The Vicious Kind: Lee Toland Krieger

03Feb10

by The Great White Gypsy

We all want to protect the people we care about. From pain, from loss, from someone else hurting them. From ourselves. But sometimes our pride gets the better of us, and causes us to lose more than we would otherwise because of our mistakes. These are the themes of Lee Toland Krieger‘s Independent Spirit Award nominee, The Vicious Kind.
Caleb (Adam Scott) is picking up his brother (Alex Frost) and his brother’s new girlfriend (Brittany Snow) from the train station while they’re on Thanksgiving break from college. He’s taking them to their father’s (J.K. Simmons) house for the holidays. The problem is cynical, jaded, sleep-deprived Caleb hasn’t spoken to his father in 8 years, his girlfriend left him recently, and now he’s suddenly attracted to his brother’s first love.
If you haven’t caught on yet, this is character study film at its finest. Adam Scott (Tell Me You Love Me) starts out strong, chain smoking in a diner and talking to his brother about the realities of life. Just in the opening scene, there is enough in the dialogue for us to see the diametrically opposed personalities of the brothers, and to immediately sympathize with both of them. Caleb constantly tries to protect his brother, and tells him that his girlfriend is a whore, and he can’t trust her. Though the story never definitively explains his past relationship, we can glean from his standoffishness that he was the brokenhearted one. He’s angry at his father for the circumstances surrounding their mother’s estrangement and subsequent death, but we get multiple versions of this story, which makes it hard to sympathize with or condemn anyone.
Halfway through this movie, I guarantee you will not like the main character. He’s transparently pessimistic, unnecessarily cruel, and awkwardly funny at the same time. One minute, he’s telling Brittany Snow (Prom Night) that if she hurts his brother, he’ll “put her in the fucking ground”, and thirty seconds later he’s tearfully apologizing. He appears to be stalking this girl some nights, and on the other nights he’s in a motel taking pictures with a prostitute. He tells his brother to be careful, and then belittles him, mocking the innocence he’s simultaneously attempting to protect and destroy. You will not like him, but you will be interested. That interest will make you want to like him. And towards the end, even though he’s sabotaging an innocent relationship, you’ll find yourself cheering for him when he beats up a couple hipster kids for harassing a girl in a bar. Don’t get me wrong, the writing in this film is great. It’s Intelligent and funny, like a more serious Dan in Real Life. But it will take you longer to warm up to these characters.
Though he has a small roll, the standout performance is J.K. Simmons (Juno) as the offbeat, inappropriate father. He exudes the same comfortable humor he always does, but towards the end his character takes on a guilt-ridden, prideful form that’s about to burst with remorse. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked Simmons before, and the fact that I did here made me almost as sad as his character’s problems.
My only major complaint with The Vicious Kind is the costume design. Caleb is a cookie-cutter mountain boy with his wool-lined jacket and boots. His brother is innocent, republican, and dopey to the point of ridiculousness with his clean polo shirts and sweater vests. I’m pretty sure they let J.K. Simmons wear whatever the hell he wants at this point. I feel it is really important in a character film to have the costumes add to the portraits, but not in a really obvious way. We don’t need to be punched in the face with archetypal symbolism; it detracts from the writing and insults our intelligence.
The character inconsistencies make this film a hard one to watch at times. However, if you can get through the whole thing with an open mind and a complete picture of the story, it will definitely pay off in the end. It is funny, heartfelt, and morally ambiguous. Just like most of us.
Final Grade: B+

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One Response to “The Vicious Kind: Lee Toland Krieger”

  1. Thanks for the nice write-up of THE VICIOUS KIND.

    So your readers are aware, the film is opening New York for a limited run at Cinema Village on February 12th. Adam Scott (Caleb) and Lee Krieger (writer/director) will be in person for a Q&A following the evening shows on Friday, and Lee will be there for the Saturday evening shows. Tickets are now available. Go to http://tvkmovie.com for details and links.

    Tim Harms
    Producer
    THE VICIOUS KIND


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