Friday, May 23, 2014

The Cinema File #352: "Tomorrow Night" Review

Tomorrow Night is the kind of movie that, regardless of its quality, I’m always excited to discover, an early, previously unreleased work by an artist only now many years later recognized for their genius. In this case, the genius in question is comedian Louis CK, who made the little black and white indie on a shoestring budget back in 1998 and just recently unveiled it on his website for a reasonable fee, following the same successful business model as a recent stand up special. If you’re a fan of CK, and by all rights you should be, the film is almost an automatic must see just as a curiosity, providing a rare glimpse into the man’s evolution as a comic. Whether or not it works as a movie on its own independent of that context is a more complicated question.

That sounds like a polite way of saying the movie isn’t very good, but that’s not quite the issue. Tomorrow Night is the definition of an acquired taste, so much so that even many, if not most Louis CK fans who came aboard upon the debut of his brilliant TV show currently in its third season might have some trouble adjusting to its weird mix of dour absurdity and vulgar silliness, even as it feels so familiar to what we’ve seen him do so much better before. There are many points throughout the film that feel perfectly in keeping with CK’s usual style and outlook on life, or at least a strange sort of proto version of it, and then other moments that are completely unrecognizable, which is to say they are uncomfortable, but not in the clever way he’s usually able to make us uncomfortable while still engaged and entertained. It’s all at once captivating and off-putting, which is also par for the course with Louie, but maybe too far in the latter direction.

The film follows a number of stories and characters, some more interesting than others, in a series of loosely interconnected vignettes centered around a central protagonist who runs a photo development store, back when that was still a thing. Our hero, such as he is, is a caustic introvert who seems to strive to find some sense of order in his life as complications large and small always seem to mount up beyond his control. To alleviate his stress, every night he goes home and sits bare-assed on a bowl of ice cream, possibly for sexual gratification, though that’s thankfully never explicitly confirmed. The character feels like a real person, not because he himself is realistic, but rather because one gets the sense that he is based on someone CK met in real life, maybe just some mean guy behind a counter, and he thought to himself “I bet that guy goes home every night and shoves ice cream up his ass,” and then he wrote a movie about it. Most of the stories in the movie feel this way, like little slices of life exaggerated and merged together into a mosaic of banal non-sequitur weirdness.

Again, that’s not to say that its bad, but my hesitation in taking a definitive stand on the thing stems from my honest inability to exactly pin down just how I feel about it, and that’s after watching it twice now and thinking harder on the subject than I typically do for a review. It’s just so strange and unlike anything else you’re liable to see that even as the flaws are many and obvious, I can’t bring myself to condemn them. The closest comparison I can think of is last year’s Disney-centric thriller Escape from Tomorrow, another black and white independent movie, which failed to be everything I wanted it to be, but still got more than enough points with me for sheer chutzpah alone. I don't know what I wanted this movie to be, but it isn't whatever that is, and yet for some increasingly perplexing reason, I can't say I'm in any way disappointed. Maybe the movie is just so all over the place and distractingly strange that it has me discombobulated, but even though I can't point to a single thing I emphatically loved about it save perhaps the surprisingly macabre ending, I would still go out of my way to recommend it just for the experience of having watched it.

Tomorrow Night is more of a tone piece than a movie, slowly building upon a mood that can best be described as easing one into perpetual uneasiness. To throw out a Louis reference, it exists in that previously undefined sweet spot between a brilliant busking violinist and a dirty old hobo washing himself with a water bottle. Its sometimes unwatchable, and other times almost too watchable, luring you in with the promise that it will all come together, despite every indication that it almost certainly won't, and then it doesn't, and practically mocks you for your want for it to come together, but in that way that you can laugh at too if you don't feel entitled to a movie that fits safely into your paradigm. It doesn't actively defy conventions so much as forgets they exist. I want to say its a little bit like Woody Allen by way of Jon Waters, but as much as that makes no sense, its even less descriptive, as even though it doesn't always feel like it, its clearly a Louis CK movie, which is to say a movie only he could have made. I suppose that in itself is worth the ticket price.
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