Alternately disturbing, funny and thought-provoking, “Guy” is that oddity, an experimental film that has something to say to general audiences. Eclectic filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg, whose work ranges from “Let It Be” to “Frankie Starlight,” explores the disrupted life of a young man relentlessly pursued by a woman with a video camera. A very small but likable film, this Polygram production has the offbeat appeal to muscle its way beyond arthouse venues with careful handling.
The story is shot entirely from the viewpoint of one character, a nameless documentary filmmaker, and what she sees through her camera lens. This means we almost never get a glimpse of Hope Davis, the actress who plays the role, beyond her shapely white hands and crimson nail polish, which occasionally come into camera range. Dominating the screen are the face and body parts of Guy (Vincent D’Onofrio), a stranger she casually chooses on the street to be the subject of the film she’s making.
Amusingly, she doesn’t ask Guy’s permission to star in her “project.” At first irritated, then angry, Guy tries to shake off his unwanted biographer, to no avail. Her blind determination to keep taping “until the film is finished” overrules all his objections. Gradually Guy lets himself be seduced by her insistence that his life is important. As his diffidence turns to complicity, he becomes more and more intimate with the camera, even letting himself be filmed in the bathroom and, finally, in an especially perverse moment of exhibitionism/voyeurism, in the bedroom making love to his girlfriend.
Perhaps inevitably, he develops a fatal attraction to the woman behind the camera. Lindsay-Hogg and screenwriter Kirby Dick use this bizarre situation to disintegrate the facade of success Guy has constructed around himself. To let the woman go on filming him, he loses his job, his car, his apartment and his girlfriend. At the same time, the filmmaker’s own fragility and her fear of emotional involvement become increasingly apparent.
Both leads cope with difficult roles D’Onofrio because he always has to act to the camera, Davis because she never appears onscreen. D’Onofrio is excellent as an average guy whose toughness slowly melts into embarrassing vulnerability. Hidden behind the camera and forced to act with her voice alone, Davis comes across as a serious filmmaker admirably determined to complete her self-designed project, but also as someone who uses the camera neurotically to defend herself from personal involvement.
Fine on-target tech work belies pic’s shoestring cost. Art director Kara Lindstrom creates expressively empty corners on ordinary L.A. streets that mirror Guy’s alienation. Cinematographer Arturo Smith gives the visuals a smooth contemporary look, while playing with cut-off framing to suggest they are the work of a woman using a hand-held camera. With the same philosophy, editor Dody Dorn skillfully shifts the film from one register to another, using a freewheeling style full of jump cuts and cinema verite techniques to make us temporarily believe this is the woman filmmaker’s own cut.