27 August 2006

Movie Review: The Great New Wonderful

The Great New Wonderful is a montage of five story lines with nothing in common other than the central characters being New Yorkers. The trailer and other advertising tells you that these are people one year after the WTC terrorist attacks, trying to piece their lives together again. But there is nothing in this movie that connects most of the characters to 9-11, nothing that shows any pain, any sign of a life-altering event related to terrorism. Rather it just shows 5 vignettes of people, with ordinary lives, each unique in the circumstances of the pain in their lives, pain that could be present any time, any place.

I'm not a New Yorker and I can't say what it was like to look at the NYC skyline and see a smoldering hole on the near horizon, or to smell the putrid stench that permeated the city, or to understand a palpable difference in the way in which people behave in New York. But, I've had New Yorkers tell me that people are different since the attacks, more polite, kinder to strangers. And with a different degree of understanding of the attacks. I can't prove that; I can only take it as their experience.

But, if this movie is suppose to evoke the trauma and pain and the changes people in New York have gone through, it either falls short or I just don't get it. The pain present in each of the story lines is believably real. As short stories, they make a point, individually: the career couple only focused on the next 'win', the couple struggling with their emotionally disturbed child, two immigrants trying to make a living in America without losing something of their own culture, the aging woman who resents the routine of her life. Only the story of the psychiatrist talking to a survivor of the attacks has any connection to 9-11 (and I didn't understand at first that this character was at the WTC, although it seems that other reviewers have placed him there. I thought at one point the shrink says something about 5 months passing, yet it is September 2002. I must have missed something.)

None of the characters seem to be shell-shocked, traumatized, or changed because of 9-11 and little is said to connect to the events of Sept 11th until the ending of the movie when a date is displayed over a shot of a single plane flying overhead in a clear sky. Few of the characters are even likeable. I wanted to hiss 'bitch' at Maggie Gyllenhall's character a few times, and scratched my head that the film seemed to praise her uncalled-for verbal attack in firing an employee. I wanted to shake the parents of the disturbed child and yell 'Get. Him. Some. Help. Now!'. I wanted to ask the man talking to the psychiatrist why he didn't leave if the session was voluntary and then report the unorthodox treatment that bordered on abusive. The only story that I liked, that I thought had any grasp of the real, was the story of Avi and Satish, the two Indian security guards. Their story clearly expressed the strong bond of friendship between the two and showed a gentle forgiveness and acceptance of each other.

All of these stories could have been fleshed out more and possibly been the basis of a film. But, as an example of life after 9-11 in NYC? Instead of portraying that clearly--the connection to the traumatizing events of 9-11-01 so subtle that it is simply tenuous--the film fails. Rather than being the unifying element, it just seems like a cheap attempt to tie together five unrelated stories into one film like something that a marketing department thought needed to be added in order to sell tickets. Because of that, I felt cheated by this movie.

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