Thursday, October 29, 2009

Re: Justin Rice

Justin Rice is a pretty funny guy, a damn good comic actor. Ok, how do you make a Justin Rice movie? After all, there are a lot of them around now, some better than others. Harmony and Me, for instance, is a trifle. It’s not refined or crass, simple or complex – it's all in-between. The jokes last only until the next cut; after that, we’ve forgotten them even more than the film has. A bit like watching a good, but not terribly interesting, stand-up. You’ll laugh, but the best you’ll be able to say is “it was funny.” And it is often funny, and usually it's funny because of Rice.

The best that can be said about Bob Byington’s direction is that he understands how Rice works. The key principle: Rice is funniest when he doesn't look people in the face. Yes, he's an interrupter, but the interruption has the best effect when he's cutting himself off mid-sentence instead of another actor, and yes, he can get his tongue twisted in a bit of social acrobatics, but it’s best if the only one trying to wriggle their way out of a situation is him. He's got a comic inattentiveness combined with a completely misplaced focus. Part of it might be the way he sometimes seems to open his eyes wider than anyone ever should, and that he doesn't blink enough. His is a talky comedy – even his body movements are funny only in how they relate to the movements of his lips, tongue and vocal chords. But, at the same time, the voice needs the body, those slow movements of the arms and legs. Maybe that's why his narration in Harmony and Me isn't funny at all, but almost grating: without Rice, his voice is nothing. He is comic as a whole. As just a picture, or just that ramble (secure with his sense of things, insecure of his place in the world), he just wafts by. But put the two together, and he’s something very concrete, a type you didn’t realize existed until the screen pointed him out to you.