Friday, April 15, 2011

Film Review: Sitting Ducks

"Sitting Ducks" *** (out of ****) Henry Jaglom's "Sitting Ducks" (1980) is not the type of film we've come to expect from Jaglom. Especially at this point in his career. When "Sitting Ducks" was made Jaglom was part of the independent crowd that was breaking up the Hollywood studio system in the late 60s, early 70s. Jaglom even worked as an editor on the iconic liberal road picture, "Easy Rider" (1969). Eventually Jaglom found himself in the director's chair. His feature film debut was "A Safe Place" (1971) a psychological look at relationships concerning a female lead character who gets trapped in her own fantasy world. Next came "Tracks" (1977) a film dealing with the trauma associated with the Vietnam War. That movie starred Dennis Hopper. This all leads us to "Sitting Ducks", Jaglom's third film. Compared to the previous films it would seem "Sitting Ducks" was a kind of lark (to use another bird reference), a silly diversion. A much needed break for Jaglom, whom after dealing with such serious topics, could have probably used a good laugh. And to my delight "Sitting Ducks" mostly succeeds. The film centers on two would-be con men; Sidney (Zack Norman) and Simon (Michal Emil, Jaglom's brother). They have devised a plan to steal money from mob collectors and drive to Miami to enjoy the sun and lovely women. Once again, to a lesser extent, Jaglom is dealing with characters who want to escape reality. What makes "Sitting Ducks" work is the actors. All the credit must be given to Norman and Emil. Here, for the first time, Jaglom has made a film which directly centers on these two men's unique personalities. Their chemistry with each other and contradictions in personality make the film watchable. I have long been a fan of Zack Norman ever since I first saw him in Jaglom's "Festival in Cannes" (2001). At the time I compared him to Woody Allen. A fast talking, wild hand gesturing, city smart alec kind of guy. A big dreamer. Norman, by and large, plays the same character in each Jaglom film. But rather than criticise him for that, I'm entertained by it. The same way I enjoy seeing Woody Allen act in his own film, I enjoy the Norman character enough to want to spend time with him in each picture. Michael Emil also plays the same character in each Jaglom film. He usually is presented as more of a philosopher. An intellectual thinker who has a lot to say and love and sex. Jaglom has usually put him in more serious or romantic films; "Always" (1985) or "Someone To Love" (1987, which I have reviewed). In these movies Henry Jaglom is the center of attention. But again, in "Sitting Ducks" Jaglom utilizes Emil's persona to its fullest advantage. Characters like Emil and Norman simply belong in a comedy. They are naturally funny and animated. To put them in anything else would and does restrict them. "Sitting Ducks" is not a perfect film. It takes a few wrong steps. But they are largely forgivable. The film notices two female character who will serve as a love interest to each man. They are Jenny (Patrice Townsend, at the time she was married to Jaglom) and Irene (Irene Forrest). The introduction of these characters slightly shifts the focus of the film as now much of the dialogue centers on love and sex, which is right up Simon's alley. I also didn't like the fact we learn Sidney has a daughter. Is Sidney married? Why is he leaving his daughter behind? How long does he plan on staying away. From the way Sidney and Simon act, they are going to be on the run for a long time. Remember they stole money from the mob. Why introduce this aspect of Sidney. Not much of it is made later on in the film. It merely complicates matters if we chose to think about it. Still I cannot deny "Sitting Ducks" is the most purely enjoyable film I have seen by Jaglom in a while. It doesn't deal with his usually themes, telling us a story from a female perspective; "Babyfever" (1994), "Going Shopping" (2005) and "A Safe Place". It doesn't deal with artist; "Festival in Cannes", "Hollywood Dreams" (2006) or "Last Summer in the Hamptons" (1996) and lacks the romantic notions of "Deja Vu" (1998), "Always" and "Someone To Love" but that is okay. The film doesn't want to go in those directions. It wants, I believe, to be viewed as a kind of old-fashion comedy about two dreamers hoping to hit it big. And when viewed in that light, it works.