The awkward pushes and pulls between two lonelyhearts are patiently registered in Mike Gibisser’s quiet and furtive “Finally, Lillian and Dan.” Easy to mistake for yet another mumblecore movie but conceived along different lines from those of Andrew Bujalski and Co., Gibisser’s debut allows for a bit of mumbling, but its central point is to appreciate how socially awkward types slowly find common ground, and possibly love. Pic requires the utmost attention and a quiet mood from its audience, primarily at top-flight cinephile fests and via high-art DVD label.
The film is prone to criticism for being too precious, too willing to simply let its characters sit there and do nearly nothing. But “Finally, Lillian and Dan” contains enough cinematic density and perception to deliver something more than elegantly rendered still-life images. The influence of early Hou Hsiao Hsien is all over the film, which alone separates it from much of the American indie pack, but also restricts it as a curio from a young and promising filmmaker still groping to understand the people he places onscreen.
After a definitely mumblecore-ish scene in an office where secretary Lillian (Gretchen Akers) is ineptly asked on a date by her boss (Tim Blevins), the pic’s attention turns away from chatter toward a more interesting concept: watching people in action. Pic divides its attention between Dan (Jason Kean), a solitary guy who spots Lillian at a supermarket and tries to follow her, and Lillian and her grandmother (Lucy Quinn), with whom she lives and has a loose, friendly relationship. Still, her grandmother says she’s “tired of coddling” Lillian, a signal that these young people in their 20s need to start growing up.
This is, of course, a perennial obsession in American films, but the way Gibisser goes about it is as far from Judd Apatow as can be imagined. While Dan initially seems creepy, holding onto a stuffed animal and looking scared of anything that moves, he still has enough drive to engage with Lillian. At a block party Lillian decides to throw, nobody but Dan shows up — it’s less cute than it sounds, sending pic into a central section trained almost exclusively on the two potential lovers.
Dan is generally slow to realize that he’s made a mistake (usually verbal), and tyro actor Kean’s wandering eyes convey that he knows he’s inching toward emotional territory that once seemed impossibly distant. Akers’ Lillian is a girl-woman who seems to change and grow during the running time — a key factor in the film’s ultimate, halting success.
Screenplay credit, shared by the director and his two leads, explains the semi-improvisational mood of several scenes. In a world populated by lonely folks, Quinn’s loving but slightly feisty character provides a balance and perspective on the other side of the age curve.
Lensing by Gibisser and Susan Turman maximizes natural light and allows for a soft image, much like older-grade 16mm. Music (selected from threesome of Soltero, Mileece and Casey Dienel) varies from treacly to beautifully subtle.