Also with: Nina Siemaszko, Jeremy Piven, Ted Raimi, Alex Cox, Brian Wimmer, Biff Yaeger, Jo Harvey Allen, Viggo Mortensen, Exene Cervenka.
There’s an appropriate aimless quality to the Sundance entry “Floundering.” While the disjointed tale of contemporary alienation doesn’t always connect the dots, it has a raw energy and sense of fun that’s infectious. The off-kilter nature of the yarn fits nicely into the specialized arena and should find good results domestically and in upscale foreign venues (it’s also headed for Berlin’s Panorama).
The film also provides actor James Le Gros with a tour-de-force opportunity as the non-hero of the piece. It’s a rigorous obstacle course of emotion and incident anchored by a performance of unerring integrity.
John Boyz (Le Gros) is unguided and unemployed in Venice, Calif. He is classically constipated. However, life has somehow begun to intrude and is shaking him to his very core.
The dominoes tumble one by one. First, Internal Revenue freezes his bank account. Then his unemployment benefits run out. Add to the mix a drug-dependent brother in desperate need of rehab, a two-timing girlfriend and a series of closed doors for the complete and dire picture.
This ought to be extremely depressing stuff. But writer/first-time director Peter McCarthy is more interested in allegory than cinema verite. Boyz’s situation is an amalgam of youthful travail and he is, initially, more observer than participant in this modern “Pilgrim’s Progress.” That distance, combined with the colorful, if dehumanized, members of civilization he encounters, is absurd and blackly comic.
Just as Boyz must cede to the world he inhabits, it’s wise to go with the flow of “Floundering.” Though seemingly illogical and complex, the rogue’s gallery of revolutionaries, bigots, dead spirits and human automatons makes perfect sense to the pic’s protagonist. When the tide turns and he decides to take charge, the result is equally bizarre. The fates have conspired to make the impact of his action as feeble as when he assumed a lethargic pose.
The film is virtually wall-to-wall with dialogue suggesting a lot is being said when the script’s thesis is considerably more modest. The rough-hewn nature of the story dovetails snugly with a rather brash visual style. No doubt much of this was accomplished by the decision to shoot on Super 16mm, which also allowed for a quality theatrical blowup.
McCarthy has rounded up quite a stellar cast to populate the tale, with such familiar faces as John Cusack, Ethan Hawke and Steve Buscemi providing effective cameo support. “Floundering” standouts include Lisa Zane as a predatory type and a Brechtian turn from Nelson Lyon as a corrupt police chief.
Though contemporary in setting, the film harks back to the anti-heroes of the 1970s. To the filmmakers’ credit, there’s no hint of nostalgia. Rather, the appropriate modern nerve has been hit squarely and effectively.