Gigantic

Zooey Deschanel and Paul Dano in Gigantic.
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Two scriptwriters sitting in a room. Scriptwriter A says to the other: "Here's an idea, let's make a quirky, independent film and put every single idea we've ever had in it." "Yeah, let's choke it with randomness," says Scriptwriter B, rubbing his hands with excitement. "We'll have a homicidal homeless man, a twenty-something man obsessed with the idea of adopting a baby from China, a character called Happy who is actually a bit glum, experiments on a few depressed rats and a party with a Colonel Qadafi piñata."

"Genius, let's get to work," says Scriptwriter A, sitting down and fishing a pencil out from behind his ear. These, surely, were the brain squawks between Gigantic's two writers, Adam Nagata and Matt Aselton, before they fleshed the film script out further. Well, what a waste. For the thing about Gigantic is that it contains several good ideas. They're just smothered by the rest of the dross that's packed into the film's 98 minutes.

The star of the show is the somnolent bed salesman, Brian, played by Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood). Does Dano have the kind of face that you want to pinch between two fingers in a grandmotherly fashion or smack? It's a question that you might find yourself pondering throughout the film, because he looks and sounds so downcast in every scene that you spend moments wondering whether a damp flannel could do his job instead.

We're not really told why Brian is so determinedly miserable, but Dano makes absolutely certain that you, poor viewer, will share his pain. Next, we learn that Brian wants to adopt a Chinese baby. Why? Don't demand silly questions of those inspired scriptwriters - Brian just does and he has done since he was eight years old. I cannot be the only person to think that handing over a baby to a faintly eccentric, troubled young man is a bad idea, but in Gigantic, the adoptive agency overrides these worries.

Meanwhile, the Manhattan shop in which our hero works is visited by wealthy businessman, Al Lolly (the perfectly deadbeat John Goodman). This gargantuan, pudding of a man picks out a $14,000 bed and says his daughter will be in shortly with his credit card. Cue the entrance of Happy (Zooey Deschanel), who comes in and naps for a while on her father's new bed in the middle of the shop floor. Why not?

Naturally, as with plenty of past performances from quirk-queen Deschanel (Elf, Yes Man), Happy is pixie-like pretty and outwardly sparky. So following a group visit to her father's osteopath, the script pairs her up as an item with Brian, who is neither attractive nor sparky and needs to give his greasy hair a good wash. "You're the most interesting person I've ever met," says Happy to Brian. He's not. He's a drip. But then we learn that Happy has her own inner demons and that Brian is her first boyfriend. The lack of expectation weighing on Brian's shoulders bodes well for their fledgling relationship.

Sadly the romance is interrupted not only by the impending Chinese baby, but by a mysterious homeless man who keeps appearing in different guises and trying to kill Brian. Why? Again, the scriptwriters don't furnish the audience with such details. But it turns out that this homeless man (Zach Galifianakis) may or may not be a figment of Brian's imagination. We know not why. Then there's the rest of Brian's family. He has an outspoken, dotty father who is responsible for the dictator-themed piñatas, a ruthless oilman for a brother and, thankfully, a peculiarly sane mother - a beacon of light in the darkness and played brilliantly by Jane Alexander.

Oh, and there's also a friend who tests caged rats for depression. The film is so nearly charming, but just doesn't quite make it. It's too piecemeal, too disjointed for any of its themes - contentment, one's lot in life, parental responsibility - to properly resonate. Still, Deschanel is reasonably captivating and by the end, watch closely and you'll note even Brian casts off his undertaker guise and perks up a bit.

Seriously, that alone is worth hanging on for.