Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion: Getting it Right the Third Time
Feb 6, 2003 (Updated Feb 9, 2003)
Review by David Abrams
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Steve Buscemi's freak-out eyes, an exploding fog machine, a dwarf in a blue tux.
Cons:The dwarf doesn't chew gum.
The Bottom Line: If you don't like Living in Oblivion, you don't like movies. If you don't like movies, don't see Living in Oblivion. If you don't like movies, what're you doing here?
Scene 32, Take 1
Recommend this product?
I dream Im writing the perfect review of Living in Oblivion. My fingers fly across the keys like Rachmaninoff on a good day. The adjectives and metaphors, unshackled by writers block, ascend like four-note chords, tickling the ears of the Movie Review Gods. I write sentences like Tom DiCillos 1995 comedy is rib-breaking funny! and Youll laugh yourself into oblivion! and I dream Im writing the perfect review of Living in Oblivion. Im hunched over a manual Underwood typewriter, pecking at keys like a sandpipers beak. Im so caught up in my love for this perfect little film and my hands are blurring so fast over the keys, my fingers turn into actual beaks, stabbing the words Steve Buscemi plays a low-budget film director who spends the entire movie just trying to get one perfect take of a scene. In my dream, there is dry-ice fog and a dwarftheres always a dwarf in dreams, isnt there?in a blue tuxedo. Oh, and one more thing: That chewing gum I like, it's coming back in style.
Scene 32, Take 2
Im bathed in sweat because Im trying to write the perfect review of Living in Oblivion and nothing will come out. The metaphors are stuck in a cranial synapse somewhere, jammed like 5:30 traffic. If I could get them out, the words would sound something like this: Living in Oblivion is, to date, Mr. DiCillos Citizen Kane, a masterpiece of black comedy in which the camera is turned on low-budget filmmaking. But I cant unstick the words and so I resort to a boring plot synopsis: Nick Reve (Buscemi) is trapped in a nightmarish day of filmmaking. Hes trying to get one perfect take of a scene, but complications abound: his leading lady (Catherine Keener) is sleeping with the vain, shallow leading man (James LeGros); the assistant director (Danielle von Zerneck) has just sprayed the cameraman (Dermot Mulroney) in the eye with a spritz of perfume; the gaffer (Robert Wightman) has written an action movie, Tsunami, hell peddle to anyone wholl listen; the dwarf in the blue tux (Peter Dinklage) has attitude and refuses to laugh on cue; and, to top it all off, Nicks mother (Rica Martens) has just wandered onto the set in her housecoat. Murphy of Murphys Law must have had a hand in writing this script (or at least he was sitting on DiCillos shoulder as he pecked away at his Underwood) because anything that can go wrong in a day of shooting, does. Sort of like when youre trying to write the perfect review.
Scene 32, Take 3
(excerpt from the Off-Off-Off-Off Broadway play A Couple of Guys Sitting Around Talking About Movies)
Interior of a deserted movie theater. Crushed popcorn tubs and discarded Milk Duds boxes litter the floor. As the lights come up, two GUYS are sitting in the third row of seats. The movie has just ended and its obvious they were the only ones in the theater for the showing. Dolby explosions from another movieThe Return of the Son of Slade McQuadecan be heard coming from a neighboring auditorium.
GUY ONE: Man, I love Living in Oblivion.
GUY TWO: Yeah, me too.
GUY ONE: This makes like the tenth time Ive seen it.
GUY TWO: Nine for me. I cant understand why more people didnt see it when it was first released. Its a crime that we were the only ones in this theater today.
GUY ONE: A real travesty, I tell ya. But you know
GUY TWO: What?
GUY ONE: Well, maybe people stayed away from this one because theyd seen DiCillos other moviesBox of Moonlight, The Real Blonde and last years Double Whammy, which went straight to video. Those movies just didnt have the zest and zing of Oblivion.
GUY TWO: Hey, I kinda liked Box of Moonlight. But yeah, I see your point. DiCillos an acquired taste. His humors so offbeat and sly you barely know its there.
GUY ONE: Like when Buscemis talking to Keener about the vapid actor Chad played by James LeGros
GUY TWO: Who is not modeled after Brad Pitt, according to DiCillo.
GUY ONE: Riiiight. Anyway, Buscemi, who feels he must suck-up to the famous Chad, tells Keener, Hes got kind of like a natural presence, dontcha think? And she says, Yeah. Hes very natural. Like air. [Laughs]
GUY TWO: [Joins laughter] Yeah, thats a good line. Just one of many.
GUY ONE: I thought all the acting was spot-on.
GUY TWO: Tres primo. Not a single bad performance.
GUY ONE: Yeah, primo spot-on casting. Especially Buscemi. His eyes were born to play this partyou know, the way they bug out like hes a mad freak losing his grip on reality.
GUY TWO: Personally, I liked Mulroney. That eyepatch was priceless.
GUY ONE: Yeah, and the dwarf.
GUY TWO: The dwarf, of course. Theres always a dwarf.
GUY ONE: [Pause] Did you happen to notice if he was chewing gum?
GUY TWO: I dont think he was.
Scene 32, Take 4
In my review, Id include a mention of
damn! I forgot what I was going to say.
Scene 32, Take 6
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a movie.
A movie whose director DiCillo
has not the slightest peccadillo.
Scene 32, Take 7
Living in Oblivion is like screen poetry. Its clean as white, waste-free in its watchworks pace. Its a movie that celebrates moviessomething we can all appreciate because, if we didnt love films, we wouldnt be sitting in the darkened theater of our living rooms watching Living in Oblivion (preferably on the DVD which features a decent-but-not-great interview with DiCillo and Buscemi and a fairly-great commentary track from DiCillo).
Scene 32, Take 8
I want to believe my review is fairly-great, but I know Im only kidding myself. I have delusions that people will call it Ebertic, Maslinian, Kaelesque; that Ill be called up to a glittering stage to thunderous applause; that Ill step up to the microphone and
I wake up screaming. I sit there panting for a few minutes, glaring at my Underwood. I try to remember my dream, but my mind, like a film spooled to the very end, has gone black and blank.
Other Steve Buscemi films I've reviewed:
Final Fantasy: The Pixels Within
Other Catherine Keener films I've reviewed:
Being John Malkovich: The Worst Best Movie of 1999
Other Dermot Mulroney films I've reviewed:
Where the Money Is: The Geezer's Still Got It
Goodbye, Lover: Hello, Loser
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