×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Californians

There's likely a more rewarding behind-the-scenes docu to be made about a filmmaker's real estate dealings than the fictive tale the "The Californians" tells. The film's edge gets softer as it goes -- in ways that might baffle all but the granola-scarfing well-heeled hippies it seemed to be parodying. Pic opens exclusive in the Bay Area on Oct. 21.

With:
Gavin Ransom - Noah Wyle Olive Ransom - Illeana Douglas Zoe Tripp - Kate Mara Eileen Boatwright - Cloris Leachman Luna - Joanne Whalley Elton Tripp - Keith Carradine Mrs. Tripp - Valerine Perrine Sybil - Jane Lynch Marion Pardon - Michael Panes

There’s likely a more rewarding behind-the-scenes docu to be made about a filmmaker’s real estate dealings than the fictive tale the “The Californians” tells. This quasi-satire of privileged Northern California culture — in which nouveau riche developers gulp land for garish homes over the protests of established residents starts with the potential to be a Marin lifestyle-skewering “Serial.” But the film’s edge gets softer as it goes — in ways that might baffle all but the granola-scarfing well-heeled hippies it seemed to be parodying. Pic opens exclusive in the Bay Area on Oct. 21. Wider exposure looks better fit for the small screen.

The irony is that writer-director Jonathan Parker really is an artist-cum-developer who’s hugely profited from exactly the Northern California residential buildup reflected in screen alter-ego Gavin Ransom’s (Noah Wyle) unconscionable deal-making. (Moniker similarity to San Francisco’s yuppie-entrepreneur mayor Gavin Newsom can only be deliberate.)

Gavin is accustomed to rubber-stamp approvals from city supervisors who can afford ignoring irate constituents like elderly activist Eileen Boatwright (Cloris Leachman), pro-bono lawyer Sybil (Jane Lynch), and his own furiously pro-environment sibling Olive (Illeana Douglas).

But the tide turns, driven by the protest anthems of Ani DiFranco-like Zoe (Kate Mara).

Zoe’s idealism, perhaps inherited from folk-singing dad (Keith Carradine), intoxicates repressed Olive — at least so far as she’ll admit — while Gavin’s reaction to Zoe’s earnest music is more carnal.

It’s highly unconvincing pretty Zoe’s pop protests would influence a significant public. But then, it’s not at all clear whether Mara’s insipid milkmaid vocals, her blandly hooky tunes (penned by Neils Bye Nielsen) or their seemingly self-parodying lyrics (including the refrain “I Hear Mother Nature Cry”) are meant to be funny or not.

By the end, when she suffers stage-fright before a benefit audience whose responses are manipulated to the point of idiocy, then runs off with Gavin, who’s been impressing her with wealth, “Californians” has grown awkwardly and unconvincingly sincere. That’s too bad, because some of the earlier sequences are hilarious, if in-jokey — like a heath-food grocery store interlude that ends with Olive passively accepting $129 charge for her sparse bagful of organic eats.

Parker, who cleverly updated Melville’s “Bartleby” with Crispin Glover two years back, hits on a similar bright idea here — “The Californians” is drawn from Henry James’ classic novel “The Bostonians” — but shrinks from taking things far enough. Olive’s attraction to Zoe is downplayed to the point of invisibility. Vanessa Redgrave in Merchant-Ivory’s 1984’s “Bostonians” milked her character’s emotional torment to far greater effect than a game but muffled Douglas is allowed here.

Some others in the capable cast, notably Joanne Whalley as a crass divorcee and Valerie Perrine as Zoe’s even spacier mom, are amusing enough to have deserved more screentime.

Most striking moments in a polished design package are when Wyle’s character views a pristine Northern California hillside — and graphically visualizes a bounty of “monster home” sub-divisions on its virgin hillsides.

The Californians

Production: A Fabrication Films presentation of a Parker Film Co. production. Produced by Jonathan Parker, Scott Rosenfelt, Catherine Di Napoli. Executive producer, Kjehl Rasmussen. Directed by Jonathan Parker. Screenplay, Parker, Catherine Di Napoli.

Crew: Camera (color), Steven Fierberg; editor, Rick LeCompte; music, Craig Carothers; songs, Neils Bye Nielsen; production designer, Thomas Carnegie; art director, Lisa Clark; set decorator, Deborah Stairs Parker; costume designer, Morganne Newson; sound (Dolby Digital), Chris Scarabosio; assistant director, Brian Benson; casting, Donise Hardy, Nina Henningher. Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct. 8, 2005. Running time: 87 MIN.

With: Gavin Ransom - Noah Wyle Olive Ransom - Illeana Douglas Zoe Tripp - Kate Mara Eileen Boatwright - Cloris Leachman Luna - Joanne Whalley Elton Tripp - Keith Carradine Mrs. Tripp - Valerine Perrine Sybil - Jane Lynch Marion Pardon - Michael Panes

More Film

  • 'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-And-Date China Release

    'Captain Marvel' Lands Day-And-Date China Release

    Marvel Studios’ hotly-anticipated Brie Larson-starring blockbuster “Captain Marvel” will hit Chinese theaters on the same day as it debuts in North America. The female-led picture will release on March 8, 2019, International Women’s Day. Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the film tells the story of Carol Danvers, a former fighter pilot who joins [...]

  • Peter Rabbit trailer

    Australia Box Office Recovers, Grows 3.8% in 2018

    Gross theatrical box office in Australia grew by 3.6% in 2018, to $890 million (A$1.25 billion). The score was propelled by a rebound in the performance of the top local films. Data from the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia published Tuesday showed aggregate cinema revenues recovering after a dip in 2017. While the 2018 [...]

  • Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics

    Q&A: Why Megan Mullally Won't Talk Politics While Hosting the SAG Awards

    Megan Mullally is funny. The “Will & Grace” star can also sing and dance. While she’s not picking up the Oscar hosting gig after the Kevin Hart fiasco, Mullally will take center stage on Sunday, Jan. 27 when she makes her debut as the host of the 25th annual SAG Awards. Variety caught up with [...]

  • Glass trailer

    'Glass': Five Box Office Takeaways From M. Night Shyamalan's Thriller

    With his fifth No. 1 box office opening, M. Night Shyamalan has plenty to celebrate. “Glass,” the conclusion to a trilogy that consists of the 2000 cult hit “Unbreakable” and 2016’s box office sensation “Split,” topped the box office last weekend — though its win comes with a few caveats. James McAvoy reprised his role [...]

  • Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama

    Berlin: Patra Spanou Picks Up Panorama Title 'Family Members' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Patra Spanou has picked up world sales rights to “Los miembros de la familia” (Family Members), which will world premiere in the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section. Variety has been given an exclusive first look of the film’s trailer. The film is the second feature from writer/director Mateo Bendesky, and is produced by Agustina Costa [...]

  • Great Point Media, The Development Partnership

    Great Point Media, Development Partnership Join Forces on Slate of Movies

    Great Point Media and The Development Partnership, the development and production arm of the talent agency the Artists Partnership, are joining forces to develop, package, and co-produce multiple films, kicking off with three projects, including “Chasing Agent Freegard,” starring James Norton (“War & Peace”). “Chasing Agent Freegard,” which is being produced by “Captain Phillips” co-producer [...]

  • Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’

    Berlin: FiGa Acquires ‘Landless,’ Drops ‘Hormigas’ Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sandro Fiorin’s Miami-based FiGa Films, a leading sales agent on the independent Latin American scene, has announced the acquisition of Brazilian doc “Landless,” and released a trailer for the Costa Rican-Spanish drama “El despertar de las hormigas.” Both features will play at this year’s Berlinale Forum and come from young Latin American filmmakers making their [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content