Item Description
BEFORE REACHING INFAMY IN THE 1990's WITH HIS DARK SUBURBAN
INDIE COMEDIES, DIRECTOR TODD SOLONDZ (WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE,
HAPPINESS, STORYTELLING, PALINDROMES, LIFE DURING WARTIME) MADE HIS
DEBUT BY DIRECTING AND STARRING IN THIS DARK WOODY ALLEN-ESQUE
COMEDY.
The film opens with Ira writing a letter to his idol Samuel
Beckett (who would pass away later that year) to accompany a copy
of his own play "Despair," expressing his admiration for Beckett's
work and desire to someday collaborate. "Although I do not think
that I, personally, am waiting for Godot, I do have some very good
friends who are," he muses. Those friends include aspiring painter
Jack (Max Cantor), who disparages everyone else behind their backs
while feeling certain his work is destined for the Whitney
Biennial, his aspiring actress/waitress girlfriend Sylvia (Anne De
Salvo) and Sharon (Jill Wisoff), who doesn't aspire to anything
except being Ira's girlfriend.
There's
no doubting Ira's ambitions, but his aptitude is another matter. He
sinks all of his money into a production of "Despair" that reveals
the play to be a befuddling avant garde shambles involving a Greek
chorus and someone running back and forth between platforms
shouting "Life! Life! Life! Death! Death! Death!"
Ira's parents, who are supporting him financially, try to be
encouraging, but would prefer he move home and join the family
business. His romantic outlook's no better -- he becomes enamored
of a cynical performance artist named Junk (Jane Hamper, working
variations on a punk "Bride of Frankenstein" look) who has no
interest in him, and gets entangled with Sylvia when Jack leaves
her, but only wants to shake off the needy, girlish Sharon, who
actually loves him.
Solondz, with his frizzy halo of hair and nasal affect, isn't a
natural screen presence -- he looks pained all the time, whether
his character's situation calls for it or not. But the main problem
with "Fear, Anxiety & Depression" isn't his performance, it's
the overall focus of the film, which, as a downtown satire, is wan
and obvious. There's a reason Solondz headed to the suburbs after
this -- there, his films were freed from the burdens of skewering a
specific time and place and became more universal. At their best,
they're meditations on humanity at its most unvarnished, most
vulnerable and most cruel.
This isn't to say there aren't a few flickers of that promise in
"Fear, Anxiety & Depression." In Junk and Jack there are shades
of Lara Flynn Boyle's reptilian, self-obsessed, successful author
in "Happiness" (played by Ally Sheedy in "Life During Wartime").
But it's really the sad-sack Sharon who provides the film's main
(and darkest) laughs and any lingering resonance.
On a
date -- in one of a few musical interludes! -- Sharon reveals to an
inattentive Ira that she was molested as a child, was once a
pill-popper and is on the verge of getting evicted, while he pays
no mind. She gets mugged on the subway platform as Ira, not
noticing in the foreground, ponders how suffering only makes you a
better artist.
She downs pills and whiskey and has to be rushed to the
hospital, slurring and clutching a stuffed animal, as Ira tries to
get her drink some water. And when it seems she's finally, really
gotten his attention and his devotion, he runs into Junk on the
street and never makes it to visit her in the hospital.
That Sharon gets the closest thing the film has to a happy
ending is seriously tempered by the fact that it comes courtesy of
Donny (Stanley Tucci, memorable in an early role), a classmate of
Ira's who's effortlessly stumbled into financial and artistic
triumphs. As his latest acquisition, she seems doomed to be toyed
with and then discarded -- except you can't really wish her back
with Ira, since he hardly treated her any better. Some people are
just doomed to be taken advantage of, it seems. Now
that's the Todd Solondz we all know and love.
ships in a plain sleeve w/ no artwork.