Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Great New Wonderful

Originally Written and Posted at on 12/20/06 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Directed by Danny Leiner and written by Sam Catlin, The Great New Wonderful is a multi-layered film revolving around five different stories in post-9/11 New York City as it involves an ambitious pastry chef, an old woman rekindling an old friendship, two Indian security chief officers, a couple dealing with their troubled son, and an accountant going into therapy. It's a film that plays into the lives of people as the deal with themselves and their own surroundings in New York City. Starring Olympia Dukakis, Jim Gaffigan, Tony Shalhoub, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Judy Greer, Tom McCarthy, Stephen Colbert, Naseerudin Shah, Sharat Saxena, and Edie Falco. The Great New Wonderful is a compelling yet flawed film from Danny Leiner.

Going through a break-up with his girlfriend, an accountant named Sandie (Jim Gaffigan) is seeking therapy from an oddball, office therapist named Dr. Trabulous (Tony Shalhoub). The therapy is taken into an unconventional approach as Sandie becomes evasive. Only Trabulous finally breaks through in which he reveals the anger that Sandie has been swallowing. In another part of New York, an old woman named Judie Hillerman (Olympia Dukakis) is stuck in a monotonous marriage with Henry (Ed Setrakian) as she spends her life doing the same thing while making collages. One day at a council meeting, she sees an old high school friend named Jerry Bono (Dick Latessa) where a couple of days later, they rekindle their friendship. Judie hopes this renewed friendship will break away from her monotonous life with her husband.

Back in the city, an ambitious pastry chef named Emme Keeler (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is trying to get some clients for the most competitive season of the year. Still living in the shadow of cake-queen Safarah Polsky (Edie Falco), Emme hopes to finally get one of her clients. Meanwhile, she is dealing with her own life with boyfriend Danny (Will Arnett) and after a meeting with Polsky, she decides to get into competition. With her team that included Alexa (Martha Millan), Clayton (Seth Gilliam), and Justin (Jim Parsons), they hope to attract the attention of a young actress named Lisa Krindel (Ari Graynor) which nearly falters but Emme gets the job. In another part of the city, Two Indian top-security guards in Avi (Naseerudin Shah) and Satish (Sharat Saxena) are watching over a visiting foreign general (Kapil Bawa). Avi and Satish discuss life as Avi talks about flirting with a woman he met a supermarket while Satish is feeling frustrated about the things in the world.

The fifth and final story revolves around a couple in David (Tom McCarthy) and Allison Burbage (Judy Greer) are dealing with their son Charlie’s (Bill Donner) who is starting to act out in a dysfunctional, violent way. While David is trying to get a client for his firm, Allison works as a teacher where Charlie's behavior has become strange in which he's wearing a cape and wearing hand puppets while not participating in any student events and starts to become violent towards them. Finally turning to the school's child psychologist Mr. Peersall (Stephen Colbert), it's been revealed that Charlie has been suspended several times and things aren't going great. A comment that Peersall says forces David and Allison to see what they can do with Charlie as everyone else is forced to deal about their own lives and all of their achievements and failures.

While the film does have moments that audiences can relate to. Not everything that screenwriter Sam Catlin and director Danny Leiner work. There are five stories. One of them is great which is the two Indian security guards since it's filled with a lot of humor and frustration of two men trying to deal with their lives. Two of them are excellent in the form of Emme's story and the story of Allison and David. The story of Emme is wonderfully told in how a young woman try to do anything to become the cake queen of New York only to realize that it's sometimes not worth it. The story of David and Allison is interesting for its mix of drama and humor, in which the latter is provided by a restrained Stephen Colbert in what he had to say. It's really wonderfully told. 

Another is fine yet flawed, in the story of Judie where despite its elliptical approach towards pacing, it does fulfill everything in her frustration with her marriage and how she tries to break the monotony. The only segment that doesn't work is the Sandie-Trabulous story since the dialogue, particularly Sandie’s evasiveness really gives the segment a lagging feel where it's becomes very inattentive and uninteresting despite Shalhoub's performance. The result is a film that is better in the sum of its parts rather than a whole. While they're all cut in an inter-connected way where all the stories are seen from one to another and to another, it does give the film a sense of being a bit uneven. Still, the film's ending for some of the stories do fulfill about everything that happened one year ago while it has a sense of irony. Despite the flaws and some heavy-handiness, it's still a film that has a bit of entertaining and profound moments.

Helping Leiner in his visual presentation of NYC is cinematographer Harlan Bosmajian whose use of colors ranging from sepia in the Judie Segment to more colorful flourishes in other sequences reveal the difference of the NYC world. Production designer Laura Ballinger and art director Tyler Q. Rosen also works to NYC's diversity from the posh world of Emme to the middle-working class world of David and Allison. Costume designer Alysia Raycraft also works to the film's different class structures on the clothing. Editor Robert Frazen does to do superb work on the cutting the film's structure in moving one segment to another where it doesn't lose its place or anything. Sound designer Jeff Kushner also does wonderful work, especially in the film's ending signifying the one-year anniversary of 9/11. The music of Brett Boyet and John Swihart is wonderfully plaintive to convey the emotions and moods of the characters and stories.

The film's cast is good for the most part with small, notable performances from Bill Donner, Seth Gilliam, Will Arnett, Ari Graynor, Martha Millan, Jim Parsons, Kapil Bawa, Ed Setrakian, and a cameo from playwright Tony Kushner. Jim Gaffigan is a good actor but the role he's been given and his performance was very bizarre and underwritten in a way that he's uncomfortably restrained and it lacks depth. Tony Shalhoub is a great actor and he is funny in his oddball approach but the story doesn't give him much to do and he's largely wasted in some ways. Olympia Dukakis is excellent in her role as the frustrated Judie who is trying to break from her monotonous lifestyle while Dick Latessa is wonderfully charming as her old school friend. Edie Falco is wonderful in her one-scene performance as Emme's rival Safarah who has seen all kinds of success but wants something that's fulfilling as she provides something for Emme. Maggie Gyllenhaal is excellent in her role as the ambitious but shallow cake-maker who is desperate to become queen while leading a posh-like lifestyle where she realizes how unfulfilling her life is in a scene where Gyllenhaal reveals the depth and emotions of her performance.

Judy Greer and Tom McCarthy are excellent in their roles as frustrated parents trying to handle their own love life as well as their anti-social, violent son. Stephen Colbert meanwhile, gives one of the film’s best performances, notably a scene where he steals the show with one line that really shows his talents as an actor and not as the usual Colbert reporter that people know. Sharat Saxena is excellent as the frustrated, grumpy Satish who is trying to figure out his own role in the world while being a guard for a foreign general. Bollywood icon Naseerudin Shah is really the film’s most likeable and charming performance as the charismatic Avi. Shah's wittiness on the mysteries of life and women really gives the film and his segment the most entertaining side as he is also a great comedic man to Saxena's straight-man role.

The Region 1 DVD for The Great New Wonderful from First Independent Pictures presents the film in the 16x9 aspect ratio and 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. The special features the film has includes the film's theatrical trailer plus a trailer for the film version of David Mamet's play Edmond starring William H. Macy, Rebecca Pidgeon, Joe Mantegna, Julia Stiles, Mena Suvari, and Denise Richards. The features the film brings includes a two-minute character stills presentation featuring promotional pictures. The one-minute NYC Behind the Scenes featurette is really left-over footage of shots of NYC. One big feature of the film that will please its audiences are the film's five segments seen as shorts where audiences can watch the shorts but nothing new is added.

The deleted scenes segment includes 12-minutes worth of 7 deleted scenes with commentary from director Danny Leiner and screenwriter Sam Catlin. Scenes included an alternate opening with voice-over dialogue, Dr. Trabulous leaving a theater, Avi talking about sugar, David and Allison coming home from dinner where they talk to their son's baby sitter (played by Alexa Dziena of Broken Flowers), two scenes with Dr. Trabulous and Sandie where a woman (Karen Leiner) walks out crying and a scene of Trabulous talking about a play. One final scene involves a councilman and an old man talking. Leiner explained that they were cut due to creative reasons and timing. The feature-length commentary track from Leiner and Catlin isn't very interesting largely due to the fact that the two discussed the writing of the film and said "Oh this scene has good writing" and stuff. Not much talk on the cast and the film where the result is very boring and makes the film a bit unwatchable.

The Great New Wonderful is a superb though uneven film from Danny Leiner. While it had a great cast as well as some wonderful stories about people living in post-9/11 New York City, it's a film that is has a lot to offer but also moments that don't work. In the end, The Great New Wonderful is a very good film from Danny Leiner.

© thevoid99 2015


Anonymous said...

I'll have to look for this one. I love a lot of the cast members, so I'm intrigued. Nice write up.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. It's quite flawed but it is still a very interesting and engaging film.

Ruth said...

Even though it's flawed, I'm still interested in checking this one out for the cast. I always like Maggie Gyllenhaal too, and there's also Stephen Colbert?? Curious to see his restrained performance here.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-Oh, Colbert does steal the show in a key scene as he starts out as being restrained until he starts to speak some truth.