Movie News & Reviews

Why 'Gummo,' why?

The motives behind certain movies--especially the experimental,impressionistic, or disturbing ones--can be as inscrutable as those ofyour big brother. And like when your brother decides to punch you, theexperience will be painful, no matter how much he thinks you need it.

I like the idea of filmmakers trying new things. If not for innovatorswe'd all be watching one-second clips of our favorite meat animals.But there's a reason traditional storytelling devices have becometraditional. If you throw them away, you risk a mess like 1997'sGummo, a marathon of tedium where the finished product is asadrift as its characters.

In Xenia, Ohio, the youth get by in various ways. Some kill cats andsell the meat. Some wear big pink bunny hoods everywhere they go;others drink beer and huff glue. There's one thing they've all got incommon: they nearly all go shirtless.

You know how some movies have characters doing things that make senseand eventually their experiences tell a meaningful story? Well,Gummo doesn't. Depending on your reaction to that, you couldcall it either "a series of loose vignettes" or "less compelling thanwatching your DVD timer tick through 85 minutes instead."

Things happen--the bunny boy gets kicked around, a drunk guy fights achair, three girls (including Chloe Sevigny) run away from anincompetent pervert--it just doesn't add up to anything. Mostcharacters are seen once and never again. Maybe t his iswriter/director Harmony Korine's search for a character who's actuallyworth watching, but I have my doubts.

Because first and foremost, Gummo is tying to weird you out. Tostress you. I don't mind being distressed, as a glance at thesocieties taking root on my stovetop will prove. I do mind beingmanipulated without purpose.

I don't like to act like I know a director's motives, but c'mon. Sceneafter scene of dead cats. A kid eating dinner out of his filthybathtub. And the ultimate sign Korine's pushing buttons with as muchsubtlety as a drunken texter: the movie's got a black midgetand an albino.

No doubt this makes for some memorable imagery, and if you squintreally hard, you can pretend Gummo's saying something about howpeople deal with poverty and boredom. But this is the kind of thingthat gives indie movies a bad name. It could have given us all thedrowned kitties and small-town angst it wanted to and still told adamn story. It's hard to care about reprehensible characters whenthey can't even find ways to have fun being bad.