Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Being Paul Giamatti

After being bought for £3 in an HMV sale and me having never heard of it, today's film is an adventure of sorts. One of the first films I have ever bought without any form of knowledge of it. I suppose you could call it 'going in blind'. The DVD box covered with stars intrigued me and, with change jingling in my pocket, begging to be spent, I gave in and here it is. This is Cold Souls.

Paul Giamatti, playing himself, feels like he has a lot of weight, not on his shoulders, but on his soul. He is rehearsing for Chekov's play, Vanya, and he the emotional depth of the play is taking its toll on him. Fortunately for Paul, his agent may have found a solution - a company that allows you to remove your soul and store it safely. Naturally, Giamatti jumps onto this idea and has his soul removed from his body to put into storage until after the play. Once he pushes past the fact that his soul looks a little like a chickpea, he attempts to carry on with his life but he finds his acting and marriage affected by his new soulless-ness. He opts to rent the soul of a Russian poet, which does wonders for his acting, however, it comes with a price. He begins to see aspects of the borrowed soul's previous owner's life and he becomes filled with sorrow and decides he wants his own soul back. One small issue: It is St. Petersburg. With the help of Nina (Dina Korzun), a Russian soul trafficker, he goes on a quest to get his soul back.

Giamatti also visits the hospital for his fear of goggles.

At its core, Cold Souls is a one man show. Unlike the similarly meta Being John Malkovich, which has four main characters, Cold Souls sole focus of the film is Giamatti's adventures in, what can only be described as, discovering himself. And he nails it. Having to play, essentially, three different characters but still remain himself the entire time can surely not be an easy task and yet Giamatti makes it look effortless. Perhaps it is all a documentary and he did have his soul removed. That's how convincing his portrayal of, well, himself is. His supporting cast are exactly that - supporting. This is Giamatti's time to shine. This isn't to say there's any issue in the supporting cast; they all bring something to the film, be it comedy or more touching, heartfelt emotions.

Giamatti and a psychologist review George Bush's brain.
An interesting, and somewhat philosophical, look at the nature of humanity and a commentary on a mid-life crisis. It explores the idea of being happy with what you have and all of this whilst being hilarious. More than just a comedy, Cold Souls is touching and artistic but, sadly, drags in the second act. The comedy seeps away and everything becomes a bit too serious. It is a film that seems unsure of what it is, perhaps reflecting its plot a little too much. By starting as a strong comedy and turning into a drama, Cold Souls creates a sort of ambivalence towards its genre; moving from one to the other too jarringly, focused only on the story it wants to tell. As we all know, how you go about telling a story is half of the challenge. But do not be put off, the first half is excellent, the second half is touching and beautiful, if not jarring.

A fun film that brings inspiration from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and Being John Malkovich, as well as the episode of The Simpsons were Bart sells his soul. Fans of any or all of the above should enjoy. A solidly acted film even if there are issues in the way in which it is presented.

Best Bit? Some of the earliest moments of the film are priceless, though the time in which Paul Giamatti has no soul takes the biscuit. Possibly offensive, but very funny.

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