A millennial comedy aimed squarely — or perhaps hiply — at educated insiders, “The Last Big Thing” wears its elitist credentials proudly, and lives up to them by delivering a consistently funny, relentlessly scabrous critique of fin-de-siecle media culture, L.A. division. Urban scenesters and buffs will respond, although theatrical crossover potential seems quite limited.
Car alarms and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” provide ongoing leitmotifs for the pic and its anti-hero, one Simon Geist (helmer Dan Zukovic), a post-slacker who has turned his disaffection into a rude kind of performance art. Simon’s thing, or “The Agenda,” as he calls it, is to interview up-and-coming actors, rock stars and models for “The Next Big Thing” — a magazine that doesn’t even exist. Basically, he uses these opportunities to lambaste, confront and otherwise insult his unwitting subjects, adding caustic memos into his tape recorder about their pathetic “L.A. fame need” and other modern ailments.
This young curmudgeon finds his Boswell in Darla (Susan Heimbeinder), a floundering trust-funder who decides to document his every profundity — even if she doesn’t want him to stumble on her prized collection of lunchboxes from bad ’70s TV shows. Soon, the dour, apparently platonic couple is ensconced in a bleaksuburban tract home that could have been plucked out of Atom Egoyan’s “The Adjuster.”
Their already-fragile stasis — drinking beer, heckling bad standup comics for fun — is upset when Simon meets a beautiful ubermodel named Tedra (Pamela Dickerson), who sees through his act and actually finds him amusing. Eventually , she talks him into directing a rock video for a band called Refried Sitcom. He thinks he’s starting to subvert the system from within (“The Agenda is flexible and subject to mutation,” he explains in cool, Mr. Spock tones); Darla thinks he’s selling out, and she’s not too pleased with Tedra’s slinky presence, either. At the same time, a troubled TV hunk (Mark Ruffalo) and some other Geist victims plot to outscam the ego-mad scammer, who’s actually begun to believe he’s “the last major figure of the millennium.”
A Vancouverite living in L.A., Kukovic wears all his pic-making hats well, especially since he’s in almost every scene of his first feature — and one built around a generally unlikable protag who must, nonetheless, be compelling throughout. It works. As an actor, he manages to be both blandly handsome and weirdly scary; his deadpan delivery (despite a few pronunciation fluffs in those densely literary rants) helps keep events from spinning out of control.
All other perfs are at least as good, with Heimbeinder adding a needed element of human desperation to the spoof-laden mix. Egoyan reference is apt, since characters eventually reach a Canuck-style impasse over their inability to connect. Tonal gearshifting does cause energy to flag slightly in the final quarter, when loose ends are tied up, but this also gives the pic more resonance.
Tech credits are smooth, with design considerably more polished that the under-$ 1 million budget would suggest. Crucially, sound mix is sharp enough to keep the quipstream clear, and faux-alternarock tunes, co-written by Zukovic, are catchier than they’re probably meant to be. This “Thing” will never be big with mainstream auds, but smarter urbanites could be talking about it right into the next century.