Having already achieved stardom with his role as Jim Halpert on NBC’s The Office, the naturally charming John Krasinski could likely coast through his movie career doing light, fluffy romantic comedies. Knowing that, he certainly does deserve credit for taking a huge leap of ambition with his feature directorial debut Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, which he adapted from a scattershot collection of stories of the same name by the late David Foster Wallace.
But ambition alone doesn’t make for a good movie. Having recently read Wallace’s book, I thought frequently that the material simply could not be adapted effectively. That thought still lingers after watching the film.
The movie centers around a graduate student (played by Julianne Nicholson) who, for a class project, conducts a series of interviews with various men to attempt to gain perspective on why they act the way they do, mostly discussing their views on sex and relationships.
For anyone who hasn’t read the work of David Foster Wallace, his books almost defy explanation. They don’t focus heavily on plot, instead drawing more on a string of vibrant and offbeat ideas, which are thrown out so quickly in such rabid detail they almost seem to be coming from another planet.
The biggest problem with this movie is that it tries to recreate the madcap originality of the book without ever really finding a voice of its own. Much of the dialogue of the film is taking verbatim from the book. Aside from preventing the film from finding its own identity, the approach doesn’t work because David Foster Wallace dialogue simply doesn’t sound natural outside the parameters of a David Foster Wallace book. Many of the male character’s monologues (most notably one given near the end of the film by a character played by Krasinski himself) seem very stilted and don’t resonate as effective human speach.
One performance I did enjoy was by Saturday Night Live actor Will Forte, who brought a pervy charm to his one-minute role as a man who was lustful towards all women. The rest of the performances are average or worse.
As for Krasinski’s direction, he does have a few interesting touches in bringing the story to the big screen, but on the whole his approach is never particularly engaging. One reason the book stayed consistently entertaining was that its interviews were interwoven with other stories and exercises which provided a break from some of the more “hideous” elements. Here, they are all ripped out in succession and when heard back-to-back, it sort of becomes clear that most of these men are essentially just saying the same thing.
Things don’t get much better when Krasinski brings his own touches to the project. These scenes, most notably one where a conversation a professor has with the grad student about his wife, don’t feel even remotely organic, seemingly existing solely to tie all the storylines together.
While I didn’t like this movie, I didn’t feel overly regretful having seen it, and it may prove to be an interesting rental for fans of the book only to see how they respond to an attempt to adapt such a dizzying piece of literature. However, for anyone who hasn’t read this or any other David Foster Wallace material, I would strongly suggest you steer clear. Despite his attempts to be faithful to the material, Krasinski failed to capture the madcap energy Wallace brought to his stories, and I fear people unfamiliar with the author’s work will falsely believe his book to be as boring and stuffy as this movie.
That said, I think John Krasinski may have a respectable future as a filmmaker. He clearly bit off more than he could chew with his debut, but he does seem to have a few intriguing visual touches he may be able to smooth out in time. Here’s hoping he works out all the glitches before he tries to bring Infinite Jest to the screen.
- A few interesting touches
- A solid, albeit brief, performance by Will Forte
- Bragging about liking a book better than a movie
- Could potentially turn people off to a truly gifted writer
- Reviewing movies no one cares about
Final Score: 5.0/10 (Mediocre)