In 10 Words or Less
Christian Slater is a stranger in a strange town
Small towns are a weird thing, because they should seem safe, and probably do to the residents, but to any outsider, it's like walking into a horror film. I recently spent some time in Vermont, and was amazed at how peculiar the small towns are there. It most likely has something to do with a lack of things to do that leads people to become busybodies or oddballs.
That's exactly the kind of person that populates the town Julian Po (Christian Slater) walks into at the beginning of the film, carrying only a briefcase. The closest town is 40 miles away, so when a stranger walks into town, it raises eyebrows amongst the town folk. Thus, after Julian checks into the local hotel, which is run by a drunk and his mute sister, he's quickly cornered by the town leaders, and questioned as to why he was there. His answer causes the townspeople to become fascinated with him, elevating him to the role of a celebrity.
Julian's reason for coming to the small town serves as something of an awakening to the sleepy berg, and soon the residents, from the mayor's wife (Allison Janney, in one of her usually great performances) to the owner of the local menswear shop, are coming to him for advice on what to do with their lives. How they interpret his "philosophy" leads to plenty of trouble, especially for Sarah (Robin Tunney), a beautiful girl with plenty of issues, the least of which is her belief that she has known Julian for years...in her dreams. She has even knitted sweaters for him that fit perfectly, despite them never having met.
The bulk of the film focuses on how Julian affects the quirky small-town people and how they are so quirky. That's really all there is to the story, because there's no ending, so to speak. Just as Julian walks into the town's life, he walks out, leaving everyone he changed behind him. That's not to say that there's not a resolution to Julian's story, but it's not the kind of wrap-up that will satisfy everyone. But at just under an hour and a half, there's not much investment of time, so it shouldn't lead you to feel disappointment.
Because of Julian's reason for being in this town, a reason that I am attempting to not reveal, and thankfully neither the art on the box and the chapter titles does, this film is something of a black comedy. The townspeople are very straightforward and twisted, excited by the first break from the mundane, no matter what that break might be. Some of the people are especially intrigued, which makes for some funny/disturbing moments that are among the better parts of the film.
In some ways, the town's acceptance of Julian mirrors the reactions of Martin Blank's hometown friends in Grosse Pointe Blank, as they are thankful for anything that frees them from their monotony, even if it should bother them. The story is about Julian, but told through the people he meets, and eventually, leaves behind. For a slice-of-life film, this is a fun movie, one that doesn't ask too much of you, and will entertain as long as it's around.
Julian Po is a one-disc release, packaged in a standard keepcase, with a two-sided insert that lists the chapter stops. The DVD features rather bland static, anamorphic widescreen menus that are scored with music from the film. Options include playing the film, setting up languages, selecting scenes, trailers and DVD-ROM features. The scene selection menus have still previews and titles for each scene, while the language options include English Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1 and Stereo Surround sound, and English and Spanish subtitles.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks pretty good, with very good color and a decent level of fine detail. There's some dirt and damage in the film, but it's the kind you need to look for; nothing that will bother the average viewer. Some grain and softness crops up in certain scenes, specifically the long exterior shots, but overall, this is is a good presentation.
The last film I expected to see the letters D,T and S on was Julian Po, a dialogue-based film without much in the way of audio acrobatics. There's a very aggressive score, but other than that, it's basically talking. The DTS track has a bit more punch than the Dolby 5.1 track, but they both do a very good job of filling the surrounds with ambient sound, like a running river and bird, and magnifying the score. There's nothing that will give your system a test, but the sound is clear and appropriate for the film.
Anamorphic widescreen trailers for An Awfully Big Adventure, The Grass Harp and Widow's Peak are the only extras included on this disc.
The Bottom Line
If the word "quirky" was a movie that starred Christian Slater, it would be Julian Po. The questions that need to be asked are 1) Is it bad if a film's quirkiness is its key attribute, and 2) How much quirk can you enjoy before it becomes annoying? At no point did this film tip the scales for your humble reviewer, though that's really a matter of personal taste. But if you're a fan of films with proper beginnings and endings and a well-developed plot, you can look elsewhere. This movie just doesn't play by those rules. Instead, it offers up what could be called a "drive-by plot," a quick look at this world that flashes by. The DVD doesn't offer anything of interest in terms of extras, so you'd have to be a really big Slater or Robin Tunney fan to own this. For a Friday night rental, it's a pretty good pick though.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.