July 05, 2013

Adam Scott Embraces His Darker Side In THE VICIOUS KIND

"Sometimes people do things that they know are wrong, but they just do 'em anyway, 'cuz to do the right thing would be too painful."
My Netflix queue is full of movies I've never heard of that never got a proper theatrical release but star actors that I'm very fond of.  Direct-to-video doesn't carry nearly the stigma it once did, so you see lots of reputable folks starring in curious indie films that play at a few festivals but then skip the multiplex and head right to iTunes and Netflix.  There's got to be some kind of draw for these talented actors and it certainly isn't the paycheck.  Maybe it's an interesting character, a cool story premise or perhaps it's just the chance to work with a promising young writer or director.  Either way I'm curious, especially since that initial promise ultimately never paid off as box office success.

That's how I discovered The Vicious Kind. It's not a movie I was in anyway familiar with, but it features Adam Scott, an actor I absolutely adore, in a role that is a real departure from the kind of mainstream comedy work he's known for on shows like Parks & Rec and Party Down. It's always nice to see an artist you respect really stretching their talents and pushing themselves in a direction that's not only new, but also truly challenging, and that much is obvious here right from director Lee Toland Krieger's very first shot of a bearded Scott smoking in a diner booth, trying to hold back tears.  Scott plays Caleb, a broken, sleep-deprived man who's still recovering from a nasty break-up and hasn't spoken to his father (J.K. Simmons) in eight years despite living in the same small Connecticut town.  When his younger brother comes home from college for Thanksgiving with his new girlfriend in tow - a girl (Brittany Snow) who looks exactly like Caleb's ex - her presence sends Caleb over the edge and he just totally loses it, swinging from charming asshole to violent psychopath to blubbering mess with every encounter that slowly draws the two closer together.

The great thing about Scott's performance here is that Caleb isn't your typical nice-guy-who's-just-lashing-out.  You never get the sense that if he could just meet the right girl and get some sleep that he would actually turn things around and discover the good person buried beneath the painful surface.  Caleb is a true asshole, the kind of guy who never takes the feelings of others into account and whose sole motivation for every action is pure self-satisfaction.  He's an emotional bull in a china shop, willing to shatter everything in his path if it might make him feel just a little bit better about himself.  You're never really rooting for Caleb, but Scott imbues the character with so many different facets that he becomes equal parts engrossing and repulsive.  You simply can't look away, even if it's only to see what he'll say or do next.  Despite his wounded and terrible nature, he can also be acerbic and funny - his delivery of the line "thinking about how small they could make a t-shirt" absolutely slays me every time.

Certain movies have always served as a form of comfort food for me.  There are some films I like to watch when I'm really happy or depressed or lonely or angry.  If I had discovered The Vicious Kind back in my single days, it would have certainly found its way into heavy post-breakup rotation.  It allows you to revel in that state of abject pain and emotional turmoil that sets in after the death of a relationship, to the point where you almost cheer on Caleb in every terrible decision he makes.  But at the same time, it's also somewhat reassuring, because at least your life isn't that fucked up.  It's a sharp bit of writing from Lee Toland Krieger that absolutely crackles with energy.  The style often echoes the writing of Neil Labute, so it's easy to see why he ended up as a producer on the film.  (If you had told me that Labute did a polish on the script I wouldn't be surprised in the least.)  Krieger has since directed the very sweet Celeste & Jesse Forever with Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, another movie which not only examines how we deal with the end of a relationship, but also features solid dramatic performances from some primarily comic actors.  I'm curious to see not only what other subject matters Krieger tackles in the future, but also what kind of surprising performances he'll be able to coax out his actors.

But mostly I want to see more dramatic work from Adam Scott.

Title: The Vicious Kind
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Starring: Adam Scott, Brittany Snow, J.K. Simmons, Alex Frost
Year Of Release: 2009
Viewing Method: Netflix Instant (Laptop)

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