Movies about sad white dudes trying to find themselves are this planet’s most powerful renewable resource. They’re ubiquitous to the point where they occur in nature, and new ones keep springing up seemingly by the second. When all the water dries up and the sun burns out, these insipid tales of self-discovery will surely remain. And most of them will probably be up for Best Picture.
Writer-director Daniel Campbell’s Antiquities, a more recent genre specimen, represents a lot of what’s wrong with these kinds of films. It goes out of its way to give viewers the kind of quality, beauty and depth you’d expect from a movie co-written by one of the writers of The Love Guru.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Daniel Campbell
Written By: Daniel Campbell and Graham Gordy
After the death of his father Dennis, Walt Prior (West) realizes that the two of them never knew each other very well. Walt pays a visit to the quaint Arkansas town where Dennis grew up. He takes a job at the local antique mall where his father once worked. The eccentric employees quickly take a liking to him, with store manager Dewey Ray (Hogan) even slating Walt as his replacement. Along the way, Walt strikes up a relationship with eccentric pottery seller Ellie (Greene). He ultimately winds up learning a bit more about both his dad and himself.
We Get It — You’re Weird
Right from the start of the movie, our protagonist finds himself greeted by an onslaught of quirky characters. He steps into the B&B run by his folksy uncle Henry (Bailey) and aunt Patty (Haynes) and is immediately and aggressively embraced by both. The two cornballs try to persuade their nephew to work for them at their tiny grocery store. But Walt insists on taking the job at Sticky Vickie’s (dear God, I can’t get over what an awful name for a business that is) instead.
Once Walt arrives at his new place of employment, he encounters yet another deluge of eccentric characters, one after the other. There’s Dewey Ray (Hogan), the store’s outspoken, enterprising manager; his cantankerous stepson Blundale (Scott), and effeminate, sweater-clad Jimmy Lee (Gordy). Protein-shake-chugging lunkhead Delaney (Gladis) and plastic surgery-obsessed Dolores Jr. (Watkins) round out the Sticky Vickie’s gang. With all these wacky folk running the show, you’d expect this thing to be a regular laugh riot.
But it’s not. For all their outward eccentricities, none of these characters are funny. Not one. Sure, they talk in voices that sound funny, and they say things that sound like they should be funny. But just about every single joke that leaves their lips falls painfully flat. You can almost feel the actors pausing after each clumsy line, waiting for some sort of offscreen laughter. And the movie suffers dearly for it, moving at an excruciating, glacial pace. It feels at least three times as long as its 93-minute runtime. You’re practically begging to be put out of your misery before Walt’s eventual love interest even shows up.
Another Generic Indie Comedy
Antiquities is completely enamored with the wacky, hollow universe it’s constructed for itself. Campbell’s camera spends an inordinate amount of time on loving closeups of all the antiques and oddities Walt encounters throughout town — all the porcelain statues, terrifying clown heads, color-coordinated typewriters, Civil War figurines, etc. etc. And, of course, he shoots every scene in that stereotypical warm, homey tone you usually associate with this kind of sweet-hearted indie flick.
Campbell’s intentions couldn’t be clearer. He desperately wants this to be a zany deadpan comedy about a bunch of outcasts, much in the vein of Napoleon Dynamite (right down to the lighthearted folk soundtrack and the opening credits sequence where all the actors’ names have been painstaking inscribed onto old-timey artifacts).
If Antiquities had been made in, say, 2002, it would be a novel effort. But this kind of self-consciously twee film has been done to death at this point. There’s nothing new to say on this front, so Campbell and Gordy don’t even try. Unless, of course, your definition of trying entails a scene where Walt gazes down a winding country road and wonders about his purpose or some crap like that.
What’s the Deal with These Two?
As is customary for an indie of this ilk, Antiquities insists on contriving a romance between West’s Walt and Greene’s Ellie. This element makes for some of the movie’s most awkward, jarring moments.
It doesn’t take long for West to earn his rightful place among the blandest leading men ever to appear in front of a camera. This kind of “finding yourself” story doesn’t necessarily call or an especially dynamic lead. But West adds nothing to the character of Walt beyond a series of blank stares toward the various weirdos surrounding him at any given moment. At least the weirdos have personalities, whereas Walt comes off as the human equivalent of a half-eaten Wheat Thin dipped in store-bought guacamole. He makes Bradley Cooper look like James Dean.
Walt’s relationship with Ellie is totally implausible — mainly because his interest in her seems to stem from the mere fact that she’s a woman and he’s a guy. Any and all conflict between them swiftly gets swept under the rug in favor of cutesy indie romcom moments. Take, for instance, the scene where Ellie and Walt kiss atop a car while Walt holds up an illuminated bulb lit by humming powerlines. Mere minutes before, we watched Walt make a boneheaded attempt to get Ellie to open up about her brother dying in a car accident. But nope — we’re all good now, I guess.
(It should be noted that Greene is one of the few bright spots in this film. She does the best she can with a character that’s basically the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype on steroids. Still, it hurts to see legitimately talented performers like her, Watkins and Steenburgen slumming it in a movie that’s 10,000 fathoms beneath them.)
Weighed down by its unpleasant characters and lack of narrative drive, Antiquities generally has very little to offer in terms of entertainment value. I will say, however, that it has a perfectly accurate title. Because it made me feel like I’d aged 100 years in almost as many minutes.
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