Good Dick



Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- Filmmakers never seem to get tired of portraying the push and pull between the sexes and what drives people to enter into a relationship. With "Good Dick," first time director-writer Marianna Palka takes it a step further in examining a damaged woman, played by herself, who wants to bond but resists it with every fiber of her being. Alternately compelling and dramatically limp, the film scores points for exploring unfamiliar territory but lacks the emotional depth to make some very strange behavior believable. Still, subject matter could make this a provocative date movie with the right handling.

If Freud asked what women want, the answer here is they want to be left alone. At least the girl (never identified by name) wants that at the beginning. Skittish and glaring, she seems to go out of her house only to rent porn movies (much of the film is shot at Cinefile in West Los Angeles) and then returns home to enjoy herself. When puppy-dog video clerk Jason Ritter shows an interest in her, she could care less, at least outwardly.

But this is one persistent dude and he tracks her to her apartment and gradually insinuates himself into her life, but not in any conventional way. Eventually they watch the films together, but no sex; they sleep in the same bed, but no sex. And when she touches him at all, it's usually to push him around, physically and emotionally.

What he sees in her beyond her beauty and the excitement of a woman who enjoys porn is a mystery. Attraction is often hard to explain but given how he's treated, it's disturbing to watch this guy hang around and get nothing in return. Palka tells us little about him: he's Polish, talks to his mother on the phone every week and may be recovering from a drug problem. And, oh, yes, he sleeps in his car. Clearly he's as damaged in his own way as the girl.

Obviously, something is lurking in her background and as she repeatedly looks at pictures of herself as a naked, happy child on her computer screen, she is perhaps wondering where that happiness went. And so are we. Her anger at men is palpable, but is this a feminist fable about empowerment, a microcosm of all intimate relationships, or a hostile woman's tirade against men? At times it's all these things, but it seems unclear where Palka wants to hold her focus.

Eventually when the mystery is solved it's all kind of predictable and schematic with no great insights. Her confrontation with her wealthy businessman father (Tom Arnold) should be crackling with energy, since this is the crux of the whole movie, but instead it seems anticlimactic. She tells him off, returns the keys to car he brought her and moves out of the condo he got her. Characters in movies often seem able to purge themselves so much easier than they can in real life. So when she goes to the video store for the first time to get the guy back, we can only wonder where she filed all her rage.

Ritter gives a game performance in the face of all this humiliation and Palka literally keeps a stiff upper lip. In a nice twist, Ritter's buddies at the video store, Eric Edlestein, Mark Weber and Martin Starr, are not your usual macho guys but have a sensitive side and even debate the exact whereabouts of an important part of the female anatomy.

Production shows the strains of a low budget and tight shooting schedule, but lensing by Andre Lascaris on Sony HD Cam gets the job done. Plaintive guitar track by Andrew Trosman is effective but a bit overused.

Morning Night and Present Pictures presentation
Director/writer: Marianna Palka
Producers: Mariana Palka, Jason Ritter
Director of photography: Andre Lascaris
Production designer: Andrew Trosman
Music: Jared Nelson Smith
Costume designer: Daphne Javitch
Editor: Christopher Kroll
Girl: Marianna Palka
Guy: Jason Ritter
Eric: Eric Edlestein
Derek: Mark Webber
Simon: Martin Starr
Dad: Tom Arnold
Charlie: Charles Durning
Running time -- 85 minutes
No MPAA rating