Short takes on SFIFF 2012, week two
Somebody Up There Likes Me (Bob Byington, U.S., 2012) A textbook illustration of what's so frequently right and wrong with Amerindie comedies today, Bob Byington's feature starts out near-brilliantly in a familiar, heightened Napoleon Dynamite-type milieu of ostensibly normal people as self-absorbed, socially hapless satellites revolving around an existential hole at the center in the universe. The three main ones meet working at a suburban steakhouse: Emotionally nerve-deadened youth Max (Keith Poulson), the even more crassly insensitive Sal (Nick Offerman), and nice but still weird Lyla (Teeth's estimable Jess Weixler). All is well until the film starts skipping ahead five years at a time, growing more smugly misanthropic and pointless as time and some drastic shifts in fortune do nothing to change (or deepen) the characters. Still, the performers are intermittently hilarious throughout. Sat/28, 6:45pm, Kabuki. Sun/29, 9:15pm, FSC. Tue/1, 6:15pm, Kabuki. (Harvey)
Hysteria (Tanya Wexler, U.S./England, 2011) Tanya Wexler's period romantic comedy gleefully depicts the genesis of the world's most popular sex toy out of the inchoate murk of Victorian quackishness. In this dulcet version of events, real-life vibrator inventor Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a handsome young London doctor with such progressive convictions as a belief in the existence of germs. He is, however, a man of his times and thus swallows unblinking the umbrella diagnosis of women with symptoms like anxiety, frustration, and restlessness as victims of a plague-like uterine disorder known as hysteria. Landing a job in the high-end practice of Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose clientele consists entirely of dissatisfied housewives seeking treatments of "medicinal massage" and subsequent "parosysm," Granville becomes acquainted with Dalrymple's two daughters, the decorous Emily (Felicity Jones) and the first-wave feminist Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal). A subsequent bout of RSI offers empirical evidence for the adage about necessity being the mother of invention, with the ever-underused Rupert Everett playing Edmund St. John-Smythe, Granville's aristocratic friend and partner in electrical engineering. Tue/1, 9:30pm, Kabuki. May 3, 6pm, FSC. (Lynn Rapoport)
Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey (Ramona S. Diaz, U.S.) The director of 2003's Imelda returns with this portrait of a way more sympathetic Filipino celebrity: Arnel Pineda, plucked from obscurity via YouTube after Journey's Neil Schon spotted him singing with a Manila-based cover band. Don't Stop Believin' follows Pineda, who openly admits past struggles with homelessness and addiction, from audition to 20,000-seat arena success as Journey's charismatic new front man (he faces insta-success with an endearing combination of nervousness and fanboy thrill). He's also honest about feeling homesick, and the pressures that come with replacing one of the most famous voices in rock (Steve Perry doesn't appear in the film, other than in vintage footage). Especially fun to see is how Pineda invigorates the rest of Journey; as the tour progresses, all involved — even the band's veteran members, who've no doubt played "Open Arms" ten million times — radiate with excitement. Thu/3, 7pm, Castro. (Cheryl Eddy)
The San Francisco International Film Festival runs through May 3; most shows $13. Venues: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF; Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.; SF Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post, SF; and Sundance Kabuki Cinema, 1881 Post, SF. More info at www.sffs.org.