Here and There
There tend to be two different ways that movies deal with any sort of American immigration. First there’s the white savior syndrome, wherein the noble but one-dimensional foreigner trying to get a green card is saved by a grumpy, cynical, but secretly angelic white city-dweller. And, as a result, they both learn to be better human beings (like in The Visitor). Then there’s the ugly American syndrome, which is almost exactly the same thing, except it tends to happen in a foreign country. And the boorish American shows his loutish surface behavior before being softened by the warmth and honesty of the simplistic locals.
Darko Lungulov’s Here and There is both a white savior movie and an ugly American movie. Miserable, unkempt and broke New Yorker David Thornton, playing Robert, sees a financial out to his situation and takes money to go to Serbia to marry the girlfriend of an immigrant he barely knows so she can get a green card. Thornton, adorned with permanent 5 o’clock shadow and dyed jet black bedhead hair is exactly the right actor for this role; he’s convincingly proud and pitiful, honorable and scruple-free.
But Lungulov’s musical choices betray him. The score for Here and There is comprised of cloying, goofy accordion music that is all wrong for the material and sounds like Gogol Bordello wrote music for a sitcom or unused themes for Curb Your Enthusiasm. Perhaps Lungulov didn’t have confidence in his skimpy (but supposedly autobiographical) material and was afraid to be too Jarmusch-droll and dry, so he telegraphed the potential humor and thereby drained it completely. Thornton* is authentically schlubby; he was also perfect in XX/XY as Kathleen Robertson’s put-upon husband trying to deal with the repercussions of a threesome she had in college. He doesn’t need the nudge-nudge help of music to establish it. If anything, Thornton’s visual similarity to Dustin Hoffman (there’s even an unneeded “I’m walkin’ here”) gives us the wrinkles, both emotionally and physically, so that Here and There would have been a much better movie without any music at all.
It appears Lungulov’s fear of his movie being too thin** got in the way of every element of Here and There. Robert’s arrival in Serbia sets the audience up for a comedy of errors and an anti-travelogue, but drops it for random romance between Thornton and his friend’s mother in a search for profundity. Not helped by its brief 75-minute running time, Thornton’s character has nothing other than boredom to account for his sudden change in character and affection for this lonely woman. Of course, every other character in Here and There is little more than a cipher (there’s the kindly divorcee, the gregarious local emotional leech with a sad story to tell, the opportunistic slut and the scamming Bronx mechanic). But Lungulov didn’t have the good sense to have Robert’s impatience and disgust with the world be more than a comic device, rather than legitimate. At least in his view.
The reality is, Robert could be an amusing crank who’s hypocritical about his own shallowness. But Lungulov strands him in the middle of nowhere without any reason to exist except as a pawn for a hokey message about kindness and good will being rewarded. There’s no thought to what Robert’s life was before or after the time we spend with him (apart from a quick scene with Thornton’s real-life wife Cyndi Lauper, who is either an ex-wife or ex-girlfriend, it’s not clear). This makes it odd that Lungulov would think we would care about something obviously so personal to him. Sometimes aimlessness is a legitimate subject (like in The Station Agent) and sometimes it’s an excuse for a director to lazily slap together a movie that he hasn’t thought much about.
* Comedian Al Lubel used to do a bit about being described by a casting agent as “off-beat good looking,” which is another term for being “pretty good looking for an ugly guy.” Offbeat good looking is exactly what Thornton is.
** Here and There is so thin as a movie that it appears that its slightness got impatient and left the film on the side of the road.