Hal Hartley directs Robert John Burke, Bill Sage and Elina Löwensohn in this US indie road movie where two brothers go searching for their counter culture revolutionary father, who has just escaped prison, and find two restless women instead.
Simple Men is a movie that has been on my ‘To Watch’ for a long old stretch. Now we’ve watched it, an overriding sense of déjà vu suggests I almost certainly watched it in my teens. Possibly at a time when I had no idea who Hal Hartley is or what this movie was. For example, I expected it was going to be a subversion of the musical, and while there is one great dance sequence to Sonic Youth, such a wonderful scene does not a genre movie make. It comes out of nowhere with minimal build up. Yet you could kinda could say that’s where the comedy comes from. These deadpan, near lethargic, characters experiencing extreme moments of drama yet reacting with the same spaced-out flatness. The distance between the characters and the viewer and the director is felt. And maybe that is why, for to brief a while, Hartley was a Generation X posterboy. His movies share the same detachment from life and events and feelings as many of us experience. We were the first generation so in touch with our feelings that we didn’t see the point in reacting or over emoting – the terminology for what we are going through has already been set in stone so why waste time on it? Boomer critic Roger Ebert had a real problem with this cool coldness. “The word for this kind of movie, I think, is postmodern, which means that it has been manufactured primarily for the purpose of deconstruction, just as crossword puzzles are written to be solved.” Yet there is no solution… you could try and shake out a deeper meaning than the events on screen and the half articulated dialogue. If I were, I’d say Simple Men is about what masculinity means in a world of absent fathers – where the extremes of what you’ll grow up to become are heartbroken robber and slacker student. Or faith. There’s lots of ironic potshots at Catholicism. But I really do think there is no deep message here. Just a tale that needs to be told by characters with no need to spell out their feelings, goals or hopes. Simple Men lives in its own moment, a moment that can be sweet, boring, silly and pointless.
Perfect Double Bill: Bottle Rocket (1996)
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We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/