REVIEW: The Great New Wonderful [2005]

“I think I’m lost”

I will admit I had been looking forward to checking out this film for a while now. Hearing stuff about how it was a great character based drama in a post-9/11 New York City and how it really held meaning and was a catharsis for those who watched. Just the fact that it was a serious dramatic turn for director Danny Leiner, yes he of Harold & Kumar fame, was enough to pique my interest. In the end, however, the film really fell flat for me and besides the numerous references to the horrific event, The Great New Wonderful didn’t need to have it as a backdrop. Sure there are some really nice moments, but overall it just shows stories of vapid people going through their meaningless existences until they finally let go from the tragedy that hit. Are we to believe that once the shock went away these people’s lives changed for the better? that without 9/11 they would still be trapped in useless existences not being able to break free? Well if that is the case, than we need global tragedies more often because they really make the world think about life and become better people as a result. Maybe one needs to be a New Yorker to get the film, but I just didn’t see the greatness, just exploitation about how the Twin Towers falling changed a few people in the city and made their lives understandable in its context because they weren’t good enough people to see their wrongs without it.

We are given an all-star cast here, with many actors that I truly enjoy watching. They even do a pretty good job with what they are given, and I can’t really fault any of them besides the fact they read the script and still wanted to be involved. Maggie Gyllenhaal is great as a cake designer discovering the utter uselessness of her job in a world that should mean more than five thousand dollar pastries. Judy Greer and Thomas McCarthy are fantastic as a husband and wife duo trying to survive professional and personal hardship while their troubled child devolves into a monster. This segment is interesting as a concept and I would almost like to see it as its own movie. I mean besides a racial slur from their son, the entire story has nothing to do with 9/11 at all, but just an emotional piece of family struggle. Even Jim Gaffigan surprises with his nuanced performance opposite Tony Shalhoub. The rapport between the two is electric and could have really gone somewhere instead of languishing in an awkwardly comedic setting, ending somewhat laughably with Shalhoub’s sly smile into the camera.

Thankfully there are a couple moments that worked completely for me. Olympia Dukakis is amazing as a wife who has been creatively and emotionally stifled by her husband and monotonous existence. Only when she meets an old friend from the past and sees how he can laugh and care about the little things in life, does she open up to herself to try again at living her life the way she wants to. The best section of the film, however, contains two Indian bodyguards protecting a General in town for a run of speeches. Sharat Saxena is effective as the troubled one suppressing his anger with everything that has gone on, but it is his partner, played by Naseeruddin Shah who steals the show. A consummate family man, Shah does all he can to lighten the mood of his friend and just speaks about random things going on around them, flirting with the women going in and out of their paths and finally confronting Saxena to get the point across that “life is too short, if anything we should all know that now.” The conclusion of their arc really hits home in a surprising turn of events and becomes the only reason I would recommend the film to anyone to see.

The Great New Wonderful 4/10 | ★ ½

[1] Emme (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Safarah Polsky (Edie Falco) in The Great New Wonderful – 2006


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