Thursday, June 21, 2007

Fierce People, finally

I received a screening invite today to the coming-of-age story Fierce People. But I'd already seen it.

Two years ago.

2005. In real terms, how long has this not-quite-new film from actor/director Griffin Dunne been sitting on the shelf? Since before I was married. Before we moved to Brooklyn. Before I started this blog. Before the younger, cooler kids gravitated to YouTube and MySpace. When Paris Hilton roamed freely about the earth.

Not a long time, maybe. But, a long time.

Why the holdup? As two years is an eternity for a critiquist who sees film after play after DVD, let's refresh my memory with the plot synopsis provided in the e-mail.

"In this coming of age film, set in the 80's, Finn Earl (Anton Yelchin) has an opportunity to visit his anthropologist dad, during the summer, helping with his study and observations of a primitive South American tribe called Yanomano, or 'Fierce People.' After a series of events, caused by his loving, but drug- addicted, mom, Liz Earl (Diane Lane), he ends up spending the summer with Ogden C. Osborne (Donald Sutherland) and his wealthy eccentric family on their sprawling estate in the 'wilds' of New Jersey. The summer turns out to be a life-altering experience for Liz, but even more so for Finn who learns about drugs, sex and the very real threat to his survival. In the end he discovers that the 'Fierce People' of the New Jersey privileged are much more dangerous than ones in South America."

It's coming back to me know. Lane is good. Sutherland is good--but as I recall, he's ill with cancer and is having himself chemically castrated, a funk that Lane's massages help him out of. Something weird like that. Yelchin, who's made a few films since this one went missing, figures in a terrible scene where he is seemingly really castrated by the preppy no-goodniks, one of whom I recall is played by Chris Evans, before he hooked up with The Fantastic Four. A strange, ambiguous, distasteful scene, one I wrote skeptically about to its prior publicist when asked how I liked the show. ("Fix that scene, clarify it, do something with it," I remember writing.)

That's the problem with Fierce People. It's not that it's really bad. But it's not really good, either, and not really good in a squeamish sort of way. I can imagine Dunne fighting with the former distributor, Lionsgate (when that outfit was still Lions Gate), not to touch the film in his preferred cut, the one that had we-get-the-point-already scenes of the native tribespeople walking through the manicured grounds of Sutherland's mansion. Time will tell if he won that battle, if indeed there was a battle, but the film now has a distributor, After Dark Films, that sounds like a skin flick exhibitor. I wonder just how widely it will be seen, or if this is just a token move before the DVD streets.

And, still, when it will be seen. The PR says "September 7, 2007--TBD." To Be Determined. C'mon, now: Let these People free.

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