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A movie directed by Greg Pritikin

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A nice portrayal of awkwardness.

  • Sep 26, 2012
*** out of ****

Greg Pritikin's "Dummy" is more or less significantly unlike most films that deal with the narrative theme of ventriloquism in an attempt to generate both laughs and sympathy for the character who acts as the puppeteer. Perhaps it's only unlike the rest of them because Pritikin's direction and script are both very honest without allowing either to drift off into some sort of bizarre-o fantasy like the ventriloquist at the story's center has. Without the game efforts from its cast and Pritikin's genuine handling of the material, this could have easily been another missed opportunity with the premise, as it is. There's no denying that it's a fairly obvious flick, but it's a charming and engaging one that might just catch you off guard by how much you appreciate it akin to how much you actually like it (depending on your critical state-of-mind).

Steven (Adrien Brody) has always wanted to become a ventriloquist. He's ten years out of high school, has just lost his dead-end job due to a copy machine malfunction, and still lives in his home-town, in his parents' house. He is inspired to become a ventriloquist by his socially awkward nature, as he feels very distant from everyone else. This is why after what must have been years of procrastination, he finally gives in and buys a dummy. His sister Heidi (Illena Douglas) and parents stop and stare while the two main women in his life - best friend Fanny (Milla Jovovich) and financial advisor Lorena (Vera Farmiga) - give him as much support as they possibly can.

Through the dummy, Steven is able to unlock a part of his personality that seems to have been locked away for a while. He opens up to Lorena and attempts to court her through a series of awkward but charming dates; although she has issues of her own, being an unwed mother of a young child and all. Meanwhile, Heidi is having boyfriend (Jared Harris) problems; and Fanny just wants her garage punk rock band to finally take off. A lot of these characters are people who never left town and haven't gotten anywhere interesting in particular in their individual lives. They are the embodiment of some of our worst fears as young, ambitious human beings; because they come off as less young, and even less than ambitious.

The script is repetitive but has a natural flow to it. You'll know whether you dig it or not early on; as the film keeps revealing new things about its characters as it goes along, thus abandoning the standard "throw everything at the viewer at once" cliché that most modern films have embodied. I can see the film being cast and made differently and not working in the slightest; so I'm just glad it gets by with what it's got. Brody is terrific as always in a post-"Pianist" performance, although I think it's Jovovich who's the real stand-out here. The scenes involving her jam sessions are energetic, and the ferocity carries out into a few scenes of genuine, heartfelt emotion. Why Jovovich is so bad in so many other films, I don't know. Maybe she, like her character Fanny, it merely having trouble finding her place.

This is not a great film, but it will certainly resonate with a lot of people. The themes of isolation, puppetry, and the desire to be socially accepted in particular were ones I found most relatable, even if "Dummy" fails to truly cut ridiculously deep with any of them. But I can't complain. It's an interesting film that had the potential to give Pritikin plenty of indie cred, but apparently failed to do so (he's still found work, but nothing truly "of note", although I'm sure he's proud of his achievements). "Dummy" nonetheless sees him as a talented storyteller and director who does things his own way, ultimately succumbing to a familiar style but tackling topics with enough raw honesty for me to embrace it and still feel good about the whole thing. As I said, Jovovich is the highlight and her performance is probably the one thing I'll truly remember about this flick at the end of the day; but when I think of Fanny, I'll still be thinking of "Dummy", and here's a film that deserves to be regarded on some genuinely positive level.

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It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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Oscar®-winner Adrien Brody has a nifty role inDummyas a shy loser whose life is transformed by... ventriloquism. Living with his parents and his caustic sister (Illeana Douglas in good form), tongue-tied Steven can't hold a conversation to save his life--until he sits a wooden dummy on his knee. Others find this kind of creepy, but Steven parlays his newfound voice into a date with his pretty lady at the unemployment office (she's played by Vera Farmiga, from15 Minutes, a soulful actress destined for big things). Writer-director Greg Pritikin doesn't oversell this modest premise, instead nicely filling in the corners with sly comedy and character bits. Milla Jovovich plays Steven's punk-rock buddy, and Jessica Walter and Ron Leibman are his parents--it's a surprisingly strong cast for an indie effort.Dummywon a release when Brody got the Oscar forThe Pianist, but this is a worthy and entertaining picture all on its own.--Robert Horton
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Director: Greg Pritikin
Screen Writer: Greg Pritikin
DVD Release Date: February 17, 2004
Runtime: 91 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate
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