Lovely By Surprise

Lovely By Surprise


Reviewed by: Susanna Krawczyk

At last! An uplifting film.

It is a hazard of festivals that one will see a disproportionate number of movies with a somewhat depressing atmosphere, but Kirt Gunn’s sort of whimsical, rather meaningful multi-layered effort makes a fine antidote.

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There are (at least) three threads to this weave. The first is the day-to-day life of twitchy and vulnerable writer Marion (Carrie Preston), who is trying to put together a novel, simultaneously seeking the advice of, and battling with, a misplaced attraction to her creative writing professor (Austin Pendleton) from her college days. Also, we follow the exploits of her main characters, the brothers Mopekey and Humkin (Dallas Roberts and Michael Chernus), who live on a boat and eat milk and cereal. Finally, we have bereaved and unstable used car salesman Bob (Reg Rogers), who is struggling to connect to his silent daughter Mimi following the death of his wife.

In the proper meta-fiction style, all three threads are linked, though not perhaps in the way one might suspect. The connections are subtle at first and never truly become obvious, which provides rich food for the imagination. Humkin and Mopekey’s strange, solitary existence particularly is filled with subtext and hidden links to both Bob and Marion’s predicaments. Many comparisons have been made to Charlie Kaufman and rightly so, since Lovely By Surprise pulls a lot of the same tricks that Kaufman has used to make a name for himself. Another comparison can be made with Stranger Than Fiction, which has Will Ferrell as the protagonist of Emma Thompson’s novel, as well as exploring the feelings of an author who is thinking of killing off her beloved character. In this matter, Lovely By Surprise comes out on top as the more nuanced and affecting of the two, and with an ending that is vastly more satisfying.

Of the three, Marion’s part in the story is in many ways what interested me the most, as she does battle with self-doubt and places her trust in people who cannot really help – one who is seemingly only out to manipulate her and the other I will not elaborate on since it would spoil the story somewhat. That being said, there is plenty in every part of the storyline to pique the interest and it is with baited breath that the viewer will follow each thread, wanting to see the bigger picture.

The movie is also very funny and black humour abounds, accompanying the simpler pleasures of Humkin and Mopekey’s disjointed speech, learned mainly from the radio, which is their only contact to the outside world and so peppered with non-sequiturs and endearingly misplaced turns-of-phrase. All of this is backed up with simple sets and locations, from the mysteriously landlocked boat to dated suburbia, and by a soundtrack of exactly the sort you’d expect from a movie like this – predictably quirky, but nonetheless effective.

Like many other movies of it’s type, one of the real joys of this film is sitting down afterwards with a cup of coffee and thinking about it, untangling the threads and ideas until you can finally say “Aha!”, and so it comes with the recommendation that you do exactly that after watching.

Reviewed on: 18 Aug 2007
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Multi-layered interaction between fictional characters, their author and a used car salesman.


EIFF 2007

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