The first anniversary of 9/11 is the nearly invisible backdrop of The Great New Wonderful, a questionable leap into the dramatic deep end from Danny Leiner, the auteur who gave us Dude, Where's My Car? and Harold and Kumar. Taking its inspiration (and possibly even some musical cues) from the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, it quilts together the lives of several upscale New Yorkers. A sliver of connection between them is attempted only once, when most of the cast piles into the same elevator in an office building. Other than that, they are soloists, performing arias of muted psychic pain; the only thing they have in common is a desire to shake off the memory of that day. Maggie Gyllenhaal, with her silent movie-star face, pulls down the lion's share of screen time as a tightly-wound, social-climbing cake designer. Stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan is nicely cast as a twitchy office drone who, after an unnamed 'incident' at work, must undergo counseling with Freudian analyst Tony Shalhoub. Tom McCarthy and Judy Greer are a thirty-something married couple at their wit's end with their young son, who slings racial insults at schoolmates and terrifies his parents at night by walking around in a gorilla mask and reading books on how to skin animals. These vignettes are the most buoyant of the piece.
Much, much less successful are a rambling love story featuring a mummified Olympia Dukakis and a nearly incomprehensible segment involving two Indian immigrant security guards, whose broken English is subtitled throughout their portion of the film, I guess for comedic purpose. To say that these segments weigh down the rest of the film would be a ghastly understatement, like saying the Madonna segment in Four Rooms kind of weighs down the rest of that film. These sections are so unfocused they encourage you to stare up at the ceiling, and ponder bigger questions, like: Why was it necessary to wait nearly five full years for the first batch of 9/11 films? Classless though it may be to admit, the wounds of that day are no longer fresh and the emotions have been diluted and scrambled together with years of manipulative jabber from all quarters. Politics has even swept into this film. Star Maggie Gyllenhaal was conspicuously missing in action during the press junket for The Great New Wonderful, almost certainly due to fears that she would be peppered with questions about her personal opinions.