Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Everything is Illuminated (Movie Review)

I enjoyed the trailers for this film — which were enchanting and thought-provoking — more so that I did the film itself.

That's not to say Everything is Illuminated (2005) is awful; just that it's fairly predictable, a tad condescending; and the main character, Jonathon Safran Noer (named for the author himself, played by Elijah Wood) wasn't entirely sympathetic.

I mean, he's quirky — which I like — but he's also a man of too-few words and the things he does say are generally irritating.

But first, a bit about the plot: Noer is a "collector" of sentimental objects. Whenever there's an important life event, he grabs a Ziploc baggy from his fanny pack, selects an object from the scene (generally without asking); labels it; and then later pins it to his wall, where there's a fairly sizeable "map" of his life.

This is the part of Noer I liked.

After the passing of his grandfather, Noer (a Jewish American) travels to the Ukraine in search of the woman who mysteriously saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Noer is assisted by the tourism company he'd hired to drive him around: mainly, his translator, Alex, and Alex's grandfather (the driver). Alex is actually the narrator of this story, and his broken English is meant to be funny (it wasn't — if I were from the Ukraine, I'd find it offensive).

This is the part of the story I didn't like. And my dislike for Noer grew every time he failed to make the cognitive leap — which never seemed to be too big a jump — to understand Alex. But he failed, time and time again, and would stare blankly at Alex through his comically over-sized glasses.

And no matter how much the portrayal of Ukrainians may be rooted in truth, it nevertheless struck me as bordering on caricature. By this same design comments made about Jewish people — intended to be funny (which Noer is allowed to do, given his own heritage) — were a little over the top.

So while I don't think you need to be Jewish to enjoy the film, I suspect it helps. Cause for folks like me, it's hard to laugh at something that sets off your P.C. alarms, leaving you more than a little uncomfortable in your seat.

These "problems" aside, there is a genuinely warm, compelling tale at the heart of this story. Now, if only I had been a little more attune to its notion of humor.


1 comment:

Winter said...

It's okay to laugh.

I promise.