Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Business of Fancydancing

For some reason, I suspect Sherman Alexie didn't see himself making many movies. This is possibly correct, since The Business of Fancydancing is his only film. I say this because it plays like Alexie had to say as many things as he could, filling the film with daisy chains of ideas and commentary.

The film is about Seymour (Evan Adams), a celebrity poet and public speaker, who is also aboriginal, and also gay. It's about his struggles to be himself, his cultural identity, his sexual identity, his struggles with his past, his discomfort with the reserve. Back on the reserve is Aristotle (Gene Tagaban), who had potential but is done in by substance abuse, and Mouse (Swil Kanim) who is really good at fiddling but killed by substance abuse. So it's about their struggles too, the problem of reserve life, their identity...

That's a lot of ideas for 106 minutes. Plus there are moments of traditional dance and heavy use of rather good music. So it could be argued that the film is overstuffed.

Which isn't to say it's bad, of course. Alexie has a lot to say, and he tries a number of different experiments in order to say it. The film, in spite of it's clearly minuscule budget - a wild bar is very obviously a high school gymnasium, and all the trick lighting and hints towards the abstract cannot hide this - dabbles in different styles and different ways of storytelling. Yes, this is another symptom of Alexie wanting to get every idea he can compressed into one film, but it helps the end result immensely, bringing to life what amounts to a very internal journey for the characters.

There's a glimmer of brilliance in there, but at the end I hoped that Alexie would just settle down. He has some talent, and he can coax some effective performances out of his actors. He's also got a great deal of things to say, he just stumbles over himself trying to say them all at once. Many brief vignettes and passages rushed through could be the basis for an entire other film, and the struggles with identity can be explored in a much more thorough manner apart from the other stuff that happens.

I found that just saying everything, all at once, diminished the power of the many individual statements made throughout. In his struggle to say everything he wanted, it seems as though Alexie couldn't quite form coherent sentences about the rest of it. Too bad, it is, after all, a mostly good movie.

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