(R) Three stars
The Great New Wonderful, which opens Friday at Key Cinemas Beech Grove, is set in and around NYC a few days before the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Sept. 11 is never mentioned directly, however, though it is briefly alluded to a few times as the low-key film moves back and forth between five storylines. If you’re wondering what grand statement the filmmakers are trying to make, good luck to you, because I couldn’t sort it out. The last sentence of the synopsis on the movie’s Web site states, “One year after 9/11, these stories reveal that being lost always precedes a new beginning.”
Regardless, the movie worked for me. I like multistoryline films and found this one easy to watch. The characters may not be all that deeply drawn, but they’re generally interesting and the impressive cast does good work.
So who’s who? Dr. Trabulous (Tony Shalhoub) is a psychologist treating a number of office workers for presumed trauma over “what happened on the seventh floor,” including Sandie (Jim Gaffigan), an unfailingly polite accountant clearly disturbed by the quiet, but insistent probing of the therapist with the weird-ass smile. Monk star Shaloub has created a great number of infuriating, but mesmerizing oddballs over the years and this one is a doozy. The scenes between the two are nicely written — I appreciated the way the payoff of their sessions is handled, particularly the exit of the doctor.
Emme Keeler (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the proprietor of The Great New Wonderful — one of those companies that make elaborate, wildly expensive cakes for people with a lot of disposable income. She longs to replace Safarah (Edie Falco) as the top flashy dessert maker in NYC and has no patience with anyone whose actions slow her momentum — including her own employees. A maddening sales pitch to a cell phone-wielding teen-age heiress is a standout.
Charlie Burbage (Billy Donner) is driving his parents crazy. Allison (Judy Greer) and David (Tom McCarthy) try to do everything right, but the 10-year-old keeps getting in trouble, leading to a meeting with a school official (Stephen Colbert) that takes a shocking turn. Colbert, who also plays a school employee in Strangers With Candy, is very good as a man whose most human moment comes when he briefly loses control and actually voices the contempt that lies beneath his barely professional veneer.
Avi (Naseerudin Shah) and Satish (Sharat Saxena) travel around the city working as security men for some visiting dignitary. Avi is an affable guy, always ready to chat about pop culture, while Satish is out-of-sorts most of the time. Gradually, we get a clearer picture of both men, leading to a couple of emotional moments. Shah and Saxena are good actors and their scenes are among the most satisfying in the film.
Finally, Judy Berman (Olympia Dukakis) finds her deadly dull routine upset when she encounters a childhood friend (Dick Latessa) who actually seems to be enjoying his life, which reminds her how much she hates her own. Ah, but what to do about it?
The film was written by Sam Catlin and directed by Danny Leiner, who also brought the world Dude, Where’s My Car? and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. I would have mentioned that earlier, but I was afraid you wouldn’t give the movie a fair chance. Granted, The Great New Wonderful is a minor film, but it’s a mostly engaging, well-acted minor film with some fine moments. You could do a lot worst than that.