John Krasinksi’s directorial debut, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, is as ugly as the men that it exposes. The film centers around an attractive young grad student as she conducts interviews with all sorts of unattractive men ranging from the physically unattractive to the morally repugnant. What seems like the opportunity for a smart and funny social commentary on gender politics, soon is waylaid by its own cleverness.
Describing the general setup of the film is a difficult task, which is never a good sign. It ranges from the candid interviews, to vignettes, to breaking the fourth wall, and then back to interviews. The interviews are surprisingly the most engaging. What the film is dealing with is an intense introspection so these characters reflecting on their own actions and behaviors is almost therapeutic to watch. The whole film couldn’t unfold like this, but a little more consistency to establish a tone and a voice would have helped the movie along.One example is, right after a man’s monologue about his father and the racism he faced, a different character says “Ya know where the little boy’s room is? I gotta answer Nature’s Page, if ya know what I mean.” This kind of shift in tone is drastic and unsettling not only because it discounts the character beforehand for a cheap laugh, but seriously, who says”Nature’s page?” considering we’re not in 1995 anymore. It sounds like semantics, but little bits like that distract from the whole piece. In between these different interviews and vignettes and everything in between, it’s telling a rather simple story, about a girl whose lost her faith in men, in the most “artistic” and subsequently confusing way. There are scenes were conversations are pasted together from different vignettes as if the characters are all talking together, even though the backgrounds are recognizably different and the chain of events are incomprehensible. While some people may interpret it as “fresh”, it came across as self indulgent and indecisive. Overall, the film asks some really good questions, but like any film with multiple story lines, there are some parts that are clearly better than others and the rest seems just filler.
One of the most distracting parts of the movie is how seriously it takes itself. It tackles all these social issues and condemns all these disgusting characters, but they just come across as flat. An 80 minute movie composed of multiple story lines can’t dedicate itself to race and gender and sexuality and politics. It’s exhausting to watch someone try, but it’s irritating as well. It takes pride in asking the questions that no one seems to want to ask, but prompts the audience to answer for themselves, but there are so many questions, it’s difficult to know which questions to ask.
However, more important than the questions themselves, is how these characters get to them. It sounds like nitpicking, but for the most part, these are supposed to be interviews which suggest a conversational tone. You’ll be hard pressed to find a guy who refers to women as the “female genus” in everyday conversation. The language of the film ranges from everyday to suddenly academic and stiff. This isn’t terribly surprising as the whole film struggles with voice but to watch it as it unfolds is tedious.
As the credits roll, one of the first things listed is “Based on the novel by David Foster Wallace”. It suddenly seemed to make sense. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men works as a book. The introspection and character examination of a book is much more forgiving than a movie. In the end, it just seems like Krasinski bit off more than he could chew for his feature film directorial debut with this project. But it’s not his fault, this seems like a dream project, but that it’s pretty unattainable. Add this to the pile of un-film-able books. Until then, it’s a solid effort but suffers from lack of an authoritative tone or voice that could have been a great help.