"Living in Oblivion" actually lives in a different neighborhood: the hip precincts of drop-dead post-modernism. It's a film and a critique of film at once. It's narrative turned wittily in on itself with a maniac's glee. It does one other monstrously nifty thing: It dares make fun of Brad Pitt.
Yes. Brad Pitt, self-styled homeboy Tarzan of Cinema of the '90s. Pitt is represented in "Living in Oblivion" by James Le Gros as vain, stupid, promiscuous, self-indulgent, self-promoting and a cry-baby. Talk about nerve!
And who is telling this tale out of school but Tom DiCillo, the independent filmmaker who directed Pitt in "Johnny Suede." So he should know.
The movie, which opens today at the Charles, is about itself. Rather, it's about the high state of nervous apprehension known as making an independent movie. It's the inside story of its own existence.
DiCillo structures it as three dreams, by the director, the star and the cast-at-large. The scene is a New York sound stage where an earnest young group of filmmakers, including director Nick Reve (Steve Buscemi), actress Nicole (Catherine Keener), cinematographer Wolf (Dermot Mulroney) and an arrogant young stud-star named Chad Palomino (Le Gros) are struggling to complete a low-budget, high-aspiration film.
Each dream is really a nightmare of anxiety. Nick dreams the fragility of the process keeps shattering as he gets closer and closer to getting a key scene in one take. Beepers beep, the camera falls out of focus, the sound man literally lowers the boom. Buscemi's performance comes to resemble the famous man on the bridge in Edvard Munch's "The Scream," his eyes bulging, his skull seemingly cantilevering in agony.
Nicole, on the other hand, fantasizes that both the director and her leading man hate her and are subtly conspiring to destroy her. In her dream, her part keeps getting smaller while the great Chad's keeps getting larger, although it's clearly dumber.
In the final portion, the crew struggles pitifully to shoot a dream sequence, but a dwarf actor won't cooperate and the smoke machine keeps going on the fritz. It's very funny and the deadly earnest little person, Peter Dinklage, has the best comic riff in the film.
Cleverness is everywhere in "Living in Oblivion." Sometimes reality is in black and white, the movie they are shooting in color; then, neatly, as the point of view shifts, those values change. The movie is lightweight but great fun, an astonishment from a sector of the industry that almost always takes itself entirely too seriously.
"Living in Oblivion"
Starring Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener
Directed by Tom DiCillo
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Rated R (profanity, sexual situations)