The Great New Wonderful **1/2
"The Great New Wonderful" is another one of those "interconnected character" movies. You have a whole bunch of various stories, usually taken place in a big city, and at some point all of them intertwine. Robert Altman has one about death, a few of them actually, Paul Haggis has his about racism, and Paul Thomas Anderson has his about the porn industry. And now, from the director of "Dude, Where’s My Car," comes the one about 9/11. It’s a different sort of 9/11 film. It’s not "United 93" or what the upcoming "World Trade Center" promises. It’s a little lighter, and a little more hopeful. While those are about what happened during the attack, this is about the reactions to it, taking place in a single week in September of 2002, right before the one year anniversary of the event.
There’s the usual array of characters. My favorite involved Jim Gaffigan and Tony Shaloub and their patient/psychiatrist dialogues. Shaloub was hired to go around Gaffigan’s office building, and talk to some of the workers about their relationships with three of the other workers who died on that day. Shaloub constantly asks him if he’s nervous, and then in their quirky talks, they try and get to the root of Gaffigan’s problem, if he does have any. There was on rather strange one with Judy Greer as the mother of Charlie, who fights with kids at school, lights toy soldiers on fire, and has a book under his bed with diagrams about how to skin and trap an animal. There was one with Olympia Dukakis, whose husband doesn’t seem to want to do anything anymore. Their nights consist of her making him dinner, setting it up on a small fold out table in front of the television, and then cleaning up after him, and then continuing work on some kind of project that she’s doing. She has hope when she meets an old school friend of her’s from years and years ago. There was one with two security guards who guard an Indian General, and when they are on duty they talk about girls behinds, and Laurence Fishburne. And lastly, there was my least favorite, about a woman who makes and sells cakes, and is trying to land the job of a lifetime. I just couldn’t find anything interesting in that at all.
One odd thing is the casting. Jim Gaffigan is good here, but I found it strange that the makers chose him. I’m assuming that Phillip Seymour Hoffman was unavailable, because that seemed like the role that he would have done. I guess he had too much press to do for "Capote." Steven Colbert also made an appearance as a school principal, and even he popped out of nowhere. All performances were top notch here, and that’s the best thing about the entire film. There are some really fine actors here.
I don’t exactly know what the problem with "The Great New Wonderful" was, but it just didn’t sit well with me. It had an alright script, I suppose, but it doesn’t offer anything new to the table. The final line, "I think I’m lost," has much meaning to all of the stories, but after 9/11 a lot of people were lost. I felt that the writer felt he was saying something new and groundbreaking, but didn’t at all. "The Great New Wonderful" isn’t powerful, and it certainly isn’t funny at all. And another thing, it couldn’t make up it’s mind about what it wanted to be. A strong drama, or a light comedy. I did laugh once, when a character from each story ended up all standing in an elevator at one point. I laughed because that was the lamest way to connect them all, aside from the overall theme. Sure, P.T. Anderson made frogs fall from the sky to connect his characters, but it wasn’t silly. It was genius. "The Great New Wonderful" tries to be genius, but falls a mile.