I already talked about mumblecore in my review of Alexander the Last, a film that I felt was too loose-fitting and amorphous to be dramatically satisfying. Josh Safdie's The Pleasure of Being Robbed comes much closer to being well-rounded, giving us a great character and several vividly-painted scenarios in the film's first 40 or 50 minutes, but a late-breaking tonal stumble and some of the constraints of the mumblecore style block it from being a minor classic.
Eléonore (co-writer Eléonore Hendricks) is a kleptomaniac. The film is called The Pleasure of Being Robbed, but all of the happiness is probably projected onto the targets by Eléonore herself, who gets plenty of joy out of taking what isn't hers. There isn't any rhyme or reason, and Eléonore is not doing it to be cruel, but if she sees something interesting, she is compelled, body and soul, to take it, in the same way that someone would scratch an itch despite a doctor's orders. There is a sense that she is just curious about other people, as if the contents of a stranger's purse allow her to take on a new persona, that she can live their lives vicariously simply by using the owner's belongings. She moves from person to person, with no clear sense of direction, or any pressing matters or responsibilities to speak of.
Her treasures mostly escalate: a pair of gloves gives way to a scarf, which eventually leads to a camera filled with personal memories that she watches with fascination. One tote bag even contains a puppy and several kittens, which looks like a poor way to transport pets, particularly when one of them is several times bigger than the others. Even if the viewer has never stolen something, I imagine they've felt the mixture of terror and excitement that comes from doing something they know they shouldn't, and Safdie always captures this feeling, as if Eléonore will be caught at any moment. In that sense, the movie is a brilliant paranoid thriller.
Lingering over the movie in an increasingly distracting way is the unanswered question of whether Eléonore is insane. Her flighty, no-boundaries attitude occasionally hints at deeper, more complex problems, but maybe Safdie and Hendricks are uncomfortable making the character or the movie too serious. That's fine, but at the same time, the movie tries to have its cake and eat it too with a bizarre little interlude while Eléonore is at the zoo, almost demanding that the audience both notice this possibility and the fact that the movie won't explain. It's definitely interesting to see things through Eléonore's eyes, but is this literally what's going on inside her head? Safdie leaves it up to the viewer. In addition to being frustrating, the scene also feels tonally detached from the earlier parts of the movie, when Eléonore appears normal aside from her addiction to picking pockets. I know the mysterious is appealing, and things should be open to interpretation, but in this case, I think the film needs to explain further, or hint at less.
Eléonore interacts with a handful of people in the film. Early on, she meets a friend on a park bench (Astrid Larson). Sadly, we don't learn much about her; she ranks as another missed opportunity for insight on who Eléonore really is. The most pleasing of her encounters is with Josh (played by Safdie), who helps Eléonore find the car that goes with the keys she's discovered in a purse she snatched. He teaches her how to drive, and they head up to Boston, going 35 miles an hour the whole way, freeways included. In second place is Wayne (Wayne Chin), an extremely irritable ping-pong player who describes in detail to Eléonore why she is "the worst player he has ever had the displeasure of playing". I'd have liked to see more of Wayne, because like Eléonore's thievery, Wayne's irritability isn't malicious. He's just inadvertently irritable when he thinks he's trying to be nice, which is a character trait that is always very funny to me. Lastly, there is Jerry the Cop (Jerry Damons), who seems to like Eléonore, despite having to arrest her.
Ultimately, Pleasure reveals an interesting limitation of mumblecore. I don't know how long Safdie spent shooting The Pleasure of Being Robbed, but I feel that if the shooting had continued, he and Hendricks would have been able to unearth more facets of Eléonore's personality, eventually compiling enough footage from which to craft a tighter, more satisfying film, containing the same basic material the film does now, accompanied by another 20 or 30 minutes worth of footage that could have brought the film to a more complete conclusion. Like Alexander the Last, the film runs less than 75 minutes, and Safdie even cheats further by playing a 7-minute song during the 4-minute credits (the last three minutes, which are used to stretch Robbed across the 70-minute mark, are just the music over a black screen). When all is said and done, I'm left with the pleasure of meeting Eléonore, and the sadness of not knowing her. Who is this person, and why is she the way she is? Will she ever change? And most importantly, did she ever feed the kittens?
I really, really like the handwritten cover artwork IFC has created for The Pleasure of Being Robbed. Front to back, it's one of the best-looking covers I've seen in my first year at DVDTalk. Normally, I go for slicker, sleeker designs than this, but it just looks really good. Props to whoever designed it; I can only be so disappointed that, like Alexander the Last, there's nothing printed on the other side of the cover even though the DVD comes in a transparent plastic case. Inside the case is a fairly large folded poster that consists mainly of further handwritten text, and the disc makes use of a nice painted poster that I remember catching my eye on Apple Trailers a long time ago.
The Video and Audio
The packaging claims -- twice -- that The Pleasure of Being Robbed is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, but it's actually pillarboxed, at what I'm guessing is 1.66:1. The film was clearly shot on 16mm, evidenced by the wonderful, grainy haze that's present at all times. IFC's DVD looks very good, replicating the rough cinematography with vivid colors and no apparent edge enhancement or other issues.
Dolby Digital 2.0 is a shade on the muffled side, but that's probably inherent to the recording. On one hand, I do wonder if Dolby Digital 5.1 might have been more immersive when it comes to the sounds of the city, but this is a dialogue-driven film, so that kind of thing isn't a necessary part of the experience. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Five shorts are included: "We're Going to the Zoo" (13:08) and "There's Nothing You Can Do" (3:59), which form the "Short FIlms - Somehow Related" section, and "Alright Little Girl" (0:37), "The Day I Stole a Cop Car" (0:37), and "One Way to Do It" (0:29), which make up the "Short-Shorts From 'Set'" section. "We're Going to the Zoo" is funny and bizarre, but, similar to the feature film, the ending is kind of a letdown. "THere's Nothing YOu Can Do", comparatively, is just weird. As for the "short-shorts", they could've easily been TV spots given their length.
Secondly, there is a musical audio commentary for the film, with participation from Safdie and Hendricks, as well as the band The Beets. On the special features menu, the following statement (which I have slightly altered) is written: "The musical commentary track was "composed" a little after a year the film was released: for 4 nights, the participants lost their minds. This 70 min musical is the product of this good or terrible idea." Flipping the track on quickly reveals that, unlike the Step Brothers track featuring Jon Brion, this is definitely more "musical" and not really "commentary". Safdie and Hendricks might be present, but their participation is limited to singing along with the music the band is playing. I've always thought a commentary could be more than people talking, and that someday, some of the world's crazier directors, like David Lynch, would start wildly bending the rules of what qualifies. I don't know that a feature-length jam session contitutes "wildly bending the rules", but it is interesting, and, Step Brothers aside, unique as well.
Trailers for Nights and Weekends, Medicine for Melancholy, In a Day, In the Loop, Alexander the Last, and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men all play before the main menu. The original theatrical trailer for The Pleasure of Being Robbed has not been included.
There are some pretty scathing user reviews of this movie on IMDb, so I want to be very clear: The Pleasure of Being Robbed is for the patient, the kind who can watch a movie about a very tiny, limited slice of life, and remain interested. In addition, they'll have to be prepared for the movie to only scratch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these characters; it's a shame that Safdie and Hendricks couldn't have dug a little deeper. That said, the film is recommended to indie fans with their eye on the mumblecore movement.
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