“Nothing is normal,” one character needlessly reminds us late into director-co-writer Matt Aselton’s “Gigantic,” since, by that time, the film’s disinterest in anything normal has already been loudly and strenuously announced. Smacking of an unearned love and fascination for all things eccentric, Aselton’s debut steadfastly favors gimmicky dialogue exchanges and odd-for-the-hell-of-it scenes over emotional honesty in its telling of a young man’s pull between his first real g.f. and his desire to adopt a child. Tailor-made for the terminally hip, pic will draw urbanite upper-crusters and nobody else.
Brian (Paul Dano) is the youngest of three sons, his parents (Ed Asner, Jane Alexander) so elderly that most people mistake them for his grandparents. He sells mattresses in an old Gotham warehouse, where portly, bossy Al Lolly (John Goodman) rolls in, ready to pick out the most expensive bed on the floor.
Later the same day, Al’s attractive daughter, Harriet (Zooey Deschanel), also pops by to actually buy the bed for her dad, and, after getting chummy with Brian, proceeds to take a long nap in the store.
Dano plays Brian as if he’s half-asleep, with every line delivery as flat and uninflected as possible. Impossible to read as a person, but mildly friendly, Brian tells Harriet he’s in process of adopting a Chinese baby to raise as a single parent. Why Chinese? Just something he’s had in his head since a child.
This is just one of about 355 (or, at least, it seems that many) odd facts, quirks and bits of nonsense that pepper the talky script by Aselton and Adam Nagata, who appear to believe the more curiosities shoehorned into a narrative, the more fun the ride.
But as Brian is drawn more into Harriet’s world, which means Al’s peculiar world, and as Brian’s own strange family is introduced — with Asner as a half-cracked old coot who gets high on mushrooms in his Vermont home — the film loses track of itself.
Only late into the story is there anything resembling an honest moment between characters, when Brian has good news about his adoption and Harriet, who’s fallen in love with him, quietly freaks at the prospect of a kid.
As a hybrid of Kaufman and Hart and a Sundance-style movie, set amid well-off, over-educated East Coasters, “Gigantic” places characters on display rather than revealing people worth discovering, even as the performances are kept at an unusually low key, led by Dano and Deschanel.
Goodman and Asner’s perfs lead one to conclude that all the parents here are nuts. In one of the weirdest supporting turns in some time, Zack Galifianakis plays a homeless guy who brutally attacks Brian twice, for no good reason except to add another ridiculous layer to this cake.
Tech credits are first-rate, particularly Peter Donahue’s cool and shiny widescreen lensing.