A 'Gigantic' ramble through sta ndard-issue quirkiness

Zooey Deschanel is ''Happy'' Lolly, a free spirit with whom Paul Dano's mattress salesman falls in and out of love in ''Gigantic.'' Zooey Deschanel is ''Happy'' Lolly, a free spirit with whom Paul Dano's mattress salesman falls in and out of love in ''Gigantic.'' (First Independent Pictures)
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / April 24, 2009
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'Gigantic" is a small independent movie in which a young man tries to figure out life while falling in and out of love with a free-spirited woman-child. Again. It even casts Zooey Deschanel as the woman-child; is she contractually obligated to appear in every one of these or what?

The difference is that writer-director Matt Aselton puts the pieces together in ways that don't quite line up, and that works both for the movie and against it. "Gigantic" plays like a Sundance movie with half the nouns removed; fetchingly cryptic for a while, it's ultimately just obscure.

But at least Paul Dano gets a lead role for once, as Brian, a mournful 20-something who sells high-end mattresses out of a New York City warehouse in or around Manhattan. Dano, who nearly stole "Little Miss Sunshine" without a word and went down shrieking in "There Will Be Blood," brings his gentle, off-kilter line readings and the face of a sensible woman shopper to the role. He seems to be visiting the movie rather than starring in it.

Brian is the youngest and quietest son in a family of type-A macho men. Dad (Ed Asner) likes to cook up hallucinogenic mushroom tea and go hiking in the woods, while his brother (Ian Roberts) is doing something unscrupulous with Pacific Rim businessmen. Brian's method of rebelling is to further his childhood dream of adopting a child from China. He also gets periodically attacked by an angry homeless man (Zach Galifianakis) who may or may not be imaginary.

In this context, Deschanel has the standard-issue part of Harriet "Happy" Lolly, arriving at the warehouse to pick up her dad's $14,000 mattress and promptly falling asleep on it. Brian is smitten, as is the audience. The father, by the way, is a wealthy businessman played with hugely enjoyable rudeness by John Goodman; it's the most unfettered role the actor's had in years.

About halfway through "Gigantic," though, you begin to realize the movie's not going anywhere on purpose, and that the barely simmering mood of absurdist distress is all we're going to get. Aselton has a nice touch with wry dialogue - or his cast does - and the movie's repotted Eastern touches extend to meditating minor characters and a Zen-like avoidance of drama.

Willful obscurity can be a pose, too, and that unexplained homeless man is symptomatic of Aselton's disinterest in engaging an audience. (If you have to ask what the title means, I guess, you're not worthy.) I hope he continues to make movies, though, and I hope he learns to edit out the bad ideas and hamhanded symbolism, such as the desperately dog-paddling lab rats that Brian's college friend (Brian Avers) is researching. "Why do some swim and others not?" the hero asks. The director should ask himself the same question about movies.

Director Aselton will appear with the film at the Kendall tonight and tomorrow.

Ty Burr can be reached at For more on movies, go to


Directed by: Matt Aselton

Written by: Aselton

and Adam Nagata

Starring: Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, Ed Asner,

John Goodman

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 98 minutes

Rated: R (language, sexual content, violence)