Reviews

David Zellner

USA, 2008

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 19 May 2008

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2008 Independent Film Festival of Boston

The simple poster for Goliath proclaims that it’s “A Zellner Bros. Film,” with such pride that you’re apt to wonder if that should mean something to you. Thing is, it probably doesn’t. Yet. But I don’t doubt that it will. With Goliath, an appealingly daft little feature, Austin-based brothers David and Nathan Zellner (who have previously amassed a following on the festival circuit via their short films) tell a story that is by turns sick, sweet, heartbreaking, and hysterical, and they do it with such assured, understated style that you’re left dying to see what they come up with next.

David Zellner stars as the film’s nameless lead character, a schlubby thirtysomething who is devastated when his cat, the gray tabby of the title, goes missing. That’s basically the plot, but no worries: if Vittorio De Sica (not to mention Tim Burton) could bring us a memorable feature about a disappearing bicycle, the Zellners can wring laughs and pathos out of a lost pet. And indeed, as we watch the protagonist muddle through the sorry scenes of his depressingly bland days and nights – including his amusingly vague job where he suffers a humiliating demotion, his mutedly agonizing divorce proceedings, and his solitary microwave dinners – it becomes clear that this guy’s life is missing a lot more than a cat.

Still, there’s no need to assign any particular symbolic import to Goliath other than what he naturally is—a warm, comforting presence in a world that tends to be anything but; and for our lead character, something to stave off the glum loneliness and frustrated anger that routinely colors his world. The unanswered whir of the protagonist’s can opener becomes one of the film’s most memorable comic refrains, and it underscores the potent mix of humor and pointed emptiness that marks the entire story.

The comedy here is twisted, and occasionally threatens to overstep the bounds of both believability and taste, but David’s performance grounds the picture. Carrying long stretches of silent and near-silent comedy before erupting into bizarre outbursts (Check out his crackerjack delivery of “I smoke in the house now!”—a feeble parting shot to his ex-wife as she speeds off into the distance), he achieves the impressive feat of not only making us buy into his out-there character, but making us empathize with him as well. This isn’t the story of a particularly likeable guy – he’s socially inept, he cheated on his wife, and his grasp on reality seems tenuous at best – but there’s a wilted self-awareness to him that gives the film its aching heart.

At the Q&A following Goliath, the Zellners insisted that they set out to make serious films that somehow turn out funny, and maybe that’s the key to this one’s success. Goliath gives us a definitely skewed world, but it keeps one foot planted in reality, dull and lumpen as it may be. Goliath lacks the strained, self-satisfied quirkiness that infects many an indie comedy, and while the ending is unabashedly adorable, the preceding scenes of painfully, hilariously rendered despair make a final dash of hopefulness feel well-earned.

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