TIFF 2012: IMOGENE Review

     September 11, 2012


Over the years, I’ve written at length at how far too many indie comedies mistake quirk for character.  Characters feel like people.  They have emotions, goals, fears, etc.  A character can have quirks, but they can’t be quirks.  Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini‘s Imogene is yet another example of an indie comedy that derives its comedy not from clever jokes, thoughtful set-ups and payoffs, or believable characters.  It attempts to get laughs from its miserable eponymous protagonist interacting with her goofy family of one-dimensional eccentrics.  As much as Imogene strives to coast on the wackiness of the characters, the best jokes in this shapeless comedy come from the little off-handed moments that slip through the tortured, hollow idiosyncrasies.

Imogene Duncan (Kristen Wiig) is a failed playwright whose remaining scrapes of self-esteem are held by her ex-boyfriend, Peter (Brian Petsos).  In a desperate attempt to win him back, she pretends to attempt suicide so he can rescue her.  Instead, she’s found by her obnoxious friend Dara (June Diane Raphael), sent to the hospital, and released into the 72-hour care of her estranged mother Zelda (Annette Bening).  Imogene grudgingly returns home to Ocean City, New Jersey where she sleeps in a blanket fort made by her sweet-but-slow brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald) because her old room has been rented out to the hunky Lee (Darren Criss).  The house is also home to the pseudonymous “George Boosh” (Matt Dillon), a self-proclaimed former CIA agent who is shacking up with Zelda.  Out of this madness, Imogene discovers her biological father didn’t die when she was nine, he’s an established author, and he can maybe help pull her life out of its rut.


The search for her father is technically Imogene’s goal, but there’s no urgency to it or really anything in her life.  She kind of wants to get back with Peter, but can’t think of any smart or audacious ways to do it, although she doesn’t realize that maybe he doesn’t want anything to do with someone who’s such a narcissistic, incompetent wreck.  Thankfully, Lee is along for the ride, and he develops a relationship with Imogene because that’s what the script says they do.  There’s no chemistry between Wiig and Criss, and even if there was, it would still be a forced relationship based solely on the fact that a handsome guy is bothering to flirt with a mess like Imogene.

And this is supposed to be the serious relationship in Imogene.  We’re supposed to be bowled over by Zelda’s harmless gambling addiction (she seems to be doing fairly well for someone who makes a living on games of chance), and Ralph building a human shell out of Kevlar and metal.  Ralph’s into crabs and he’s introverted, you see.  So he built a shell!  And it makes him like a hermit crab!  So crazy.  The Boosh stuff is another part of the crazy-milieu but at least Dillon plays it small.  One of the best jokes is when he comes into the house, and hangs a pair of nunchucks on the coat rack like it’s no big deal.  Quirk is always trying to call attention to itself, and it’s a bit of a relief to simply let the strangeness stand on its own.  Of course, after Boosh hangs up his nunchucks, he tells Imogene he’s been a samurai for twenty-five years, so we’re quickly back to overbearing zaniness.


If Imogene weren’t so focused on hacky weirdness, it might have developed a sensible story, but the movie exists simply as a vehicle for whatever outlandish idea screenwriter Michelle Morgan could muster.  Zelda told Imogene and Ralph that their father was dead, and Imogene has believed this since she was nine.  Except there’s no mention of a funeral, and how Imogene would be so lazy to never find out about the details of her father’s death, his side of the family, etc.  Even when she discovers he’s alive, there’s no rush to find him.  It’s a casual hunt along with trying to win back Peter, and finding a place to live after she’s evicted from her apartment.  It’s a good thing she can fall back in the hunky arms of Lee, a Yale alumni who majored in singing and French history, and now works on the boardwalk as a Backstreet Boy impersonator.  That description of Lee says everything you need to know about Imogene.

Rating: D-

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