This is a strange review for me to write, having had the privilege to hear director
speak about the process and goals of the movie. Receiving such a thorough and fascinating context directly after viewing
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
had its pros and cons—I was able to better ruminate on many choices that Krasinski made, but lost some of my visceral thoughts that often form the bare bones of a film review. So I will do my best to capture my emotions during that short solitary interlude during the credits to write about the crater in my brain that this cinematic experience left.
Krasinski adapted a few of David Foster Wallace’s short stories for this script, all fictional interviews designed to examine the male psyche through the lens of heterosexual interaction and its torturous rituals. I suppose one could name one protagonist—the near-silent anthropologist Sarah, whose gamine beauty and eerie gaze do nothing to deter her subjects from thickly laying on the vile truth about masculinity. But are they all speaking with honesty? Or are they building complex smokescreens and violently willing themselves to protect their own truths?
Brief Interviews does not hypothesize about the veracity of the men’s statements. Between every barb they hurl at womankind, every detailed explication of “the game,” silence presses upon them. They are all perched on iced-over lakes, under which lies a terrifying and vulnerable self-reflection. And as this film hurtles bravely on, fissures begin to erupt, loudly, without warning. And so this film proceeds on a brave journey of dismantling, not to reach a showy revelation of inner sensitivity, but to quietly examine this ancient, rusty armor of male identity itself. A rough New Yorker (Christopher Meloni) exposes the seedy manipulation behind playing the part of a woman’s confidant; the oily way he snickers, “I was lendin’ her an ear” evokes an act profoundly more sexual and forceful. A hapless boyfriend (Will Arnett), arguing with the locked door of his girlfriend’s apartment, deftly manipulates his breakup speech to implicate his lover in every way possible.
In a turning point in the film, a man (Frankie Faison) speaks at length about his memories of his father’s work as a restroom attendant. It is a dignified but frightening sort of conversation between generations, an exchange of philosophies on male pride that simmers with electricity and suppressed rage. It stops the film dead in its tracks in a way that collapses the lungs of the viewer. I thought it was a bold decision indeed to mark the halfway point of the movie with a scene that totally departed from the focus of relationships between men and women—but it reminded me with a magnificent sort of engulfment that men cannot be understood simply as counterparts to women.
There is a stunning interplay in this film, of craft, material, and passion. The simultaneous grace and rawness with which Krasinski unravels the endless complexities of Wallace’s original pieces is just breathtaking. It is evident that Krasinski instilled his intense devotion to the original material into each of his actors, as they are each excellent and luminous in their utter vulgarity.
What is most amazing about these characters is the utter tenderness with which they are written. Even at a man’s most morally bankrupt and hard, one can sense a bitter strength and wistfulness in his every word. Wallace does not deserve the majority of these accolades, either—it is Krasinski whose steadfast courage in continuing Wallace’s legacy has brought home the author’s work. It is so obvious that Krasinski proudly works from a creative palette darkened with Wallace’s shadow. I echo John Krasinski’s sentiment which he recently expressed to our community: that more filmmakers should take the plunge and bare themselves with Wallace’s words as source material. As for me, I am ready to take a similar plunge, and it will start with the first page of Brief Interviews.