Go ahead, Zooey. Pull really hard on the scarf.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/15/2009
Director: Matt Aselton
Cast: Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, John Goodman, Ed Asner, Ian Roberts, Robert Stanton, Jane Alexander, Zach Galifianakis

It’s no secret that my admiration of Zooey Deschanel borders on the unhealthy and so I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’d make sure to track down and see “Gigantic”.

The film revolves around a mattress salesman (Paul Dano) who has a lifelong dream of adopting a Chinese baby. A chance sale with a wealthy eccentric (John Goodman) brings his equally off-beat daughter (Deschanel) into the picture.

As Dano and Deschanel begin their courtship, the film also expands to introduce their friends and family – all of whom exhibit character traits best described as quirky and/or absurd. Like many of Hal Ashby or Hal Hartley’s films, it’s not the film’s literal plot points that are most important, it’s the journey the characters take along the way (I also like being able to use two guys named Hal for a reference … too bad there’s no computer in this film).

Each subsequent scene in “Gigantic” is like a bee sting you try to scratch out … merely digging in the barb a little deeper. While many of the events on-screen only serve to further confuse the audience, trying to find meaning and fit the pieces together too early will only serve to distract one from settling into the subtle beauty of the characters.

The entire cast does a fantastic job, breathing so much life and energy into their characters. Dano, who has had numerous good turns of late (“Little Miss Sunshine“, “There Will Be Blood“) continues to portray quiet, wounded roles with aplomb and a nearly amorphous dignity.

Deschanel however, and forgive me for saying this, doesn’t do anything new for her. The role is that of a quirky pixie, capable to ensnaring hearts with the first hint of a smile. (Yeah … I’m smitten.) While her character doesn’t ask for her to tread on new acting ground, the performance still works superbly and complements Dano’s understated turn.

Goodman and Ed Asner play the fathers of the love-struck pair and couldn’t have been better cast. Each revels in their oddball characters and deliver not only comedic results but loads of heart. Their eccentricities make it easy to believe how far off the beaten path their children have strayed and are the bridge between the absurdity and realism.

All of this praise doesn’t mean I felt that first time writer/director Matt Aselton did everything perfectly. I did have some problems with the subplot revolving around Zach Galifianakis’ homeless character, who shows up repeatedly and assaults Dano. Midway through the film, this thread’s relation to the rest of the story becomes apparent and helps to mitigate some of my consternation but it also opens up a loose psychological end that never gets fully addressed.

Trying to decide if this is the right film for you is quite a nebulous affair. Even for me, the film took some time to sneak up on my soft side and eventually take its firm grasp on my psyche. The mix of absurd and realistic events, coupled with the remarkable quirky characters results in a heartwarming but off-putting film.

I can clearly state that “Gigantic” is my favorite film of 2009 so far and gladly give it a strong 4 out of 5. However, there are only a handful of friends and acquaintances that I’d recommend this to without too many reservations. The best course for any loyal readers would be to decide if these off-beat, independent films are up their alley.

If so, it’s definitely worth a flyer and it’s release timing, right at the start of the summer blockbuster season, is a good reminder that when you’re out looking for a film to watch, don’t forget to look and see what films are out in your market that don’t have a commercial playing on TV every two minutes. As any avid film lover will tell you, one of the most satisfying movie experiences is discovering a little-known gem amongst the hustle and bustle of explosions and robots. “Gigantic” is that kind of film.