Sunday, May 4, 2014

Joe

"Oh, Nicolas Cage, don't you go all Nicolas Cage on us!"
"I won't."
"Nicolas Cage, are you going all nanners on us?"
"I'm not. I'm fine."
[violence and bloodshed ensues]
"Nicolas Cage, you went all nanners on us!"

That's my (poor) impression of The Boy upon learning about Joe, the new film from David Gordon Green (most normally associated with comedies, like Pineapple Express and The Sitter).

Of course, the Boy does Cage's voice as well (even if it does sound a little like his Nixon).

However, whether you get "Stoic Nic Cage" and "Nanners Nic Cage", you know he's not going to mail in his performance. If the general public finds his choices of movie roles confounding, I think he says to himself things like: "How would a guy whose head explodes into flames react to this?"

In other words, he likes a challenge.

Nonetheless, he has an essential Cage-iness, and if you don't like him, you're not going to like Joe. If you do like him, or you only like him in his less absurd roles, on the other hand, this may be the movie for you.

Similar in some ways to last year's Mud, in terms of number of syllables in the title among other things, Joe is the story of young Gary (also the lead in Mud) who's out looking for work to support his family. But where Ellis' family was essentially middle class, if on hard times, Gary's family is essentially homeless, having squatted in an abandon house outside of town.

And whereas women were the source of all of Ellis' problems, Gary's problem is his abusive drunk of a father, whose main competency appears to beating him, his catatonic mother and his autistic-ish sister.

Gary's a decent sort, who gets a hard manual labor job with Joe killing trees. This was really kind of interesting, like an episode of "Dirty Jobs": These guys chop a gash out of a tree then pump the gash full of some kind of deadly cocktail. (They do this to clear out unwanted trees so that the landowner can plant wanted ones. It's, like, a metaphor.)

Gary's a good worker and Joe likes him. Joe instantly apprehends the situation with drunk, abusive father as well, but Joe keeps his nose out of things. Mostly.

Joe's got a lot of problems himself; he seems to be kept afloat by sheer work ethic and above-average intelligence. But he's got a rivalry with a local ne'er-do-well that's escalating. And with the cops. And with the dog at the local whorehouse.

Yeah, that was one thing that didn't strike me as realistic about this: This is some kind of one-horse town outside of Austin but the hookers were really good looking.

Anyway.

This movie is powered by several effective sources of dramatic tension: Gary is clearly the sort of kid who will do well, if not stopped by his father, but apart from getting drunk, his father's sole purpose in life seems to be to grind everyone else down, and the big question is will Gary find an out (for his sister and mother as well) before Dad hits rock-bottom and drags them with him.

Meanwhile, Joe has an oddly similar relationship with society in general: He could do very well if left alone, but society is constantly poking at him, challenging him, daring him to just try to make something of himself. Is he going to go Nanners Nic Cage? Or will he stay Stoic Nic Cage?

It's a very good film, really, and Mr. Cage is very good in it. Tye Sheridan continues to impress. And the rest of the cast, which is largely little known extras, also does a convincing job.

The Boy liked it a great deal, preferring it even to Mud due largely to the wide variety of colorful characters. I come down more on the side of Mud but I find no serious fault with this film.

Here's to hoping director Green continues on this path in the future.

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