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Notes from underground

By PETER KEOUGH  |  June 27, 2007

Jamie and Charlie would seem to have an advantage over the title characters in Mike Gibisser’s FINALLY, LILLIAN AND DAN (2006; July 2 at 8:15 pm and July 6 at 9 pm, with Gibisser present), two misfits with pathologically inept social skills. Dan (Jason Kean) spends his time chain-smoking or following women while carrying a pink stuffed unicorn. Lillian (the Audrey Tautou–like Gretchen Akers) works in an awful office, sometimes joins her much cooler grandmother when she sings and sways to old record albums, and finally throws a block party and invites the neighborhood. Only Dan shows up, of course, dropping a roast chicken on the way. So they meet cute and mumble thereafter. Sometimes they’re adorable, funny, and sad; other times you’d like to shake them and yell, “Snap out of it!” The film was shot on location in Inman Square.

Whatever Dan’s got in Gibisser’s movie, Keith (Dore Mann, who looks a little like David Berkowitz, a/k/a Son of Sam) in Ronald Bronstein’s FROWNLAND (2007; July 8 at 7 pm and July 10 at 9:15 pm, with Bronstein present) has a terminal case of it. Living in R. Crumb–like squalor with an insufferably arrogant and worthless musician roommate, Keith fails to make ends meet by selling coupons door-to-door. The story is episodic: Keith yammering out broken sentences and clinging to acquaintances trying to blow him off; Keith demonstrating uncharacteristic clarity in a therapist’s office; Keith unable to get a sentence out to counsel a suicidal, equally grotesque friend. But a rumbling tension under the surface drives the film to its climax. Although his roommate taunts him for his gibbering incoherence, the problem is not that Keith has nothing to say — he has everything to say, and he has to say it all at the same time. His torment pushes him to a night of pathetic, purging, Dostoevskian extremity. Frownland might move you as much as Quiet City, but in the opposite direction.

The films in this series don’t all celebrate anomie, alienation, and whimsical desperation. Some present a world in which relationships work and communities hold together, though not necessarily in a way that mainstream movies or audiences would recognize. Frank V. Ross’s HOHOKAM (2007; July 1 at 7 pm and July 3 at 9:15 pm) boasts a funny, frivolous, gay guy named Guy (Danny Rhodes) who’s finishing up a visit with long-time best friend Lori (Allison Latta). Lori is living with Anson (Anthony Baker), Guy’s seeming antithesis, a Marine vet who packs a gun. Despite the Chekhovian firearm and other ominous indicators of trouble to come, the couple get along in joky, fractious, supportive fashion, escaping their soul-eroding jobs (she collects overdue bills; he paints “handicapped” signs on parking spaces) with jaunts to the zoo or off to the park to re-enact a scene from Troy in plastic armor. Hohokam exceeds in humor and human authenticity any half-dozen recent Hollywood romantic comedies put together.

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