2006Director: Tom DiCillo
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Alison Lohman, Michael Pitt
handsome boy sits up in his dumpster bed, in perfect sync with the happy music. He begins to roam New York City, walking directly towards the camera with the confident stride and overdone hair of a Teen People pinup. Lest we forget he is homeless, we also see a gritty side of life—vaulting over subway tolls, catching forty winks on a park bench, and borrowing a smoke from a friendly neighborhood beggar. The screen is always overwhelmed by hip (read: shaky) camerawork and loud colors; a footloose editor tries to disorient his audience with each new shot. This may be the story of a homeless man, but, after this opening scene, you’ll know exactly what sort of fashion-conscious movie to expect. You’ll be wrong, mostly.
As the cheerful montage ends, Toby (Michael Pitt, who also lived on the streets when beginning his career as an actor) happens upon a crowd of paparazzi. Led by Les, the loudest and meanest photographer of all (played by Steve Buscemi, need I provide more character detail?), they wait for a snapshot of superstarlet K’Harma Leeds (Alison Lohman). All of the groundwork for Delirious is laid out here: Toby bonds with Les and locks eyes with K’Harma. You can now probably divine the ending with a fair degree of accuracy.
A movie like Delirious, however, takes a wonderfully strange route from Point A to Point B. Sure, there are slipshod plot developments (like Les, a hardass New Yorker, inviting a homeless kid to live with him). The pat script too often fails Buscemi, forcing him to utter obvious lines, such as when he interrupts Toby to blurt, “Me, I’m more of a listener.” But Steve Buscemi’s mercurial performance always leads to unexpected places, and when he disappears for a while, Michael Pitt and Alison Lohman conjure up some bizarre subplots of their own. Think a “reality” TV show about a homeless serial-killer heartthrob: ideas that first seem hopelessly clichéd, then evolve into clever self-mockery (homeless pretty people in a soap opera?), and finally have us rooting for the heroes like a giddy schoolgirl.
Yes, Delirious is a clever satire of celebrities and the awestruck commoners who adore them, but don’t let that description fool you into nestling comfortably in your theater seat with a mean smile on your face. There are scenes where K’Harma throws temper tantrums about nothing while traipsing about in a bikini (her stomach hanging slightly over her waistline). But immediately afterwards, she’ll apologize sincerely. And she’s not some woman of untold depths forced into a superficial industry, either; she’s as dumb as a bunny. So is Toby. They’re stupid and beautiful, and they make Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater look as mature and subtle as the lovers in The Remains of the Day. But the script doesn’t hate them!
To its credit, the movie is much like Zoolander in this regard. It’s easy to make a satire with sharp teeth and a straight face, one that devours its characters without remorse. It’s a bit harder to make the audience hope for a happy ending, especially when the stars insist on walking in slow-motion, leaping on the roofs of cars as shiny bits of paper fall from the sky, and slow momentous drums pound—the ones usually reserved for the song bridges of those Disney musicals they used to make.
Despite a healthy amount of humanistic goo, Delirious retains its razor-sharp observations. Under the camera flashes, these people sound even worse than they do with the benefit of a fleshed-out script. In perfect lighting, they spit out unintelligent ramblings in clichés that instantly provoke our hatred. But then again, it’s not like the wisecracking outsiders do much better. These characters are generally annoying, inspiring pity and a moment of empathy before going back to being annoying. Near the end, the camera catches a close-up of a buzzing fly trapped in honey. The metaphor is just as heavy-handed as it sounds, but the movie is intelligent enough to cut the shot at the moment the fly frees itself. And in that cut, or a freeze-frame of Michael Pitt looking way iconic, Delirious convinces us that an inspirational moment may be more truthful than everyday life, no matter what absurdities one must first wade through.
Delirious is now playing in Europe, and will be released in the States on August 15th.