Bleeding admiration for the David Foster Wallace stories on which it’s based, John Krasinski’s directorial debut follows Sara Quinn (Julianne Nicholson) as she interviews men about their sexual proclivities for her master’s thesis. Sara’s project, which is inspired by the caustic end of her relationship with Ryan (Krasinski), consists mostly of numbered interrogations, and in the film, as in the book, these interviews form the story. Although she’s at the center of the film, it’s not about her; it’s about men, and men and women, and she provides both the filter and the canvas for the superceding ideas.
The place where consciousness runs into itself is where this author reigned supreme, and Krasinski brings Wallace’s concentric, self-aware ironies to the screen. In their obvious hyperbole, the men offer a glimpse of something unsettling, the craven and amoral aspects of masculinity in a postmodern, therapy-driven world. There are the obvious bastards, like subjects #3 (Christopher Meloni) and #40 (Bobby Cannavale), but more troubling are those exhibiting the corrosive aspects of sex relations, like jejune idolization (#72), disingenuous confession (#2), and emotional cowardice (#14).
Creating a cinematic short story, Krasinski lets Wallace’s words speak for themselves, replicating the ironic text and then getting out of the way. A few things that got lost in translation express themselves in small narrative cacophonies, like the impertinent (though otherwise brilliant) scene about fathers and what it means to be a man, but even on its tangents, the film stays engrossing. The result is darkly comic, deeply affecting, and, like all great short stories, a powerful and uncomfortably lucid reflection.