×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Karlovy Vary Film Review: ‘Asthma’

Krysten Ritter's sass can't perk up this dreary debut from Jake Hoffman, in which junkie life is as chicly wasted as ever.

With:
Benedict Samuel, Krysten Ritter, Nick Nolte, Rosanna Arquette, Dov Tiefenbach, Goran Visnjic, Rene Ricard, Iggy Pop, Jerry Zucker, Joey Kern, Gillian Zinser, Carlen Altman, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Chelsea Schuchman.

Junkie life is as chicly miserable as its most vapid chroniclers have always had us believe in “Asthma,” a feature directorial debut from actor Jake Hoffman that is sorely in need of its own inhaler. Taking a perversely slow approach to fast living, Hoffman’s film glumly examines the trail of all-purpose destruction left by New York heroin addict Gus (Benedict Samuel) on a weekend bender, but can’t resist having it both ways, as his scuzzily narcissistic lifestyle is also shown to have improbable sexual allure to at least one clear-headed woman (Krysten Ritter) with better options. Ritter’s performance is the liveliest thing in a callow, shallow cautionary tale, which wears its influences on its artfully frayed sleeve and no closer than that to its heart. A sprinkling of cameos from past-prime names is unlikely to make distributors breathe any easier around this dull-eyed downer.

Most recently seen on screen in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Hoffman is the son of actor Dustin, which adds a factor of curiosity to the production but doesn’t qualify as a selling point. It does, however, suggest why actors like Nick Nolte (who doesn’t even appear physically onscreen) and Rosanna Arquette might have been drawn to such negligible supporting roles. Hoffman at least has more natural directorial intuition than his dad, to go by the latter’s recent, inert “Quartet”  there are arresting flashes of compositional grace and sonic savvy here, even if they’re largely lifted from better films.

Even our protagonist’s Christian name recalls a filmmaker more confident in handling this kind of tonally tricky material: “Asthma” often shoots for the mordant slacker wit and dirty-nailed romanticism of Gus Van Sant’s 1989 breakthrough, “Drugstore Cowboy,” but manages little more than vague disaffection. Less vague is Gus’ litany of existential complaints and insecurities, given that Hoffman’s script frequently articulates them in the most literal fashion possible: “I was born too late,” he grumbles while pointedly painting over a poster of Jim Morrison in his apartment, immediately before a botched suicide attempt played half-heartedly for laughs.

Having reached rock-bottom, Gus takes the obvious self-healing measure of stealing a Rolls-Royce, restocking his drug cabinet and getting out of the Big Apple  his awkwardly prominent choice of getaway vehicle seemingly made solely to give his effete dealer (the late poet and artist Rene Ricard) the groanworthy punchline “More like a catcher in the Rolls.” If auds haven’t yet gotten the Holden Caulfield allusion, Hoffman offers them plenty more opportunities to do so, as Gus picks up knockout tattoo artist Ruby (Ritter) and heads for Connecticut.

There, Ruby’s older muso friend Logan (Dov Tiefenbach) is hosting a commune of hemp-wearing vegan types whom Caulfield would certainly have dismissed as “phony”; Gus looks on in contempt, oblivious to the irony that he’s as vacant a stereotype of misdirected middle-class privilege as they are. It’s unclear whether the film is in on the joke either, as Hoffman milks the neo-hippies for easy satire, while treating Gus and Ruby’s banal intellectual epiphanies (“Do you think we’re born a certain way, or does life shape us into who we are?”) in deadly earnest. Gus’ subsequent downward trajectory simply joins the dots from one celebrity cameo to the next: Nolte, sounding like he’s been gargling with methylated spirits, appears in werewolf form as Gus’ sub-“Donnie Darko” id; Iggy Pop gets to spout a random torrent of anti-Obamist invective as his cellmate for a night in the clink; and Arquette is his predictably wry, weary, bedridden mom.

The leads can’t be held accountable for their characters’ enervating behavior. Blessed with the androgynous, jolie-laide features of a young Mick Jagger  another comparison the script can’t resist underlining for our benefit  Australian thesp Samuel has a rangy, compelling physicality that should serve him better in more generous vehicles. Ritter, meanwhile, brings a salvaging blend of firecracker flirtatiousness and twice-burned melancholy to a character who doesn’t make much sense on paper, not least in the psychological and sexual leeway she keeps granting her deadbeat companion. Still, we’re grateful for her unlikely patience: “Asthma” would be even more airless without her.

Skilled tech credits all contribute to Hoffman’s cultivated atmosphere of dereliction, with David Myrick’s cinematography painting in washed-out denim hues. The clattery soundtrack, peppered with indie cuts from the likes of the Kills and Devendra Banhart, would have seemed cooler a few years ago than it does now, but that might be calculated  the same could be said of Gus, after all.

Karlovy Vary Film Review: 'Asthma'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Another View), July 5, 2014. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: A Thank You, Brain! Prods., Papageorge Pictures, Out of the Woods Prods. production in association with Sunny Field Entertainment. (International sales: William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Produced by Tracey Baird, Missy Papageorge, Jake Hoffman. Executive producer, Krysia Polanka. Co-producers, Orian Williams, Noah C. Haeussner.

Crew: Directed, written by Jake Hoffman. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), David Myrick; editor, Barney Pilling; music, Mark Noseworthy; production designer, Kathrin Eder; art director, Melisa Jusufi; costume designer, Dani Phelps; sound, Akash Singh; re-recording mixers, Brian Riordan, Phil Detolve; visual effects supervisor, Brian Robinson; line producer, Stephanie Meurer; assistant director, Marco Bargellini.

With: Benedict Samuel, Krysten Ritter, Nick Nolte, Rosanna Arquette, Dov Tiefenbach, Goran Visnjic, Rene Ricard, Iggy Pop, Jerry Zucker, Joey Kern, Gillian Zinser, Carlen Altman, Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Chelsea Schuchman.

More Film

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

  • Zac Efron Amanda Seyfried

    Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried Join Animated Scooby-Doo Film as Fred and Daphne

    Zac Efron has signed on to voice Fred Jones while Amanda Seyfried will voice Daphne Blake in Warner Bros.’ animated Scooby-Doo feature film “Scoob.” It was revealed earlier this month that Will Forte had been set to voice Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, while Gina Rodriguez would be voicing Velma Dinkley. The mystery-solving teens and their talking [...]

  • 'Staff Only' Review: Cultures And Values

    Film Review: 'Staff Only'

    Marta (Elena Andrada) is 17, from Barcelona and alternately bored and mortified to be on a Christmas vacation to Senegal with her estranged dad, Manel (Sergi López), and annoying little brother, Bruno (Ian Samsó). For her, the freedoms of imminent adulthood, such as the occasional poolside mojito, are tantalizing close but still technically forbidden, rather [...]

  • Rocketman

    Candid 'Rocketman' Dares to Show Elton John as 'Vulnerable,' 'Damaged,' 'Ugly'

    Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing [...]

  • Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck's Addiction Drama Set for Awards-Season Release

    Warner Bros. has given Ben Affleck’s untitled addiction drama an awards-season-friendly release date of Oct. 18. The film, which has been known previously as “The Has-Been” and “Torrance,” is directed by Gavin O’Connor and stars Affleck as a former basketball player struggling with addiction, which has led to him losing his wife. As part of [...]

  • Jordan Peele'Us' film premiere, Arrivals, New

    Jordan Peele Explains the Meaning Behind the 'Us' Michael Jackson Reference

    Jordan Peele’s horror movie “Us” is filled with pop culture references, from “Jaws” to “Goonies.” But the most divisive might be right in his opening sequence. Warning, minor spoilers ahead. The movie about a couple (played by Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke) and their children being hunted and brutalized by a mysterious family that looks just [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content