Friday 5 November 2010

Obscurity Files #27 - The Pallbearer

With Let Me In out in cinemas from today, I thought I'd take a look at director Matt Reeves' debut. Today it's the David Schwimmer vehicle, The Pallbearer.
More after the jump...

Arriving in the summer of 1996, The Pallbearer was part of a slew of films the cast of Friends signed up for following their success on the small screen. Whilst most of his cast mates went for straight romantic comedies (Matthew Perry in Fools Rush In, Lisa Kudrow in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Jennifer Aniston in Picture Perfect), David Schwimmer opted for this much more maudlin affair.

In it Schwimmer stars as Tom Thompson, a 20 something average guy who's life is going nowhere fast. His friends are either getting married or thinking about starting a family; he just wants to move out of his mum's house. Tom's old high school crush (Gwyneth Paltrow) has moved back into town, but she was one of the popular girls who can't remember who he is. Having what is possibly the most misrepresenting cover in the history of cinema, this is far from the comedy it's being sold as, instead telling the dark story of a man asked to be a pallbearer at the funeral of Bill Abernathy, an old school mate he doesn't recall knowing. It's such a high concept social nightmare it could have been a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, except not really played for laughs.

Finding himself placed in an impossible situation by the boys grieving mother (the sultry Barbara Hershey), Tom also agrees to deliver the eulogy for the man whose face he can't remember, hoping that things will fall into place at the funeral. It doesn't help matters when he then sleeps with the boy's mother, ending up in a particularly messed up relationship where he's basically her substitute son as well as her lover.

Although it's not terrible, I think it's safe to say this film would have been completely forgotten if not for a couple of things. Firstly, the director Matt Reeves followed this up with 2008's monster movie Cloverfield, and then with the recent vampire remake Let Me In. Eclectic is how I would describe his films. The other name worth mentioning is this film's producer Jeffrey Abrams, now better known to the world as the uber-producer, 'JJ' Abrams.

Abrams had already produced and written a couple of high profile films (Mel Gibson's Forever Young, Harrison Ford's Regarding Henry), but this was still before he had hit it big on the small screen with Felicity, Alias, and of course, Lost. Abrams and Reeves were both still under 30 when they made this film, and at times it's over sentimental in that way only pondering twenty somethings can be. For fans of Abrams' work The Pallbearer has the obligatory appearance from Greg Grunberg (Heroes' Matt Parkman).

As for the performance of leading man David Schwimmer, he's trying to channel Dustin Hoffman's Graduate character Benjamin Braddock, but seemingly as if he was raised in a cupboard under the stairs. Schwimmer's never too far away from Ross, particularly in the earlier series of Friends when he played a lovelorn loser pining after the girl that he in reality, would never end up with. It's hard to separate Schwimmer from the character he played on TV for 10 years, and although it's a dramatic and comedic performance, it's what I'd describe as 'hair acting'. Tom Thompson's fringe and dress sense is so distracting, it's like he's off to a fancy dress party as a 12 year old boy. The few times he slicks his hair back to closer resemble Ross Geller, it's the only time Schwimmer looks comfortable on screen.

Here it's Gwyneth Paltrow playing the Rachel stand-in, an old school friend who doesn't actually recall Tom Thompson, confusing him with a much more popular and memorable school friend. Much like Bill Abernathy, Tom's destined to be one of those guys you just don't remember, except for being part of the chess club. Paltrow's okay in this unshowy role, but as the object of Tom's affection, she's not really given a lot to do except pout. 

When looking at it in comparison to the other 'Friends' movies, it's far from the worst and probably one of the more memorable. I'd put that down to the fact that Schwimmer never really was able to turn his small screen success into a big screen career, leaving us with this role and his directing work (hello Run, Fatboy, Run) as his contribution to cinema. At least he didn't repeat the crime of Jennifer Aniston by essentially playing the role he became famous for over and over and over again.

Save from obscurity? NO

1 comment:

  1. 'tis a truly terrible movie. And we can't forget the worst of the Friends cast's early movies: Ed, starring Matt Le Blanc and a baseball-playing ape (actually it's a guy in a suit...)