Friday, August 26, 2011
The protagonists of both "Griff the Invisible" and "Kick-Ass" want to be superheroes and want to help fight crime. For Dave in "Kick-Ass," his attempts at being a superhero lead to a rude awakening to the fact that people would rather post videos to YouTube of someone getting beat up rather than trying to stop the fight or even just calling 911. Dave discovers that being a superhero is painful, dangerous, and rather thankless. Griff's attempts to be a superhero stem from similar motivation but play out in more of a fantasy world he creates. But like Dave, he meets with a somewhat rude awakening to the real world. Both films use ideas about being a superhero to make films that are distinctly not superhero movies.
Ryan Kwanten (Jason Stackhouse on TV's "True Blood") plays Griff, a mousy office worker regularly bullied by his office mates. He lives a quiet life in a small apartment. His only contact with the outside world appears to be his protective brother Tim (Patrick Brammall). But like so many superheroes, Griff leads a different life by night. Under the cover of darkness he becomes Griff the Invisible. He watches over his small community, roaming the streets looking for crimes in progress and people to rescue. Griff lives in a kind of bubble of his own creation until he meets Melody (Maeve Dermody), a young woman who's view of the world is as unconventional as Griff's.
Written and directed by Leon Ford, "Griff the Invisible" has low key charm and a highly appealing performance by Dermody and an almost equally likable one by Kwanten. These performers make us care about their quirky characters and they invite us into their world. The chief pleasure of the film is the clever way Ford blurs the line between what's real and what's fantasy. There are moments of pure magic when we actually feel ourselves letting go of the limitations of the real world and find ourselves -- if only for a fleeting moment -- believing in Griff's world, believing, perhaps, that a suit dipped in lemon juice could make you invisible. It's the DIY approach of Griff and Melody that gives the film its freshness and appeal. And Ford finds a way to respect their unique perspective on the world while still acknowledging the harsh realities that exist.
So while "Kick-Ass" offers an attack on a society that would rather watch that engage, "Griff" suggests that on a very intimate level we can connect with kindred spirits and find a way to champion the things we believe in, no matter how silly they may seem. I was hoping the script by Ford would be a little more clever. There's a point where one character suggests that the best way to become invisible is to be "normal," then no one will notice you. I thought that was going to come into play in a creative way but it didn't. It gives us a resolution that is more sweet than smart. And maybe that's fitting. It reminds me of the line from "Harvey," when Elwood P. Dowd says, "Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me." Griff, in this context, is "pleasant."
"Griff the Invisible" (rated PG-13) is a low-key charmer that offers small delights. The pace lags in places and the script isn't smart enough to raise the film to greatness but in a summer of such hackneyed formulas and familiar character types, "Griff the Invisible" is a welcome gust of originality.