A sprightly, gentle satire of the indie scene, “Pipe Dream” is less venturesome in its exploration of the madness of low-budget movie making than, say, “Living in Oblivion.” However, “Dream” can claim a laid-back comfort with the timeworn conventions of romantic comedy, its virtue mainly lying in avoiding pitfalls rather than breaking new ground. Pic, which may be too cutesy for some tastes, is lacking in substance in some areas but it has a wonderfully nuanced, constantly surprising perf by Mary-Louise Parker, who elevates the intermittently charming insider spoof. Ultimately, commercial outlook may depend as much as anything on auds buying Hal Hartley regular Martin Donovan’s intellectual blue-collar hunk as a romantic lead.
Donovan plays plumber David Kulovic, who has trouble picking up women due to the poor perception they have of his profession. When he’s briefly mistaken for a hot film director and suddenly finds himself awash in the adulation of toothsome starlets, he decides to re-create the experience by pretending to be a director. With the help of R.J. (Kevin Carroll), a friend in the industry, he holds auditions (casting himself as director) for a nonexistent movie called, appropriately enough, “Pipe Dream.”
Needing sides for his casting call, David steals pages from an unproduced screenplay by neighbor Toni (Parker). The sides are good and, in a vaguely “Producers”-like twist, a buzz soon sweeps the biz and industryites (including reporters from Variety) frantically scramble to jump on the bandwagon.
(Helmer and co-scripter John C. Walsh said the story was partly inspired by the reception he received as the director of his first film, “Ed’s Next Move.”)
Much of the humor comes from David practicing enunciations of “cut” while tightening toilet lugs, or confabbing with his star actress about “leaking” emotions. Gimmick that has Toni, as the behind-the-scenes brains of the whole operation, feeding clueless David appropriately sophisticated “directorial” remarks via headphones is highly reminiscent of the Holly Hunter/William Hurt setup in “Broadcast News.”
Walsh aspires to the ease but never the edginess of the ’40s screwball classics he emulates: He not only doesn’t push the envelope, he barely fills it. But his deft assuredness never gets complacent, and his timing is savvy enough to bring things off with commendable economy. The dialogue is snappy and unpretentious: Whenever the moral message about “being yourself” skitters toward sententiousness, the script provides a doozy of a rug-puller at just the right moment.
Acting is uneven in that no one approaches Parker’s vivacious mix of humor, intelligence and vulnerability. But this imbalance serves the story’s feminist bias fairly well. And if Donovan doesn’t make the world’s most convincing sexually driven prole, his Rock Hudson-ish physicality and fish-out-of-water gravitas work their own awkward charm.
Carroll’s sidekick turn is first-rate, effortlessly gluing the production together. Rebecca Gayheart, though, as the ditzy pageant queen/actress Donovan lusts after, never fully manages to triangulate the action. Some of the film’s slyest bits are supplied by the verbal soft-shoe shuffles of Peter Jacobson as a morosely sardonic agent and co-scripter Cynthia Kaplan as his truth-telling secretary.
Peter Nelson’s mellow lensing works well, but Alexander Laserenko’s relentlessly retro, Mancini/Bacharach-derived “bachelor pad” score tends to over-determine the imagery.