Monday, February 11, 2008

You Should Go See This

I saw a great movie over the weekend, one which I want to take this opportunity to recommend to every one of you: Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party. Tobolowsky is a name you might conceivably recognize, even if you don't remember why. He's been floating aroudn the periphery of Hollywood for over two decades, appearing as a character actor in a wide array of films and television shows. You undoubtedly would recognize his face, even if you never heard his name. He was in Groundhog Day and Mississippi Burning and Memento, as well as Heroes and Deadwood (although I have never seen the latter two). This is what he looks like:

See? Told you you'd recognize him.

Anyway, as you might have guessed, Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party is about exactly that. The film follows him around during the day as he makes preparations for the party, and later during the party itself. The reason why Mr. Tobolosky deserves to have a film devoted to his birthday party becomes abundantly clear very quickly: the man is a storyteller par excellence. This is not necessarily something you may have guessed from any of his numerous film roles, considering they're usually very small, but the man has an almost hypnotic ability to capture and hold an audience with the force of his personality. You don't really even notice the fact that the film consists solely of Tobolowsky talking - when the film is over you want him to keep talking. It's hard not to understand exactly why, among those who know him, the man has such a sterling reputation as a raconteur. That's not a word used very often these days but I think it certainly fits.

Are some of the stories too good to be true. Probably. But the rules of real-life partygoing apply here just as well: if the storyteller is worth his salt you don't really mind the occasional whopper. And the dogged earnestness with which Tobolowsky unfolds his yarns makes you want to believe them, in any event. It's not outside the realm of possibility that he actually has lived through all these amazing things - certainly not. The point being, the stories are so fun it doesn't really matter. (For my part, I don't think he's lying at any point in the movie, but there's probably a bit of exaggeration somewhere along the line. It has been routinely pointed out that my bullshit detector is poor-to-nonfunctional, anyway.)

This is a great movie, simple in conception but engrossing in execution. It's the kind of tiny, almost imperceptibly small movie that you can imagine easily overlooking if you didn't know to look for it. I read about it in a magazine over a year ago and was delighted when it finally became available on Netflix. It's perhaps the least flashy movie ever made, but all the same you don't want it to ever end. Thankfully, when it does end, there's a whole other movie's worth of fun stories appended in the extras. The ones that got cut seem a bit bawdier than the ones which didn't, but other than that there is no appreciable difference in quality whatsoever. All told there's three hours worth of stories on the DVD, and they're all worth savoring. This is a unique film, not really like anything I've ever seen before, but definitely worth the effort to track down.

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