Writer-director Matt Aselton’s Gigantic follows in the footsteps of indie-as-genre films such as Little Miss Sunshine and Juno in its pastiche of things sometimes associated with independent, cool or, at the very least, eccentric: Zack Galifianakis, Zooey Deschanel, psilocybin mushrooms and the idiosyncrasies of living in a massive (“gigantic”) city. Though Peter Donahue’s cinematography tries its best to make visible what the character development can’t — the camera’s cleverly placed shallow focuses create alienation more convincingly than one of the female character’s uninspired tearful breakdowns — this empty attempt at cultural relevancy gives the movie a surface-level case for being the film of the month for college freshmen.
The problems start (but don’t end) with lead character Brian Weathersby (Paul Dano), mattress salesman and serendipitous love interest of Harriet ‘Happy’ Lolly (Zooey Deschanel). Vacant staring and clipped, monotone responses don’t an interesting character make. Nor do they accurately capture the disaffected postcollegiate antipathy found in the overeducated but underemployed demographic the film aims for. Instead, we get a sometimes annoying, but more often uninteresting character with a series of unusual traits used to cover up his lack of, for want of a better word, character. Namely, his desire from childhood to adopt a Chinese baby — which also doubles as a main plot point. He’s paralleled by his love interest — nicknamed ‘Happy’ but, predictably, anything but — who pursues him like she does all the other things in her affluent but disconnected life: with the immediacy of little-kid-meets-shiny-object. Not so coincidentally she’s the daughter of a rich but generically eccentric businessman, Al Lolly (John Goodman). And thus Brian finds himself caught between two rich father figures, his own (Edward Asner) and Happy’s. Both are well-meaning and supportive, both are eccentric for the sake of humor (Brian’s father makes tea from magic mushrooms for his 80th birthday), and neither seems to make much a difference in his life.
Which brings us to the crux of the problem with both the film and Brian, made visible by the reoccurring Galifianakis, who’s cast as a series of different characters (including a pipe-wielding homeless man) determined to hurt or potentially kill Brian for seemingly no reason. These ultimately Tyler Durden-esque moments of man-versus-self are put to rest when, after Happy ends their relationship, Brian is able to kill his would-be assailant. Where in other works this device is used to show that the lead character has proven himself in some way, in this case the victory comes off as arbitrary. Perhaps the director wanted to impart the message that Brian had the ability to overcome all along, because he certainly doesn’t accomplish anything suggesting growth. Like the title character, the film itself suffers from lack of direction and too much money. Perhaps this ambivalence towards oneself is a relevant existential dilemma in a character, but when a movie treats itself that way you get 97 minutes of sometimes funny but mostly uninteresting.