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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Monday movie news: Sundance redux; the Oscar noms are coming, but the Razzies are already here…and more.

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*  Since I wasn’t there, there’s not much I personally can say about Robert Redford’s annual mega-event. Fortunately, lots of others were and their thoughts are worth taking a look at, starting with Manohla Dargis, chief film critic of the New York Times who finds plenty to recommend in this year’s entries. She also considers a DIY digital new New Wave.

Another good summary of the Sundance fest comes from Indiewire’s Eric Kohn while David Hudson rounds up more reaction. Meanwhile, Mike Fleming takes a look from a more dollars-and-cents perspective and finds no huge “indie bloodbath” at this festival, and a comment points me towards the second Dargis piece linked to above.

* Yesterday, I wrote that the winner of the DGA award for Best Documentary got a “boost,” in its Oscar chances. I qualified that statement a bit, but probably not enough. A.J. Schnack notes that, if one award can be said to predict another award, the DGA victory yesterday for “The Cove” actually might make it less likely to win the Oscar. Weird but, I think, true. Historically, the folks in the documentary side of the Academy seem to like to give the nod to films that have been relatively ignored. Of course, “ignored” and “good” are not the same thing.

* They’ll be announcing the Oscar nominations far earlier than I’m prepared to get up tomorrow morning, according to tradition just after 5:30 a.m. PST, just to make all you east coasters happy by 9 a.m. Of course, I’ll get to that tomorrow. In the meantime, Steve Pond of the L.A. Times has predictions for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing, and — far more entertainingly — you can get an early taste of the inevitable complaints about unfair snubbings from an ahead of the curve Dustin Rowles.

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* Speaking of being just a bit ahead of things, the Razzies, dishonoring the lamest in Hollywood films, have made their nominations known and, as MTV’s Terri Schwartz points out, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” has the opportunity to get some payback from critical and other detractors for all those fan-based awards it nabbed. In a somewhat older demo, Tom O’Neil of The Envelope points out that Sandra Bullock has a decent shot at winning both a Razzie and an Oscar in the lead actress categories. That would be a first time achievement, for lack of a better word.

* Anne Thompson writes that a biopic about the great George Gershwin starring could be the next Steven Spielberg directorial effort and that nouveau Spock Zachary Quinto could possibly be its star. Speaking of Gershwin, the movie inspired by his music and named after one of his best known suites, “An American in Paris,” is the second film covered in “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Bullz-Eye’s salute to films based in Paris which, of course, I had very little to do with.

* Speaking of matters Parisian AICN’s Capone talks with Pierre Morel, director of the upcoming “From Paris with Love” and, it looks like, the new version of “Dune.” Whatever else is true, the guy is a fan and that’s a good thing.

* “Avatar” did even better than thought yesterday, earning over $31 morning and breaking the all-time cash record for seventh weekends. It also broke $2 billion worldwide. <Yawn.>

  

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