SXSW 2011: Girl Walks Into a Bar

Sebastian Gutierrez’s new comedy, “Girl Walks Into a Bar,” may not be the third installment in the director’s much-talked about “Women” trilogy, but it very well could be considering the talent involved. Instead, it’s an entirely separate movie with a twist of its own – the first major motion picture produced exclusively for the web. It’s an interesting experiment that could revolutionize the way that independent cinema is distributed in the future, especially for those not fortunate enough to live in a major city. But while the movie makes good on its promise of delivering big stars and high-level production values, “Girl Walks Into a Bar” is Gutierrez’s weakest film to date – a movie that most people will probably only watch because it’s free.

The film begins, fittingly enough, with a girl walking into a bar. The woman in question is undercover private detective Francine (Carla Gugino), who’s there to meet with a nervous dentist named Nick (Zachary Quinto) under the pretense that she’s an assassin hired to kill his cheating wife, completely unaware that Francine is recording the entire conversation. But when she loses the evidence after a modish pickpocket (Aaron Tveit) makes off with her purse, Francine sets off a chain of events that connects a seemingly unrelated group of people, including an exotic dancer (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a retired criminal (Robert Forster), and a sex-starved student (Rosario Dawson) working part-time at a nudist ping pong club.

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It’s essentially just a series of vignettes that take place in different bars and clubs throughout Los Angeles, with Gutierrez relying on the relationships between his characters to form the connective tissue of the story. He’s used a similar structure before in films like “Women in Trouble” and “Elektra Luxx,” but with “Girl Walks Into a Bar,” the breaks in between each section feel less like a transition than an opportunity for advertisers to plug their product. Granted, the movie wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for these advertisers, but if the viewing experience is marred as a result of forced commercial breaks, then what’s the point of changing the system?

Gutierrez’s obsession with exploring the psyches of his characters via theatrical fantasy sequences also messes with the flow of the film. They look great in comparison to the static two shots that populate most of the movie (especially one featuring Chriqui as a stripper with a unique insight into the minds of men), but they’re a distraction at best. “Girl Walks Into a Bar” is much better off when it just lets its characters talk, because as Gutierrez’s sharp-witted script proves once again, he’s a far superior writer than a director. It’s no wonder he’s able to assemble such talented ensemble casts, because his dialogue is outstanding, and it makes the performances feel really natural. Unfortunately, it takes more than just great dialogue to make a good movie, and though “Girl Walks Into a Bar” isn’t bad for a film being offered for free, filmmakers will need to adopt a much better attitude than that if online distribution is going to succeed.

  

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