Untitled (Jonathan Parker, 2009)
I remember seeing trailers for this back before it originally came out, and seeing some critical buzz attached to it, but then never actually got round to seeing it until Netflix told me it was going to pop off my queue at midnight if I didn’t sit down and actually watch it. Part of the problem was that nothing I heard about the movie back then really excited me; it just seemed like yet another indie rom-com. Ten minutes into the movie, I realized I had been misled. Untitled is, in fact, an indie rom-com, but there is nothing at all “yet” about it. I will say that as someone who’s been immersed in this world for fifteen years as a participant, and decades longer as a fan, I probably found it a whole lot funnier than many people will, but that’s no reason not to see it.
Adrian Jacobs (The Salton Sea‘s Adam Goldberg) is a classically-trained pianist who, along with the other members of his ensemble (played by Hitch‘s Ptolemy Slocum and Hot Fuzz‘ Lucy Punch), creates dissonant, inaccessible sound pieces during performances attended by almost no one. Madeleine (Pleasantville‘s Marley Shelton) is a Soho gallery owner who caters to the whims of ultra-rich art collector Porter Canby (Vicky Cristina Barcelona‘s Zak Orth) while trying to woo London-based artist Ray Barko (The Midnight Meat Train‘s Vinnie Jones) into signing an exclusive contract with her. The two come into contact when Madeleine, who is dating Adrian’s brother Josh (Fight Club‘s Eion Bailey) as the film opens, attends on of his performances. She invites his ensemble to perform at a Ray Barko opening at her gallery, where Porter Canby hears them—and commissions a piece for $25,000, which may be more than Adrian has made in his entire career. Incidentally, the two of them fall in love, while trying to keep that a secret from Josh.
Why did I find this movie hilarious? Because I know these people, every one of them, most of them intimately. This despite the obvious influences (Adrian is based on Morton Feldman, and Parker—who also co-wrote the script—adds a delightful bit of meta by having Adrian attend a performance in celebration of “Morton Cabot”’s 90th birthday, and ends up sitting next to Cabot himself [played by Jagged Edge‘s Ben Hammer], who offers Adrian some sage advice at a critical time in his life; Ray Barko is, equally obviously, a caricature of Damien Hirst); in fact, were Parker based in Cleveland, there’s one scene featuring Ptolemy Slocum’s
character where I’d have bet money Parker actually based him on… me. (For trivia purposes: when he’s practicing for the Canby piece, kicking the bucket over… and over… and over…) Parker gets it, and he’s savvy enough to poke fun at modern art and the scene surrounding it without ever disclosing whether he’s laughing at his characters or with them, not that most of these humorless fools have much of a sense of humor. A lot of people commenting on the IMDB boards about the movie are convinced Parker is simply lampooning the scene, but he’s depicted it too well to just be someone on the outside looking in. (Catch a few news stories about your favorite “fringe” scene, and compare them to the job Parker does here, and you’ll see what I mean.)
This is a fun, fun movie, and I recommend it highly. ****