May 14, 2008



Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

Writer/director Tom DiCillo will always hold a place in my heart for his wonderful movie-about-making-movies Living in Oblivion (1995). Everything I'd seen from him since has proved disappointing to one degree or another. Until now. Delirious--made in 2006, released in 2007 and this month finally appearing on DVD--shows DiCillo at his peak, offering a charming, original story with characters both dark and light. The movie is full of coincidence but it's used with such charm and effervescence that it actually helps ground it.

That the Delirious cast is headed by Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt proves an enormous help. Buscemi has rarely had a role this rich (no, not even his interesting turn in Interview--which makes a nice bookend with Delirious), and he gives it his all. And Pitt has never seemed so dear as here: He's a kind of already-wised-up Candide whose generosity and insight, despite his ill fortune, allows him to move ahead. In a checkered career of good films (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Bully, The Dreamers) and bad films (Murder by Numbers, Last Days, The Village) in which he was adequate, so-so films which he helped make better (Jailbait) and terrible films that he worsened (Silk: he just seems dead-wrong for historical/costume stuff), Pitt has proven quite resilient--and different enough from movie to movie that sometimes it seems critics don't realize it's the same fellow. The supporting cast is nothing to sneeze at, either: Alison Lohman as a young pop star, Gina Gershon, sexy as an "over the hill" casting director, Elvis Costello, Callie Thorne (particularly fine), indie stalwart Kevin Corrigan and, uncredited as Buscemi's parents, Tom Aldredge and Doris Bellack.

It's the the way DiCillo handles the subject matter that makes Delirious unusual and so often a joy: the paparazzi, in particular the one played by Buscemi. DiCillo spends little time condemning this occupation. He instead shows it from a unique angle, making us part of it. We're co-workers, as it were. In fact, the writer/director uses this ploy to bring us into the lives of all his characters: the TV director, the casting director, party-goers, competing paparazzi, bouncers, doormen, the whole shebang. We get a sense of what the characters want and need, along with their route to getting it (or not). This brings to the film an unusual depth and resonance, allowing it to glide through what, in lesser films, might seem tawdry or sentimental. Instead, at these moments, we recall what has gone before, and this lightens the darkness and adds weight to the fluff.

By film's end, instead of feeling cynical or sappy, viewers are more likely to sense that they've caught a glimpse of life in its fullness, despite the rather limited cast of characters and situations. Do wait through the end credits for a final little scene that nicely encapsulates DiCillo's take on "fame."

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Posted by cphillips at May 14, 2008 1:13 PM
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