sitting (or standing, since I was on-shift ushering) through an hour-and-a-half feel worthwhile, I need some sense that life is not futile, that difficulties can be overcome or worked around, all the better if it happens in an unpredictable manner. It doesn’t have to be positive, as learning and transcendence sometimes comes at great cost. If I want futility, I’ll just wait till next time I get depressed, stare at the mirror and talk to myself.