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THE GO-GETTER

By TODD McCARTHY
Variety, 1/25/07


Writer-director Martin Hynes takes advantage of the vast possibilities of the open road and what can only be refashioned personal experience to invigorate "The Go-Getter," an unusually fresh-feeling indie with a nice sense of style. The potentially predictable story of a young man who undertakes an impromptu journey to resolve some unfinished family business emerges as an appealing tale of personal growth with hand-crafted contours. Modest, relatively low-key pic doesn't possess the oomph or dazzle factor to launch it into significant theatrical orbit, but a devoted distrib could possibly build a modest following with college-aged auds based on cast, music and unmanufactured sensibility.

Hynes, who made one previous indie feature, "The Big Split," turns what sounds like a contrived idea into an unusual vehicle (literally) for two people to become intrigued with one another. Stealing a Volvo station wagon from a car wash, 19-year-old Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci) leaves Eugene, Oregon, to track down his errant older half-brother Arlen, whom Mercer hasn't seen in 14 years. Arlen doesn't even know that his mother has died.

Mercer is scarcely out of town when the cellphone in the car rings and he's talking to the car's owner, a young female who, surprisingly, is not furious or threatening to call the police. Rather, she's curious, probing and intriguingly enigmatic. She gives him permission, in essence, to continue his trip, and the running dialogue between them not only gives Mercer something to think about, but constitutes a highly original kind of screen courtship in which one of the participants is essentially not seen for a very long time. (Fans will instantly recognize the disembodied voice as belonging to Zooey Deschanel.)

Encounters with his brother's old associates, Mercer finds, can be dangerous to his health. At a stop at an ersatz art commune where Arlen once worked, Mercer gets slugged before being welcomed in.

Mercer's most significant encounter is with a former middle school classmate, Joely (Jena Malone), a slutty little number who accompanies him to Reno and uses a little ecstasy to bring him to the brink of losing his virginity. This breathlessly cut sequence is just one of several imaginatively edited sequences, the most memorable being one in which a Deschanel monologue is set to a montage of many different women lip-synching her words.

Unsurprisingly, the interlude with the opportunistic Joely does not end well, although it does provide Hynes with an irresistible opportunity to tip his stylistic hand by restaging the "Madison" dance from Godard's "Band of Outsiders." Director's prime influence is palpably the French New Wave, although in a post-screening discussion, he also mentioned Wong Kar-wai and the Koreeda of "After-Life."

In a strange sequence, Mercer augments what Deschanel sarcastically dubs his "crime spree" by stealing a fancy videocamera from a porn director who calls himself Sergio Leone. With bumps in the road, Mercer makes his way south, through the Mojave Desert (Bill Duke pops up here in an amusing cameo) and beyond, until Deschanel's Kate, whose tone has been starting to reveal hints of jealousy, suddenly turns up in the flesh.

Together, Mercer and Kate move on, to Los Angeles and, finally, to Ensenada, Mexico, where the reunion with Arlen isn't at all what Mercer imagined it would be. In at long last laying out of Kate's motivations for cutting Mercer so much slack, Hynes isn't as imaginative as he might have been, causing Kate to ultimately become a rather more prosaic character than she was over the phone. All the same, Deschanel remains one of the brightest young talents in indie cinema, one awaiting a fully dimensional role that might show what she can really do.

Pucci, the star of "Thumbsucker" two years ago, again impresses, here as a troubled, naive, but optimistic kid ready to make the jump into manhood. Pucci has a light touch that cuts nicely against Mercer's setbacks and negative experiences.

Malone makes for a lively tart, while the most distinctive supporting effort comes from Nick Offerman, who unrecognizably plays three distinct and vibrant characters in different sections of the film.

Byron Shah's lensing stresses a washed-out, sun-flecked look that well expresses the multitude of locations and contributes its own energy. M. Ward handled musical chores and contributed 10 of the soundtrack's two dozen songs.

A Two Roads Entertainment and etc. films presentation. Produced by Lucy Barzun, Lori Christopher, Larry Furlong. Executive producers, Gavin Parfit, Don Truesdale, Kimberly McKewon, Martin Hynes. Co-producers, Raul Celaya, Miri Yoon. Directed, written by Martin Hynes.

Mercer - Lou Taylor Pucci
Kate - Zooey Deschanel
Joely - Jena Malone
Rid - William Lee Scott
Nick the Potter/Dutch the
Trumpeter/Joaquin
the Motel Clerk - Nick Offerman
Better Than Toast - Judy Greer
Sergio Leone - Julio Oscar Mechoso
Arlen - Jsu Garcia
Cousin Buddy - Colin Fickes
Hal's Pets - Maura Tierney
Liquor Supply - Bill Duke