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August 22, 2014

The Vicious Kind

by Franz Patrick


Vicious Kind, The (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Caleb (Adam Scott) just picked up his younger brother, Peter (Alex Frost), from college to take him home for Thanksgiving weekend. When the siblings stop at a diner for breakfast, Caleb goes on a tirade about how predatory and wanton all women are, including their own mother, and Peter had better watch out since he has gotten himself a new girlfriend, Emma (Brittany Snow). Initially, Caleb is passive-aggressive toward Emma because she reminds him of a girlfriend who cheated on him. But as the two keep crossing paths all over the small town, Caleb starts to feel a gnawing attraction toward her.

“The Vicious Kind,” written and directed by Lee Toland Krieger, is like an inconsolable child. You want to know what makes the characters so unhappy but the material is so willful in creating a brooding mood, everyone ends up being as boring as a plank and the picture goes on as the day is long. It seems like just about every scene is ripe for an argument and silence, especially when a line is crossed and the atmosphere turns very awkward, is never an option.

I got the impression that the only way that writer-director feels he is able to salvage a desultory storytelling is too keep everybody talking even if what is being said is nonsensical or forced. If you were in a car and a stubborn person said something offensive but you did not feel like arguing, do you continue to try to change that person’s mind? I know I wouldn’t. I would keep certain things to myself until perhaps later when the same or a similar issue comes up and I had energy to spare.

The sky looking dark and the surroundings looking wet all the time fail to translate into something substantial if human behavior is not embedded in realism. This is ironic because Emma majors in psychology. One would think that she could offer us some sort of insight as to why the people she spent Thanksgiving with behaved the way they did.

In any case, the relationships among the key players are vague because the execution of the screenplay lacks wit and control. We are not given enough reasons why Emma, a beautiful girl with a punk-rock style, would ever date someone like Peter. Peter is relatively quiet, enjoys pleasing his father (J.K. Simmons), and finds certain lines of conversations that a lot of people are likely to find within the realm of normality as taboo. What is her romantic history? Does Peter fit her type of guy? If she does not have a type, what is so special about him? Does she feel blasé about the relationship?

That last question is particularly interesting to me because Emma admits that she does not want to be home during Thanksgiving because her parents are drunks. Perhaps Caleb is right about Peter having to watch his back for going out with this girl. Also, I wanted to know more about Peter, but his proclamations of love toward his girlfriend are so saccharine and repetitive, it is like Script Writing 101.

And then there is Caleb, the self-proclaimed misogynist. I found Scott to be out of his depth because there is a lack of believability whenever he shifts from angry to tender. Instead of painting Caleb as a conflicted character, the person he plays comes off as a jerk who deserves to end up alone. I felt no sympathy for him.

When the material forces the audiences to accept him, I was offended because it feels like my intelligence is being attacked. None of its big emotions are earned even if the mawkish soundtrack is played full blast.

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