Good Dick (2008): Marianna Palka’s Disappointing Debut

Sundance Film Fest 2008 (Dramatic Competition)–Marianna Palka makes a disappointing feature debut as the writer, director, and star of “Good Dick,” a pretentious romantic film whose best marketing hook is it title, even if it doesn’t really earn it.

Early reports misleadingly suggested that “Good Dick” is in the vein of vantage Woody Allen. Is it because of Palka’s self-indulgence as a director? The self-absorption of the character she plays The excessive use of psychotherapy and psychobabble in a semi-humorous way

As of day 3 of the festival, it’s the weakest film in the dramatic competition, which means that prospects for theatrical release are dim, just like the movie is

As is the convention of such fare, the two central figures meet in a cute (or rather cutesy) way. Marianna Palka plays a woman who goes to Cinefile, an independent video store in West Los Angeles to check out the latest in the erotic section. She attracts the attention of one of the clerks (Jason Ritter), who goes out of his way to break down her emotional barriers, launching an aggressive quest to make her fall in love with him.

The first act promises more than the ensuing tale is able to deliver. Ritter follows Palka to her flat, and engages in seductive voyeurism, peering through the blinds as she masturbates while watching one of his tapes.

Inexplicably, he manages to gain entrance into her apartment, and gradually she gives in to his advances, first allowing him to sleep on her sofa, then inviting her to her bedbut forbidding him to touch her.

Palka’s flawed script is marked by a series of tortured, sado-masochistic encounters and rough transitions from one climax (or anti-climax) to another. Palka shows no particular understanding for either complex modern interactions or the motivations behind them.

In moments, it feels as if Palka’s intent is theoretical, namely, to prove a thesis that with the right moves and persistenceand under the right conditions–the resistance of any woman could be overcome both sexually and psychologically.

It’s disappointing to learn from the end credits that the script was developed at the Sundance Institute’s Lab. Meant to be a playful, offbeat variation of the more typical Hollywood romance, “Good Dick,” comes across as a shallow refashioning of a generic flick.

Palka has assembled a cast of character actors, including Jason Ritter, who makes an impression as a loser, turning his stalking creepy character into an eccentric, if not really a lovable, character. Intermittently, Palka proves to be a good foil to Ritter’s persistent come-ons, from blatant rejection to gradual acceptance.

Some of the central couple’s interactions are so irritating and charmless that you wish Palka develop more the secondary characters, such as her businessman father, played by Tom Arnold.

For the record: Charles Durning and Bryce Dallas Howard make cameos as store customers.

Cast

Woman – Marianna Palka
Man – Jason Ritter
Eric – Eric Edelstein
Simon – Martin Starr
Derek – Mark Webber
Dad – Tom Arnold

Credits

Morning Knight and Present Pictures presentation.
Produced by Jennifer Dubin, Cora Olson, Marianna Palka, Jason Ritter.
Co-producers: Jeremy Glazer, Kevin Lowe. Directed, written by Marianna Palka.
Camera: Andre Lascaris.
Editor: Christopher Kroll.
Music: Jared Nelson Smith.
Production designer: Andrew Trosmans.
Costume designer: Daphne Javitch.
Sound: Reza Moosavi, Ted Phillips.

Running time: 87 Minutes.