Sympathy for Delicious

19 May

Title: Sympathy for Delicious
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Mark Ruffalo
Writer: Christopher Thornton
Starring: 
Christopher Thornton, Mark Ruffalo, Juliette Lewis, Laura Linney, Orlando Bloom, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Emmerich
MPAA Rating: 
Not rated
Runtime: 
96 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 
30%

I was greatly looking forward to Sympathy for Delicious, the directing debut from Mark Ruffalo. And that’s because Mr. Ruffalo not only is one of the most consistent actors working today, as can be attested by his Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s sublime The Kids Are All Right (which I ranked as my 2nd favorite male supporting performance of 2010, behind just Christian Bale’s Oscar-winning turn in The Fighter), or by the ones he gave in You Can Count on Me, Shutter Island or Zodiac, to name a few. But I wasn’t just looking forward to see what he’d do as director only because of how amazing he’s as an actor himself, which considering the wide array emotions he’s so perfectly portrayed would have you think he’d be great at getting similar results from people under his direction.

No, that wasn’t the only reason why I was interested to see him take on directing duties, a lot also had to do with the fact that the guy has worked under such amazing directors that you just know a man as smart as Mr. Ruffalo has been learning a lot along the way. Just take a look at this man’s resumé and you’ll quickly realize this guy has been surrounding himself with the best directors: Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Michael Mann… the man has worked for the very best, and some of that was bound to pay off.

And so I saw Sympathy for Delicious with high hopes. The movie was written by Christopher Thornton, Mr. Ruffalo’s longtime friend, who also stars as “Delicious” Dean O’Dwyer, an up-and-coming DJ in the L.A. underground music scene who is left paralyzed after a bad motorcycle accident. A story that’s close to him, as he also had a promising career, but at 25 he had a climbing accident and was left paralyzed from the waist down himself, forced to live in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Mr. Thornton didn’t give up, obviously, as he went back into acting in theatre a small time after this accident, and now here he is, in front of the camera for Mark Ruffalo, and acting alongside him and people like Laura Linney and Juliette Lewis.

And giving up is something Sympathy for Delicious explores, as Dean quickly starts getting depressed about his situation, ready to give up on life. But then he meets this young priest, which would be the character Mr. Ruffalo plays, who’s an advocate for faith-based healing, and tries to convince Dean that this might be the way to get him to walk again. And so Dean starts experimenting with healing, and he actually somehow has this supernatural power that allows him to heal… everyone but himself. So that begins this new stage of the film in which Dean, against father Joe’s advice, starts using his ability to get famous and get money, and actually joins a rock band and gains notoriety. But that just doesn’t fix anything, so we have to go on this spiritual journey with him, and realize what’s to be done for Dean to come to terms with his tragedy.

But even though I think I appreciated certain bits of Sympathy for Delicious, this film as a whole just didn’t do it for me. Which sucks because I really wanted Mr. Ruffalo to proof he can be awesome at directing as well, but I honestly didn’t get this film, no matter how much I wanted to. It’s not because the story was sort of unusual, it’s just that I don’t think I ever really got what Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Thornton were trying to say with it. There were times in which it seemed as though they were being a satire of religious views like the ones proposed here, then there were times in which it seemed as though they were focusing on criticizing what may happen due to an excess of fame and exposure, and I just lost track of its intentions.

So there you have it, that’s why I didn’t get Sympathy for Delicious, I felt it lacked a clear point of focus. This is a film that Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Thornton have being trying to get made for the past decade, and it’s obviously one they both hold very near to their hearts, but I just felt it was lacking, especially during the middle when it just feels all over the place for too long. But this is not to say that Sympathy for Delicious doesn’t have its moments, because it does. When it regains some of its focus it gets to shine a light on the chemistry that Mr. Ruffalo and Mr. Thornton have which can translate beautifully on-screen at times, not to mention that there are a couple of truly brilliant scenes between Mr. Ruffalo and the impeccable Ms. Linney, who, if you’ve seen You Can Count on Me (and if you haven’t then get on it now), you know can be dynamite together.

The thing is that for those really good scenes, those that focussed just on the drama between Dean and father Joe, there are many scenes that don’t do anything for us at all. The faith-haeling stuff is very exaggerated, and more so is the stuff that goes on in the rock band, and I think that was done as an effort to satirize those things, but it just doesn’t do that very well. The part with the rock band especially, with Orlando Bloom’s and Juliette Lewis’ characters, those don’t work for a second, falling into unfortunate clichés that take away from the main drama of the story.

And that’s why I won’t give Sympathy for Delicious a very good grade, because I felt it missed its target, if it even had one to begin with. But that’s not to say this was a bad debut directorial effort from Mr. Ruffalo, not at all, I thought this had some very good moments thanks to him, especially with how he managed Mr. Thornton’s performance. I mean, the performance really is monotone, and only goes in one direction, but because Mr. Thornton under Mr. Ruffalo’s direction can connect so deeply to it on a personal level it also has this raw feel to it that feels very intense and adds to the character. In the end, Sympathy for Delicious may have been too unfocused to be great, but I’m ready to welcome the opportunity of seeing Mr. Ruffalo back in the director’s chair.

Grade: C+

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