Okay, look. I’ll start by saying that we rented Down in the Valley and Ben really dug it and I daresay he got it (BTW: do not read on if you do not want this movie spoiled). I thought I was getting it, until the second half, where things changed rather dramatically and I began the slow descent into deep confusion. Initially, it seemed to be the story of this headstrong teenage girl in the valley – you know, the LA valley – who meets this age-inappropriate but kind of sweet cowboy guy, and their ensuing love affair that’s naturally disapproved of by her disapproving father. Except no one ever mentions the fact that Edward Norton is about forty and the girl, whose name is October (of course her name is October), is seventeen, only that Edward Norton is increasingly a little weird. About halfway through, when he begins to exhibit overt signs of weirdness, like playing cowboy games in the mirror and ‘borrowing’ horses that don’t belong to him, the story turns into more of a Western with guns and more horses and then, this is where I got really lost, first a bunch of Hasidic Jews and then an abandoned ghost town, except the next thing you know it isn’t abandoned at all, Edward Norton is suddenly talking to people who seem to exist in an alternate, 1800s universe, and then just as suddenly we discover it’s a scene on a movie set. Further adding to my confusion, at one point Edward Norton has a handlebar mustache, which led me to believe some time had passed, but then just as quickly the mustache is gone again but they’re wearing the same clothes. Meanwhile Ben is going This is awesome and I’m going But what about the mustache he had a mustache and then he didn’t what does that mean? And Ben says You’re still stuck on the mustache?
Look here, even the movie posters are confused:
So then I had to go look for some interviews about the movie, to see if I could find out about the mustache, and the Hasidim, and listening to Edward Norton talk about it, I see that it was completely his and the filmmaker’s intention to leave many questions unanswered, and so I’d like to say to them that they have succeeded in that, and that the question of the mysterious mustache will continue to haunt me.
But here’s the real thing. This has happened to me more than a few times with movies over the years, where I’m totally into it for a while and then it takes a turn and I’m really disappointed because what I was hoping for was a different story entirely. A couple of examples come to mind: 1) While You Were Sleeping. I totally related to Sandra Bullock’s lonely Chicago girl dragging her Christmas tree up the stairs by herself and falling for a guy she barely knew. But I never understood why they had to have the complete and utter contrivance of the guy being in a coma while she falls in love with the guy’s brother. Would it not be a complicated enough, and more importantly, a more believable story, if you had a woman interested in and/or involved with one brother and then she falls in love with another? But no. They had to go and make it all screwball or whatever the hell. A better example, and I know I’ll get some flack for this, but I’ll go ahead and mention it since in one of these interviews, Edward Norton actually mentions that he considers the two movies companion pieces, which, kudos, Edward, makes total sense, is, 2) Fight Club. I know, I know, y’all loved Fight Club. I had two problems with Fight Club: one, considering that a big part of this movie was about consumerism, I couldn’t get past the idea of Brad Pitt, who I’d seen promoting the movie and talking about all the heinous and terrible consumerism, while leaning myself toward the belief that it was unlikely that Brad Pitt, then married to Jennifer Aniston, slept on anything less than like, a billion thread-count sheets, and that was just a start. (Fine, he’s a humanitarian now, I dig it, but Brangie's not living on a kibbutz.) But the other problem I had, which was exactly no one else’s problem with this movie, was that the single most interesting concept in the movie was pretty much just a minor point, the part where Edward Norton is so psychically tortured that he starts checking out all these different support groups, none of which he really belongs in, just to try to get some help. That to me could have been a feature-length film. Anyhoo, back to the movie I wanted this one to be, here we start the film with the lovely, feisty, bored valley girl Evan Rachel Wood/October, who picks up the cowboy Edward Norton at a gas station and they fall believably in love, to me, and that is the story I wanted to see. It wouldn’t have to have had a happy ending. But what seemed notable, this point of their age difference, was never one time mentioned – and I just kept thinking, 99 times out of a hundred I’d be disapproving of a relationship like this, but what if this is the one that’s right? He was very childlike, and she was wise, and I thought, let’s see more of that. Isn’t that an interesting story? Also, if I must confess, referring back to my own peculiar fantasies, this is the sort of romance that I DREAMED of when I was sixteen or seventeen; sexy, mysterious stranger rides into town and he UNDERSTANDS ME. Back in the heyday of made-for-TV movies, there was one called Sweet Hostage, where Martin Sheen plays a sexy escaped mental patient who takes Linda Blair hostage and gives her some learnin’ and lovin’. Oh yeah. I remember being CRUSHED that that didn’t end well.
My point is, it’s fine to be deep and all, Edward Norton, but there’s deep and there’s confusing. In the end, all I really need cleared up is the mustache.