Living in Oblivion

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Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion: Getting it Right the Third Time

Feb 6, 2003 (Updated Feb 9, 2003)
Review by  
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
I dream I’m 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 writer’s block, ascend like four-note chords, tickling the ears of the Movie Review Gods. I write sentences like Tom DiCillo’s 1995 comedy is rib-breaking funny! and You’ll laugh yourself into oblivion! and I dream I’m writing the perfect review of Living in Oblivion. I’m hunched over a manual Underwood typewriter, pecking at keys like a sandpiper’s beak. I’m 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 dwarf—there’s always a dwarf in dreams, isn’t 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
I’m bathed in sweat because I’m 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. DiCillo’s Citizen Kane, a masterpiece of black comedy in which the camera is turned on low-budget filmmaking. But I can’t unstick the words and so I resort to a boring plot synopsis: Nick Reve (Buscemi) is trapped in a nightmarish day of filmmaking. He’s 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, he’ll peddle to anyone who’ll listen; the dwarf in the blue tux (Peter Dinklage) has attitude and refuses to laugh on cue; and, to top it all off, Nick’s mother (Rica Martens) has just wandered onto the set in her housecoat. Murphy of Murphy’s Law must have had a hand in writing this script (or at least he was sitting on DiCillo’s shoulder as he pecked away at his Underwood) because anything that can go wrong in a day of shooting, does. Sort of like when you’re 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 it’s obvious they were the only ones in the theater for the showing. Dolby explosions from another movie—The Return of the Son of Slade McQuade—can 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 I’ve seen it.
GUY TWO: Nine for me. I can’t understand why more people didn’t see it when it was first released. It’s 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 they’d seen DiCillo’s other movies—Box of Moonlight, The Real Blonde and last year’s Double Whammy, which went straight to video. Those movies just didn’t have the zest and zing of Oblivion.
GUY TWO: Hey, I kinda liked Box of Moonlight. But yeah, I see your point. DiCillo’s an acquired taste. His humor’s so offbeat and sly you barely know it’s there.
GUY ONE: Like when Buscemi’s 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, “He’s got kind of like a natural presence, dontcha think?” And she says, “Yeah. He’s very natural. Like air.” [Laughs]
GUY TWO: [Joins laughter] Yeah, that’s 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 part—you know, the way they bug out like he’s 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. There’s always a dwarf.
GUY ONE: [Pause] Did you happen to notice if he was chewing gum?
GUY TWO: I don’t think he was.

Scene 32, Take 4
In my review, I’d include a mention of—
…of…ummm…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. It’s clean as white, waste-free in its watchworks pace. It’s a movie that celebrates movies—something we can all appreciate because, if we didn’t love films, we wouldn’t 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 I’m only kidding myself. I have delusions that people will call it Ebertic, Maslinian, Kaelesque; that I’ll be called up to a glittering stage to thunderous applause; that I’ll 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



Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD

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