If you're going to make a film about two people falling in love, having two likable lead actors is an excellent place to start. For director Matt Aselton's first-time effort, Paul Dano and Zooey Deschanel fit the bill just fine. Alas, Gigantic isn't on par with their on-screen charms, letting down them -- and us.
There's certainly enough promise on hand -- quirky characters, quiet pacing, quick and unforced wit -- but it appears Aselton would rather go for disaffected style than narrative substance. And that unfortunately cheats some fine performances and, at its core, some wonderful larger ideas. Article continues below
It all starts with Brian (Dano, thrilling in There Will Be Blood), a subdued specialty mattress salesman who's dreamed his entire life of adopting a Chinese baby. But adoption applications from single, 28-year-old guys don't usually float to the top of the pile.
Enter Happy (Deschanel), a curious mix of shyness and decisiveness who falls asleep on one of Brian's mattresses... and then falls for Brian. As their relationship slowly blossoms, unfortunate attempts at spare, indie dialogue fly. And it soon becomes clear that Aselton and co-writer Adam Nagata are using the adoption idea solely as a plot device, rather than an honest point of emotion or desire.
It's too bad, because it's an original, touching take on the adoption story, but we don't get any hows or whys. Instead, the concept is used as a convenient wedge to scare away Happy; worse, Brian's elderly dad (a warm, wise Ed Asner) admits that his son has wanted a Chinese baby since he was eight. What?! Without further explanation, that's just needlessly edgy -- and creepy.
But Deschanel and Dano, taking stabs at executive producing, hold up their end of the bargain. They successfully carry the lack of convention Aselton is clearly trying to sell; yet the couple still attracts us to their courtship. You can see it in their faces: Dano's dreary visage gives way to occasional confidence or happiness; Deschanel is all wishful thinking behind those sweet, hopeful eyes.
When they are the focus, Gigantic works. When the film throws in peripheral weirdos like Happy's father (a fun John Goodman), Gigantic feels like a collection of loosely connected shorts. And loosely collected oddballs. The guy who greets everyone with "What's up dude, not much." The rich brother who favors Asian handjobs. The family who does 'shrooms before searching for the edible ones in the forest. Why fill a film with little eccentricities when there's a bigger, more sincere story to tell?
In small doses, Gigantic is smart, sweet, and amusing. At times, it actually feels like Aselton is close to putting it all together with a style that's as likable as his two stars. But Gigantic finally sinks under the weight of its peculiarities, making a possibly big story feel like no big deal.