A friend of mine once explained he thought the word "pleasant" was, to him, a word that indicated a bland, uninspired sense of complacency. I don't necessarily agree, but "pleasant" does leap to mind when trying to describe Spooner, a quirky romantic comedy about an anti-social car salesman on the verge of turning 30, at which point he will be forced out of his parents' house. It's not that Spooner does anything wrong in its attempts to be sweet and funny, but it fails to do anything different or inventive, either, meandering along until the the few plot points the characters run into along the way have been resolved.
The car salesman, Herman Spooner, is played by former teen star Matthew Lillard, known for his high-energy, high-volume characterizations in films like Hackers, Scream, and Scooby-Doo. It's interesting to watch the actor dial down his natural personality for a role like this, but he dials it down to the point where Herman doesn't make much of an impression. Usually in films like this, characters like Herman are given extravagant, oddball dreams and fantasies that reveal their true personality, but Herman doesn't seem to have much of a personality aside from his desire to keep coasting through life. When his slightly dim, aggressive manager Stan (Shea Whigham) confronts him about his sales figures, it's hard not to side with Stan.
One day, driving back to the office after a burger run, Herman spots a girl on the side of the road, standing next to her car. Pulling over to offer food, the services of his company's tow truck, and a ride back to civilization, he discovers that her name is Rose (Nora Zehetner), and that she's only a few days away from taking her dream into her own hands and flying to the other side of the world, with a goal of becoming a teacher for underpriviledged students. Later that evening, Herman drives over to her hotel in order to chat her up some more, and finds various reasons to keep offering his companionship over the course of her last week at home. Again, the character of Spooner and his awkwardness become an issue in his relationship with Rose; in an extended sequence, he goes to the repair garage and sits in her car, rummaging through her glove box, trying on her sunglasses, using her lotion, and ultimately taking a photograph of her to keep at his desk. Presumably, this is meant to be charming, but it comes off as creepy and stalker-like.
Director Drake Doremus generally adheres to the theory that less is more, staging scenes using the Napoleon Dynamite playbook: wide shots, long pauses, and the minimum amount of flashiness. When the air of awkwardness is tuned just right, this kind of thing can be very funny, but in a film like Spooner, it just makes the movie seem dull. Similarly, it's easy to get the impression that actors on a low-budget movie with a small cast sign on with the hopes they'll get big moments and lots of screen time. Spooner delivers on that promise when it comes to Lillard, Zehetner, Whigham and Joe Nunez as one of the mechanics, but the sense of a guiding hand leading them to the same place is sorely lacking. It's not so bad that the cast feels as if they're all in different movies, but there's still an air of "do whatever you want" lingering over the picture.
Spooner is not all bad. The film's conclusion is well-plotted, arriving at a conclusion for Herman and Rose that is refreshingly satisfying for both characters, and as a whole, the film is never boring. Instead, it feels more like a missed opportunity, a film in which everyone thought a different element (be it Lillard playing against type, the script, or the direction) would be the ingredient that made the difference between a traditional movie and a unique one. The result is like a puzzle where every piece was made at a different factory: it forms a picture, because it was meant to, but it doesn't quite fit together as smoothly as it should. It's pleasant, in both senses of the word.
The cover art for Spooner may make it look even quirkier than it is, selecting a scene where Lillard and Zehetner jump on their beds to build the art around. It's colorful and well-designed, but the movie is a bit more grown-up than it appears. The case is a plastic-conserving ECO-BOX and there is no insert inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, Spooner looks and sounds adequate given its low-budget nature. Thanks to strong color timing and a general lack of movement both by the camera and the actors, the cinematography only occasionally reveals its digital nature, with only a few instances of mosquito noise and digital blocking here and there -- nothing too serious. The audio is less impressive, given the completely sparse nature of the filmmaking; an indie rock song comes on every few minutes, but for the most part the background is filled with ambient noise, and occasionally the source dialogue is less than crystal clear. The film is quite watchable, overall, but this is a strictly no-frills presentation, including a lack of any captions or subtitles.
Only the original theatrical trailer. Trailers for The People I've Slept With, Year of the Carnivore, and The Zombie Farm play before the main menu.
Much like its lead character, Spooner suffers from a case of slightly bland arrested development. The disc looks and sounds average, and there are no extra features to sweeten the pot. Skip it.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.