NYFF 2011: 4:44 Last Day on Earth

10/04/2011 2:36 PM |

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Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth, an IFC Films release, screens tomorrow evening and Saturday night at the 49th New York Film Festival.

As 4:44: Last Day on Earth putters to an end, Skye (Shanyn Leigh, director Abel Ferrara’s girlfriend) tells Cisco (Willem Dafoe in patented tragic-hipster mode) not to worry because they’ll be spending eternity together. It’s presumably supposed to be tragic or transcendent or something, but all I could think was: Good luck with that.

Ferrara’s overheated hipster-boy tales work pretty well when his lead actor is memorable and quirky enough to spin the maudlin material into fool’s gold, the way Harvey Keitel did in Bad Lieutenant. Better yet is a star with a sense of humor, who can counterbalance Ferrara’s shallow depth and leaden self-pity with a lightness of spirit, maybe even a little fancy footwork, like the seemingly impromptu little dances Chris Walken tossed into King of New York. And best of all is when the supporting cast, including the obligatory babes, can command our attention even with their clothes on.

But pair Ferrara with an equally self-regarding star like Dafoe and a charisma-free leading lady like Leigh, who alternates between doughy impassivity and hysteria, and you’ve in for a long 82 minutes.

As usual in Ferrara’s movies, a fashionably sinewy man sins and a pulchritudinous woman pays the price. And as usual, we learn a little more than we want to know about the director’s penchant for big butts and dirty dancing.

Cisco and Skye are a May-October couple facing the end of the world (“Al Gore was right,” as a newscaster on their big flat-screen TV puts it) in a fashionably artsy downtown loft. She never sets foot outside their door for the whole length of the film, which delineates the last day for planet Earth. He goes out only once, to score some dope she confiscates when he brings it home. And oh my God, when he’s out there he runs into Paz de la Huerta, decked out in a party dress and platform heels and acting out on some picturesquely seedy downtown street. Just what we needed.

Aside from that abortive drug run, Cisco spends his time fretting, watching the news, and Skyping his friends and family in the apartment while Skye paints it black, splattering paint Pollock-style onto a mediocre-looking canvas that gets an awful lot of reverent camera time. She changes her clothes a lot. He goes out on their rooftop terrace and yells some.

Together, they dance, have sex, fight a little, meditate, order takeout, and let the delivery man Skype his family in Vietnam on their computer, an unsubtitled exchange that provides the film’s only genuinely moving moment.

Meanwhile we hear from such cutting-edge luminaries as Charlie Rose, Al Gore, the Dalai Lama, and Joseph Campbell. Okay, now I’m just being snarky. I’m sorry. These people just bring out the worst in me.