The long-in-development directorial debut of Mark “the Fourth Avenger” Ruffalo, Sympathy For Delicious tells the story of a gifted DJ who’s fallen on hard times in the wake of an accident that’s left him confined to a wheelchair. Living out of his car, relying on the charity of a do-gooding priest (Ruffalo), things are pretty bleak for Delicious D (that’s his name!) until he finds that he has the power to heal the sick with a laying on of hands—a power that cannot be applied to his own devastating malady. Further embittered by this cruel twist of fate, D nonetheless offers his healing hands to the downtrodden masses of the streets, but it isn’t long before an opportunistic indie rock band offers him a second shot at stardom if he’ll exploit his gift on-stage for a lucrative music/evangelism fest called Healapalooza. But does his salvation lie in the soulless glow of the limelight or back in the squalor of skid row?
Writer-star Christopher Thornton gets points for a divertingly quirky set-up and for treading into some intriguing conceptual territory. Unfortunately, we’ll have to dock more than a few for the flick’s overriding incoherence and the insurmountable fact that, in the end, Delicious D just ain’t all that sympathetic. Hit the jump for the full review.
A few other positives worth mentioning: Ruffalo, with cinematographer Chris Knorr, shows a confident hand in establishing his setting; shaky landscape shots (complete with melancholic Friday Night Lights-ish guitar plucking) and frames bathed in street-lamp orange and early morning indigo render a cityscape that’s equal parts enticing and isolating. Aside from some heavy-handed religious imagery and unnecessary wouldn’t-it-be-neat camera angles, Sympathy is nice to look at.
In front of the camera, Ruffalo is his usual quietly engaging self, perfectly credible and sympathetic as the well-meaning priest, struggling with the morality of exploiting D’s gifts for “charitable donations”. He’s backed up by an equally charismatic Juliette Lewis (Whip It!), playing a drugged out guitarist who gets D involved with Orlando Bloom’s slimy, self-serving frontman. Ruffalo pal Laura Linney (The Big C) has a one-note role as the band’s bloodsucking manager, but she has fun breaking bad.
It’s a talented bunch, with Lewis and Ruffalo as the standouts. Unfortunately, you’re forced to appreciate their contributions in spite of an interminably muddled film that doesn’t really amount to much.
Despite seemingly fertile territory for intriguing moral and theological probing, exactly what the filmmakers are trying to express alternates between obvious and incoherent. The film never manages to clearly articulate anything more complex or revelatory than “exploiting such a miraculous gift for personal gain is wrong”, an assertion that isn’t enough to hold our interest for the 1 hr 36 min run time. On the whole, the core discussion just feels unfocused and undercooked. Hence the muddling.
Indeed, the plot doesn’t advance so much as it paces erratically back and forth, stalling on dour but disaffecting sequences that ponder (seldom comprehensibly) the implications of D’s new lot in life, at the same time laboring to establish a connection with the character that never really materializes.
In large part, this is a result of Thornton’s performance. Simply put, I needed a reason to invest in this guy and I didn’t get one. He does create a convincing misanthrope, but one that ends up alienating the viewer instead of engaging. Of course, the character didn’t need to be charming; but something about Delicious D did need to be engaging, and too much of the time he just comes off as obnoxious. That’s a problem when you’re asking us to spend an hour and a half with him.
The end result is an oddly disaffecting experience. The saving graces— quirky energy, effective cinematography, strong supporting performances—are tantamount to a nice paint job on a rudderless ship. There might be enough viscerally interesting stuff going on to keep your eyes from drifting toward the clock, but at the end of it all, after D’s completed his journey from bitterness to enlightenment, you don’t feel like you were along for the ride.