You likely know Adam Goldberg from the films Dazed and Confused, Saving Private Ryan and maybe the cult-hit The Hebrew Hammer (which is set to birth sequels), or from his recurring stint on the television show Friends. With his bushy brows and distinguished features, he's recognizable but not always recognized. Despite his abilities as a comedic and dramatic performer, he's often lost among the many valuable character actors in an industry that has forgotten their worth. Fortunately he can also direct.
I believe that I found a cinematic allusion within every scene of Goldberg's I Love Your Work. Now, normally this would upset me. Filmmakers today overindulge in visual quotation, a practice they see as a tribute, but which I see as a depreciating component that leads to failed chances for singularity. They don't understand that postmodernism suffocated on the big screen in 1994 and its corpse has since weighed down every movie intent on denying its death. The last decade filled up with worthless pasticcio where it yearned for great relevance.
This problem can be linked to a new generation of directors who studied filmmakers rather than filmmaking, and who now imitate rather than invent. While that may be the case, it isn't the culprit. Our whole culture is so immersed in movies that our experiences are often conditional to them. More than just being self-satisfaction for the filmmakers, direct and indirect verbal and aural references serve to orient the audience with familiar roots. And for any film critic guilty of chastising movies for being derivative, there remains that hypocritical dependency on the comparability of motion pictures.
I'll be the first to admit to being enslaved by my own associations with film. It is what allowed me to connect so well with I Love Your Work, the second feature this year to have a real purpose for citing older films. The first, Jarhead, showed the expectations of a military based on their perceptions of combat, as gathered from watching war movies. I Love Your Work uses its allusions to illustrate the psychology of someone consumed by his obsessions, one of which is the movies.
That someone is Gray Evans (Giovanni Ribisi), a famous actor who once was just a hardcore cinephile. His head is overflowing with memories from films, and if this movie doesn't exactly take place inside his mind, then it explores a reality infested with references that leaked out. His world consists of an overlapping of influence, where the concept of voyeurism is a blurring of all we've gotten from Hitchcock, Antonioni, Coppola and DePalma. Flashbacks to a young love are colorful equations of Donen and Demy. Psychotic descent is identifiably Scorsese.
Or perhaps my own warped mind projected all these correspondences? While I would believe that Evans' wearing an olive green shirt when at a peak moment of hysteria correlates to Robert DeNiro's iconic army jacket in Taxi Driver, there is a chance that what I saw was either coincidence or a subconscious choice, but was not very likely an intentional decision.
"The flashback stuff was certainly inspired by French New Wave movies, pretty blatantly," admits director Adam Goldberg, "but as far as the present day stuff, I just went with my gut. There's no real reference there."
The beauty of great expression is its ability to transform from delivery to reception. Regardless of what allusions were deliberate, it doesn't change how I experience and appreciate the film. Goldberg's script, which he co-wrote with Adrian Butchart, is filled with layer upon layer of themes and ideas that are left open to interpretation. To each his own fixation.
For one thing, there is a very unglamorous view of celebrity. Think the other side of the spectrum from HBO's Entourage, yet with the same exact sequences of mundane, shallow, monotonous Hollywood life. It is fascinating how much difference another person's viewpoint can make on the common perceptions of stardom.
"I'm sure it could be interpreted as an indictment about shallow Hollywood life," says Goldberg about the attitude, "That's what he thinks is happening, but I think he's just sort of using it as an excuse. The idea is that it's a catalyst. It's a lot of external stuff, which is stimulating a lot of preexisting internal things for the guy. It was meant to be hellish because it's in part about this guy who's made a Faustian deal and he wants out of it."
As Evans becomes uncomfortable with his fame, he reflects and regresses and twists his role until it appears that his existence is eating itself. He meets a young film student (Joshua Jackson) representative of his own youth, who appears to possibly be heading up the same path to eminence. Perhaps seeking to trade places with the kid, Evans becomes an aggressive voyeur and stalker despite being concurrently the victim of such compulsions himself.
His downfall is shot through mirrors and windows with subtle enough an application that the obviousness of such motifs is ignored. Goldberg handles his concepts with such genuine and precise concentration that I see no reason to criticize any choices he's made. Every decision visible to the audience appears essential to the narrative. His film could be an example for other young filmmakers on how to make an impressionistic film without all the pretense, offense, swagger, stagger, dreariness, abstraction and self-satisfaction that embody most "art" films.
It is also the sort of ambitious, intelligent and creative work that could never be made in Hollywood, where films about the movie business can only be critically honest if played as a farce. The reason that it will also fail to garner great reviews is that the majority of film reviewers are in love with the entertainment business almost as much as it is in love with itself. And those who aren't don't love it at all.
The best way to receive I Love Your Work is to have a love/hate relationship with the business, as I do and share with Evans, and maybe even with Goldberg. So many questions are raised from both sides of the celebrity fence that the film could only have been made by someone as on-the-edge of stardom as he.
"I just have observed this bizarre fascination with other people's lives, i.e. celebrity lives, as much as, well, certainly, actually far more than I have probably experienced it, and whatever sort of experiences that I have had with it I sort of amped up and exaggerated the hell out of and I find it curious and sort of bizarre and a bit unsettling for sure."
He's not one of those actors who just up and decided that it would be neat to make a film. He says he's always been interested, having shot Super-8 films and video shorts as a kid. He even attended CalArts Film School, if only for ten days. But he isn't about to give up on acting anytime soon in order to fully concentrate on filmmaking.
"I can't fully commit myself to (directing) because I'd just go broke unless I lowered my standard of living. I always think of them as being kind of concurrent passions and that one is a more accessible means to make a living. You can act in twenty things a year, twenty movies or do a television show, but to make a film, assuming that you write it yourself, obviously takes a whole huge chunk of your life and unless its like Lord of the Rings or something it's not really that easy to put all of your eggs in that basket. As much as I'd love to be independently wealthy and make these movies. That'd be great."
Even though his new film shows many of the cons of a life in showbiz, Goldberg has no regrets about becoming reasonably famous.
"I don't regret doing what I do, but it's very clear how damaging it is to people's sense of themselves. And it's been very important for me to maintain other interests and have a life that has nothing to do with all that stuff. No, I wish I was more famous, and then I'd have more money, and I could make more movies."
Yet there are some obvious roads that he could take in order to gain more fame, like exploiting certain relationships. He doesn't shy from being part of a celebrity couple--he's currently linked to Christina Ricci, who appears in I Love Your Work as the girlfriend that Evans left behind but never let go of--but he does appear shy of the self-promotional aspects of having your love life on display, another theme on which he comments in his film.
"All that stuff makes me terribly uncomfortable and obviously there are these people who will go to an opening of an envelope. You realize in the end that it doesn't mean anything. It's always hard to get work no matter what you do, unless you just want to be famous."
After all this, my primary impression of the film is still its representation of the mind of a film fan that gets lost on the other side of the movie screen. It is what separates I Love Your Work from other movies about the movies or celebrity that work on a far more straightforward level.
"We're all affected by movies or fiction. It could be literature or movies but there's several generations now that have grown up affected by movies. There's a great sociology book called Life: The Movie, which if you look closely in the movie it's in there somewhere."
If that's an endorsement, I'd like to add my own: See I Love Your Work as soon as possible and tell me what your own perception is.