Sunday, May 12, 2013

Go Goa Gone

I'm just back from a strange cinema experience. Yesterday an acquaintance on twitter alerted me to the presence of Go Goa Gone at the multiplex that shows the occasional Indian film in a town about an hour's drive from here. To my knowledge, all the previous screenings of Indian movies have been organized by a very small handful of people who know how to work the local networks and get the word out. Based on the absence of electronic advertising in my town, and the fact that instead of just one screening it's playing multiple times a day for a whole week, I have to assume this one was brought in by the cinema itself (or the network of theaters that it's a part of). I dare not allow myself to hope this means that we're going to get Indian films in east-central Illinois on a regular basis with more than one screening per film. When I showed up for the 1:15 show today, I was the only person in a cinema seating probably 300. Oh dearie me.

Whatever implications this has for the business model of 20ish screenings per new fillum, it's also really weird to watch a somewhat scary movie in a giant dark room all by yourself, especially when you are the easily startled type. Which I am. I might have almost tossed my box of Junior Mints in the air when a zombie sneaks up on one of the boys (no surgical procedures in the vicinity), but there's no one who can prove it.

I almost prefaced the film's name in the title of this post with "half-baked," but that felt unfair. I don't know what this film was trying to do, so I can't say with certainty that it missed those goals. I can say I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as Shaun of the Dead, which has the magic of Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright's charming, dil-squish-y friendship*, or Night of the Living Dead, which has real menace and tragedy.

Someone, maybe Anupama Chopra on The Front Row, said that this film is kind of zombie-like itself, lurching along without all its brains, and I tend to agree. I wanted it to do more with some of what it started to lay out, namely the potentially very biting and funny premise that the Goa party scene, whether in idealized, fictionalized form (three bros going on their road trip remined me of Dil Chahta Hai) or in reality, turns people into zombies. I mean, in some ways that's what Manoj Kumar would do, isn't it? These foreigners wanting to turn India into the walking dead. Chee! Except it's a more complicated and cynical time now, and it's a boy from the national capital who unleashes the horror without ever intending what is basically an act of terrorism. I didn't need or expect Go Goa Gone to be biting socio-political commentary, but that is an angle the writers could have taken to give this more body. This kind of good start that fizzled out was true for some details, too. It may have been a problem at my cinema, but there were several outdoor scenes that looked shabbily green-screened, and that was a harsh contrast to some of the other details, like the boys' decor of their flat and office cubicles or the blood splatters around the sites on the island. Or things like zombies who are repeatedly referred to as unable to walk quickly or climb trees yet are scampering and scaling a scaffolding by the end of the film, or an unimportant continuity error (watch Hardik and the diamond ring), or a possibly quite important decision to have Bunny relieve himself on the only visually singled-out black person in the whole film.

There were other underdeveloped aspects that I wish the film had either done more with or cleaned up into something crisper or tidier. Saif Ali Khan's Fauxviet Boris is funny, as is his carefully placed tattoo of his own name, but why keep him talking in his Russian accent after he's admitted he's from Delhi? If the accent was part of the comedy track, just make the reveal of his identity later in the story and the need to bend/ignore logic vanishes. The intro track of Luv, Hardik, and Bunny in their Mumbai flat took too long for what it added (i.e. zero). It'd be just as simple to make the drive to Goa a few minutes longer (and let that VW earn its starring credit slapped on the screen before the film started) and have the guys indulge in a bitch session en route to establish their current woeful state of affairs. Giving them a home, either physically or psychologically, adds nothing because that location clearly meant nothing to anyone in the film and was never revisited. In my version of the film, there'd be no interval, which felt unnecessary as is and would be even sillier if the film were leaner. Though I don't know how one would make a lean stoner comedy. Maybe that's not relevant (or possible). Yet on the other hand, if you're fleeing zombies, the swifter the better, right? Hmm.

If the three boys are supposed to be anything other than basically good, if kind of dim, ordinary Joes who rise to the occasion of a zombie apocalypse, then that goal was met. However, if I'm supposed to really believe that Hardik earns his name, I saw no evidence of it (his implied tryst with Ariana is off-screen, so we don't really know if it's just another of his exaggerations or if she was stoned enough to sleep with him). Luv flipped and flopped between stoner and clean so fast, and so free of consequences, that those changes didn't matter. And Bunny's story was never made clear, even to his friends inside the story. It's not that I was expecting rich character development, but the lack of it stands out when not much else is developed either. That's what I mean by half-baked: there are plenty of fun and/or interesting ingredients but I just didn't get much out of them.

But that said, I really did not dislike Go Goa Gone. I definitely laughed, mostly at the sort of film-trope inversions like the romp around the trees, stopping the climactic action to pray, or the dance of a meet-cute that was unravelled by the characters' realization that in the Facebook age we all have enough passing, basically anonymous, low-grade familiarity with one another that there is no such such thing as meet-cutes anymore. [Spoiler for the next two sentences!] I also really appreciated a heroine who had no romantic interest in anyone in the story, especially when all the options were man-children or criminals. As Cinema Chaat points out, Luna is a woman who runs away from trouble and bad decisions instead of towards them; we'd have no drama if everyone made good decisions, but when zombies are on the loose, you don't need the living to add more dumbness to the mix. [End spoiler.]

Go Goa Gone didn't cohere into anything substantial for me (it's too soon to add "or memorable" but I bet that will prove true a week from now), which isn't necessarily a condemnation, since I didn't walk out wishing I had those two hours of my life back or stomping my feet about regressive traditionalism or misapplied escapism. I was amused, but overall it's not my sense of humor; I wanted all the named characters to make it out alive but I wasn't invested in them or what they learned** beyond that; the effects of zombie-ism were gross but not so much so that I had to peep through my fingers. It's not bad, but it could have used more bite.

* Like most everyone else on the planet, I find Shaun of the Dead really funny, but there it has the edge of being in my native tongue. Through no fault of its creators, Go Goa Gone also suffered from some pretty lame subtitles, so I suspect if I knew Hindi OR had better subtitles, I would have found it even funnier.

** I'm not well-versed in zombie or other horror movies and I can only assume that the repeated dialogue "What have we learned?" is a reference to a film I haven't seen?

6 comments:

Temple said...

Hi Beth - I think we're about on the same page with this one. The "What do we know? What have we learned?" quote was on a Steve Jobs poster in the boys workplace. I notice you do not mention if Boris reminded you of Bob Christo ;)

Beth Watkins said...

I think so too. Yours was the only review I read before I saw it. I also kept thinking of the Magadheera podcast with Sujoy when you said something like "This is made for mid-20s boys by mid-20s boys" and thus being inclined towards charitability when I was getting bored with their consequence-free, impact-free shenanigans.

And good catch on the Steve Jobs. I actually noticed that poster because it used "learnt" and I thought "That's a bit odd - no American says 'learnt.'" :)

jennyketcham said...

Thanks for saving me the trouble of going to this one...didn't think it would really be up my alley, in any case. Though, you never know...I loved "Warm Bodies" which I went to see a few months back on the strength of one trailer. Just adorable, and that's not anything I ever expected to be saying about a zombie movie!

Beth Watkins said...

Jenny - "You never know" Is my operating procedure for films that actually show up geographically close enough for me to watch them in the cinema. There are a few things I've seen on the big screen just for the big screen that I would NEVER rent or buy. And your costuming eye might enjoy cataloging the boys' t-shirts.

Indian said...

Hi Beth,

Stumbled on your blog recently. I believe its a great and detailed blog. I recently saw Go Goa Gone. I had no idea that it was Zombie movie before I started watching it and was pleasantly surprized that bollywood decided to produce such a movie. I agree with your assessment that overall, it was ok movie.

Beth Watkins said...

Thank you! "Go Goa Gone" is certainly not a title that indicates zombies, so I can just imagine what a surprise that must have been! Glad you enjoyed it.