Friday, May 6, 2011

Nightmare: "Arizona Dream" (1994)

You can't have "fart" without "art," something I thought up while watching this brilliant mess.

Johnny Depp is a young man who comes to Arizona to be his uncle Jerry Lewis' best man in his wedding, and stays on to sell cars at the local family Cadillac dealership. There, Depp and buddy Vincent Gallo meet up with Lili Taylor and her weird stepmother Faye Dunaway. Taylor and Dunaway hate each other, living in a big house in the country and arguing continuously. Depp eventually falls for Dunaway, and is drawn into her weird little world, where she dreams of flying, and moving to Papua New Guinea.

Taylor has her own set of mental quirks- she worships turtles and wants to kill herself so she can come back as one. Gallo fancies himself a serious actor, one good scene has him recreate the cropduster scene from "North by Northwest," on stage at a local talent contest. Paulina Porizkova is given nothing to do as Lewis' very young fiancee.

We have all these weird characters in a weird little comedy. There are funny scenes. Taylor tries to hang herself with pantyhose from a second floor balcony, and bungees up and down as Depp tries to save her. Depp, Taylor, Dunaway, and Gallo play a hilarious game of footsie at a dinner table. Taylor, depressed over her suicide attempt, begins wandering around the house playing the accordion. Depp and Dunaway begin building flying machines, trying to fulfill Dunaway's girlhood dream. The screen fills with weird special effects and tons of magical realist images. The eskimo prologue; a fish that swims in the sky; really interesting stuff.

About halfway through the film, everything takes an ugly turn. Depp and Taylor play a game of Russian Roulette. Lewis overdoses on pills, he is guilt-ridden because he drove the car in the accident that killed Depp's parents. Eventually, not a whole lot of plot happens. Instead, the film becomes obsessed with suicide, wallowing in the characters' unhappiness to the point that I may remove the COMEDY sticker from the video case and write MANIC DEPRESSIVE on it.

The cast, especially Taylor, is good, too good. I felt like they really understood their respective characters and the director's overall vision. Too bad they did not let the viewer in on it. I felt undermined by the cast and crew, and could not wait for the film to end.

The final scene, on the tundra, has Depp and Lewis talking to each other in Eskimo native language while ice fishing. A confusing ending to a confused film. I do not recommend "Arizona Dream." (*) out of five stars.