Most of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s films were depressing before he died, and now, the thought of watching the majority of them makes me start to feel sad all over again. I feel foolish being this upset about someone I never met, but his face is so familiar, and so often full of pathos throughout his impressive but decidedly downbeat repertoire. A night or, God forbid, weekend binging on his movies is a sad plan indeed.
His character is pathetic in “Boogie Nights” and “Happiness.” He’s got verve in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” which I love, but he doesn’t survive the film. “Capote,” for which he won his Oscar, is basically devastating, but I have to say the most painful of his films to watch is his 2010 directorial debut, “Jack Goes Boating.”
Hoffman stars as Jack, an awkward and shy limo driver whose best friend sets him up on a date with Amy Ryan, a wonderful actress equally adept at making us feel bad. Things are going well, and Hoffman obsesses over perfecting a meal he plans on cooking for Ryan and his best friend and his wife. And the meal goes off without a hitch and everything ends happily. NOT.
Now, I would feel even worse when the couples decide to partake of some drugs before the overwhelmingly important dinner, and when the situation deteriorates rapidly, and the food basically catches fire, and Hoffman freaks out completely, in a scene full of the heavy drama which he did so well and which has now been upgraded from almost to totally unbearable to witness.
He made a painfully sad movie right here in Mobile in 2007, “Love, Liza,” in which a sad man copes with his girlfriend’s suicide by huffing gasoline. And what about “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” a joyride in which he and Ethan Hawke accidentally kill their own mother when they decide to rob their family business.
But let’s focus on the bright spots; there are a few of his films I can bring myself to watch right now. Of course, he has a medium-sized but completely memorable role as Brandt in “The Big Lebowski.” Sure, he’s a nerdy sycophant who is rather shamefully informed by Bunny, of her offered favor to The Dude, “Brandt can’t watch though, or he has to pay a hundred,” but at least you won’t fall down weeping when you watch it.
Also, he has great part in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” He actually gets to be competent and strong, and his character is instrumental, through his intelligence and strength of character, in accomplishing the film’s goals. So that one’s safe.
But there is one of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s films that I dearly love, and in which he actually portrays what could plausibly be described as a romantic lead, and I recommend it unreservedly. The David Mamet ensemble “State and Main,” is amusing, witty and delightful, and Hoffman mercifully plays an intelligent young playwright whose first screenplay is being filmed in Vermont. The various interwoven trials, tribulations and behind-the-scene antics comprise the film’s plot.
Hoffman quickly falls for an honest, intelligent local woman who owns a bookstore, and the pair are the only moral characters to be found. He doesn’t even drink, and when the hilariously vapid Sarah Jessica Parker throws herself at him, he resists. His character is glum, but gallant and charming, something he didn’t get to be very often. This might be the only of his films I can bear to watch for a while.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
Style trumps substance in Roman Copolla’s assured but slight comedy, “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” in which Charlie Sheen plays a character that most of us associate with the actual Charlie Sheen, an outlandish egomaniac who has a meltdown.
This highly stylized retro romp portrays a successful graphic designer living large until his gorgeous young girlfriend dumps him. Stuck in the hospital after a minor car accident, he considers his problems through a series of surrealistic dream sequences, starring his friends Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman.
I would be hard pressed to take this movie seriously, and any stray attempt at soul searching falls entirely flat, but as an excuse for another Coppola to make stuff look cool, this movie succeeds. At a breezy 84 minutes, this is basically a glossy exercise in grooviness, but it ends on a high note — with a delightful puppet sequence. It is a fitting end to a nonsensical but amusing trifle.