Tuesday, May 11, 2010


As the season of blockbuster bombast looms it's nice to point out smaller overlooked films like this which just dropped on DVD:

HOW I GOT LOST (Dir. Joe Leonard, 2009)

When first introduced to the protagonists of this award winning indie film, I feared that this would be another good stable friend/bad manipulative friend road trip morality tale; but while it, well, kind of is, it's got much more of a soul than a cynical capsule breakdown like that would suggest.

Starting off in New York City in the days just following 9/11, Joe Leonard's feature length film debut concerns 2 friends - Jacob Fischel and Aaron Stanford. Fischel is an aspiring writer dealing with a painful breakup of a relationship that began "the day after the world ended."

Fishel explains: "Like planes going into buildings were just an excuse for us to find each other. I know how that sounds, but that's how it felt." Stanford (best known as Pyro in the X-MEN movies) is a hard drinking Wall Street banker who didn't become the business mogul he dreamed of being. 

After getting a mysterious phone call Stanford impulsively persuades Fischel to get out of town and hit the road with him. They hire a cab to Philadelphia so they can borrow Fischel's mother's station wagon and go from there, well, not far from there as they quickly run out of gas. 

On the road out in the middle of nowhere leaning up against the car in the light of the dawning sun, Stanford reveals the real reason for the trip: his father died and he doesn't want to go to the funeral alone. At the funeral Fischel's got his friend's back, but Stanford has a bit of a freak-out yelling about his disconnection with his father at the other attendees. 

With a tired shrug, Stanford leaves Fischel to handle his affairs and returns to New York. A sympathetic diner waitress played by Rosemarie DeWitt (RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, Mad Men) provides Fischel with some comfort. This is some plotting that could have been cringe worthy, but is measured and moving - there is tangible chemistry between Fischel and DeWitt and Leonard makes good use of it. Though the characters are directionless, the film never feels so.

Fischel's voice over narration, coming from the book or whatever he's typing out in his apartment in the last third of the film, comes close to the edge of pretension, but never falls over and lands there. The score by Georgian singer songwriter Kaki King also successfully skirts around overly melodramatic methods.

Despite some inevitable heavy handedness, especially when dealing with a post 9/11 mindset, HOW I GOT LOST is an earnest and poetic work, grounded in realism, and beautifully filtered through the fear we all felt nearly a decade ago. We all got a bit lost as priorities were redefined or destroyed and our communal spirit desperately needed to be re-sparked. 

The film's conclusion revolves around the Northwestern blackout of 2003, utilizing real footage shot on the NY streets during the outage. It's a fitting bookend to see the city come together via bonfires and other makeshift celebrations, while Fischel finally fixates on what he really has and what has really been lost. 

More later...


Anonymous said...

Does the movie get the location of the Baseball Hall of Fame wrong, or was that your mistake?

Daniel Cook Johnson said...

It was me that got the location wrong. Thanks for the heads up - I edited the piece accordingly.