Today I made a last-minute adjustment to my CineVegas schedule, heading to the press & industry screening of Finally, Lillian and Dan this morning before I had to take care of some things in the Weekly office, thanks almost entirely to this rapturous review by one of my favorite critics, Karina Longworth. I'd already been somewhat intrigued by the movie's description on the CineVegas website and had hoped to possibly see it, but was resigned to the fact that I just couldn't fit it into my schedule along with all the other things I had to cover. But the review plus the addition of the morning screening gave me the motivation to make time for it, and I'm generally glad I did, even if my reaction was nowhere near as strong as Karina's (she says it moved her to tears).
Karina's a well-known longtime supporter of the indie-film genre known (often pejoratively) as "mumblecore," low-budget, low-fi productions mostly about inarticulate, overeducated white 20-somethings falling in and out of love. I'm not as well-versed in the genre as she is, but the mumblecore films I've seen I've really liked. The Duplass brothers' The Puffy Chair was probably my favorite film at CineVegas in 2006, and I absolutely loved Aaron Katz's Quiet City, which has some broad similarities to Lillian and Dan.
The strengths of Lillian and Dan lie in its most understated elements (some so understated as to possibly be nonexistent): the oblique camera angles; the quiet, melancholy score; the deeply internal acting, all furtive glances and uncomfortable silences. I can easily see how my Weekly colleague Matthew Scott Hunter found only exasperation in the film; what for Karina was unbelievably moving for Matt was merely frustrating, and without the requisite emotional connection he found it easy to focus on the film's flaws (of which there are certainly many). Perhaps because I wanted to like the movie so much, I was willing to forgive certain faults, but I also hoped for more than I got. My expectations raised, then lowered, I ended up somewhere right in the middle.